Why that waterspout off Jacksonville Beach isn't as scary as a tornado

How waterspouts form and why they aren't very dangerous

By Mark Collins - Meteorologist, Rebecca Barry - Meteorologist

Image from video Hank Watson submitted to StormPins on The Weather Authority app

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - There were mostly dry skies throughout our area Wednesday morning, yet a waterspout formed. How does that happen?

Several people in Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra spotted a waterspout about 8:20 a.m. Wednesday. Some shared images and video on StormPins on The Weather Authority app.

It may have looked like a scary tornado, yet this fair-weather waterspout is fairly weaker.

 

Because they develop differently than more powerful supercell tornadoes, waterspouts are generally much weaker, with winds less than 60 mph and typically last about 20 minutes.

This waterspout formed quickly within a small coastal shower pushing onshore and interacting with a  land breeze of offshore winds flowed from cooler 70-degree land out over the 82-degree Atlantic Ocean water, sparking the formation.

Air rapidly lifts over the warmer water near the shore. Due to much cooler air 5,000 feet above, a rising updraft of air stretched quickly, increasing low-level spin, forming a waterspout.

Winds were less than 10 mph around Jacksonville Beach this morning -- a requirement since fair-weather waterspouts are fragile and easily disrupted by too much wind.

If it had made landfall, it would have been renamed a tornado.

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