Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water or move from land to water. These tornadoes look similar to a land tornado. Appearing as a funnel-shaped cloud, a waterspout is usually a non-supercell tornado over water.
These tornados are not as powerful as the ones we see on land. Most of them are just rotating columns of air and do not suck up water in the process. This unique phenomenon is noticed near the coastal regions of the world and is non-destructive in nature.
Waterspouts are accompanied with severe thunderstorms, high winds and seas, large hail, and lightning. The earliest recorded waterspout occurred in 1456 when whirlwind was witnessed on the sea close to Aconda, Italy.
It is fascinating to look at and have a five-part life cycle starting with the formation of a dark spot on the water surface, followed by spiral patterns on the surface of the water. Next, a spray ring is seen which develops into visible condensation funnel and finally, it decays. This article deals with some of the interesting facts related to waterspouts.
1. Vertical Funnel
Usually, a narrow tornado ranging a few feet in width and height that can go up to several feet in length occurring on the sea or ocean surface is known as a waterspout. They are generally narrow water structures though people have also spotted larger ones several times. They are unique structures that result from directional changes in wind flow and variation in its velocity. As these waterspouts become taller, they wind force keeps changing, and it attains the shape of a funnel.
2. Types of Waterspouts
Primarily waterspouts are of two kinds, tornadic and non-tornadic. The tornadic ones bear a resemblance to their land counterparts both in destructive capabilities as well as formation. However, the non-tornadic ones are more common on the sea and caused by atmospheric dynamics. These waterspouts are very random when it comes to predictability. Still, there are regions where waterspouts are more frequently reported than other places.
3. Not a Column of Water
Initially, even scientists were of the opinion that the waterspouts were primarily revolving column of water taken from the sea. Studies have proven otherwise. What appears as floating water just sprays of cloud water. The swirling mass of water is formed when the water from the gathered clouds condenses.
4. Harmless or Destructive?
The speed of the wind and the resulting waterspout is generally very low. It is 50 miles per hour on an average and goes up to a maximum of 150 miles per hour. Their average velocity being low they are generally tame and non-destructive in nature. They are no serious threat to the seafarers. But there are occasions when the waterspout travels into the land and grows into a full-fledged tornado and that is when it is at its most dangerous. Then it can ruin lives and property in its vicinity.
5. Fish Rain
Sometimes these whirlwinds occur with such great force that all kinds of things from the sea like the salt, fish, floating objects, etc. get sucked into it and are carried up to the parent cloud. Later when the waterspout subsides, everything that it had carried upstarts falling in the form of salt rain, fish rain, and other such bizarre rain. Now to an observer who is witnessing this for the first time, it would feel like the most strange thing that could happen. But now we know why this happens.
This phenomenon, though very interesting is not a common one. You are probably hearing this for the first time yourself. As discussed previously the speed of these whirlwinds is not much and hence does not allow for many carriages. But when it does, things become weird and more often than not create havoc. Salt rain is okay. But when humans and animals are dropped from such height there is little chance that they will survive. Even if the waterspout does not carry the person himself, heavier objects dropping from the sky can cause serious injury to him.
The accurate forecast of a waterspout is well nigh impossible, thanks to its unpredictable nature. However some experienced seafarers have found certain tricks to predict one, but the precision of these predictions remain questionable. A sudden shift of winds or a dark spot in the waters are taken as warning signs of an upcoming waterspout.
Waterspout happens to be one of the most unique phenomena in the world. Its unpredictable nature makes studies on it relatively difficult. Still, it has its mystery and charm and continues to amaze people that are lucky or unlucky enough to witness one.