What are waterspouts and how can you avoid them?

Waterspouts come in two separate varieties

A waterspout is spotted off Daytona Beach.  Image courtesy Sherryl Vick.
A waterspout is spotted off Daytona Beach. Image courtesy Sherryl Vick.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Waterspouts are a common occurrence along Florida’s east coast, especially from late spring to early fall.

These water-based phenomena can vary in intensity, depending on what type of waterspout they are. 

[READ: Waterspouts spotted off coast of Brevard County]

Waterspouts come in two versions: tornadic and fair-weather waterspouts. 

Tornadic waterspouts are tornadoes that form on land and then track into the open water. These tight vortices have similar characteristics to a tornado, producing strong winds. Tornadic waterspouts develop from the cloud, downward to the ground. The highest risk of seeing tornadic waterspouts is during a severe thunderstorm near open water. 

[RELATED: Video captures waterspout near Patrick AFB]

Fair weather waterspouts generally form during relatively calm conditions, under a developing cumulus cloud. Instead of forming near the clouds, like a tornadic waterspout, the fair weather version develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward to the clouds. Their surprise factor makes these waterspouts dangerous for boaters. These waterspouts tend to form while winds are light, limiting their tracking speed. 

[READ: Waterspout spins near Titusville High School]

No matter the version, waterspouts can be dangerous to boaters if they get too close.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says the best way to avoid a waterspout is to move at a 90-degree angle to its movement. 

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