A funnel cloud appears northwest of Lower Skilak Lake Campground on Monday afternoon east of Sterling. The photo shows the cloud as it was beginning to dissipate after forming several minutes before.
Photo courtesy of Greg Scully
John Rysdyk Sr. knew be-fore he arrived in Alaska two weeks ago that the state had some funny natural phenomenons. But there were some things he did not expect to see like a funnel cloud.
"I don't really know too much about the weather up here except in the wintertime it's dark," Rysdyk said. "We didn't expect to see any funnel clouds."
But he did.
Rysdyk, along with a number of other Kenai Peninsula residents saw a funnel cloud at about 3:30 p.m. Monday be-tween Sterling and Skilak Lake. This is an occurrence that a meteorologist says is becoming more frequent in Alaska at least that's the perception.
A funnel cloud extends from the base of a thunderstorm cloud and rotates rapidly. After it makes contact with the ground, it becomes a tornado.
The funnel cloud did not turn into a tornado. However, a witness said it almost touched the ground, according to David Vonderheide, weather specialist for the National Weather Service's forecast office in Anchorage.
Alaska has only had four documented tornadoes, Vonderheide said. He added that there could have been more tornadoes that were not seen. Funnel clouds are more common in Alaska particularly in the eastern and central parts of the Interior, he said.
He said confirmed funnel clouds in the state have increased over the years. This increase is because more people are watching the sky and understand what they are looking at, he said.
"The reason we're getting more reports is people are be-coming better educated," Vonderheide said.
He said Southcentral Alaska has had some unusual weather patterns this year. On average, Vonderheide said the peninsula gets less than one thunderstorm per year. This year the region has had more thunderstorms due to increased humidity, higher temperatures and an atmosphere that allows storm clouds to form, he said. Thunderstorm clouds are necessary for the creation of funnel clouds.
John Rysdyk Jr., senior's son and a Soldotna resident, said they were celebrating the Fourth of July at a friend's cabin on Caribou Island in Skilak Lake.
They had just completed some singing, Rysdyk Jr. said, when his son, John III, pointed to the sky and said, "Dad, I think there's a tornado or something forming over the lake."
"It was pretty amazing," Rysdyk Jr. said.
He said it was not the first time he had seen a funnel cloud. But John III has spent most of his life in Alaska and has never seen anything like it, except on television, Rysdyk Jr. said.
The Rysdyk family was not alone in the funnel cloud sighting. A number of people e-mailed photos to the Clarion to verify the occurrence. In fact, crews fighting the King County Creek Fire near Skilak Lake saw the cloud and videotaped it, said Tony Doty, King County Creek fire incident commander.
"It's fairly remarkable," Doty said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.