Columbia Magic


It was a doggone lazy day on the river. There was barely a tickle of wind, but given a sunny, 60 degree day in early November, Don thought it would be fun to launch his sailboat, Over Exposed, anyway. So Don’s girlfriend Molly, his dog Alexander, and I piled into the boat and Don motored us out onto the Columbia River.

“There’s probably some wind over there,” Don noted when a keelboat with a full spinnaker appeared in the distance.

We set sail, but aside from a few puffs that propelled us back and forth, the only significant motion we had was from the current that pulled Over Exposed downstream. The occasional wind didn’t deter a dozen other sailboats from floating around with us. Mt Hood showed its 11,000 foot summit, joggers and bikers traversed the riverside trail, and the trains on the Washington shore whistled according to their regular schedule. The company good, the spots of cloud in the sky brilliant, and the weather fantastic, but it was far from an exciting day of sailing.


It was also a day that isn’t unusual for the Columbia, that is until we started to head home, when I noticed something odd. There were two swirling, shining tubes of mist between us and the shore. Each must have been at least eight feet across and double that in height.

“Look over there,” I called out, not sure if I could trust my eyes.

“That’s kind of weird looking,” Don replied.


“It’s like a dust devil but on the water,” I said aloud. In all my years in fresh or salt water, I’d never seen anything quite like it. The tube was basket-like, with a clear, twisted pattern, translucent, and illuminated in a beam of sunlight. It dawned on me that what I was seeing was likely the result of something unnatural.

“Maybe there’s a boat over there, or a remote control toy causing that,” I suggested. There had been a few jet skiers out earlier, but I didn’t see one nearby then. The people strolling on a nearby beach were hundreds of feet from the phenomena, so I reasoned that maybe it was something natural. But before I could complete my thought, the water devils had disappeared.

“Did we really just see that?” I asked Molly and Don.

“I didn’t see anything.” Molly said and smirked.

When I got home, I went on-line and tried a number of search phrases. Few things say unusual more than a lack of hits from an internet search. Eventually I identified a few terms that may describe what we saw: a fair-weather water spout or a whirlwind. Neither showed an image that was close to what we saw, but if magic it was, I’m happy to have been there for the show.

Have you seen something so strange, in non-storm conditions? Join my wacky club and share your observations!


3 thoughts on “Columbia Magic

  1. Is this where I’m supposed to make “house fly” and “rubber band” jokes? Glad you got out while it was still nice.

  2. I’ve seen multiple waterspouts in ugly conditions off the Florida Keys, squalls there produce some hairy stuff, but I’ve never experienced anything in fair weather over water. We do get the regular garden variety of dust devil around here, though. The coolest ones being those I saw a few years ago on some farms below a winery in Augusta, Missouri. You could see a half dozen of them at one time from our vantage point. And that isn’t just the wine talking.

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