Waterspout reported off IOP; 2 more turn tornado off NC coast

Waterspout at Carolina Beach, NC (Source: Rebecca Lawrence via Facebook)
Waterspout at Carolina Beach, NC (Source: Rebecca Lawrence via Facebook)

ISLE OF PALMS, SC (WCSC / WECT) – Lifeguards spotted a waterspout about five miles off the coast of Isle of Palms around 9:45 a.m. Thursday.

The lifeguards reported the waterspout to the Charleston National Weather Service. It was seen about five miles off the coast of Isle of Palms County Park.

Lifeguards, law enforcement and public safety officials in North Carolina reported up to three waterspouts. Two of the waterspouts turned into tornadoes when they reached the shore, near Atlanta Avenue, Canal Drive and the Boardwalk area of Carolina Beach. Carolina Beach is near Wilmington, NC.

Waterspouts are quite common during the summer months and most actually go unreported. It is rare that waterspouts move onshore, and when they do, they are considered a tornado.

According to a witness, 20 feet of decking south of Hamlet Avenue in Carolina Beach, NC was lifted by the tornado. Umbrellas were reported tossed near the same location.

What's the difference between a waterspout and a tornado?

Funnel Cloud: A vertical rotating column of air that forms from the base of a cloud. The column is not in contact with the ground

Tornado: A funnel cloud, or rotating column of air that forms from the base of a thunderstorm and reaches the ground.

A condensation funnel (the visible part of the funnel cloud) does not necessarily need to be all the way to the ground to be a tornado, but the circulation must reach the ground. This is often evidenced by debris or swirling at the surface.

Waterspout: A column of rotating air that forms over water. There are 2 main types of waterspouts : Tornadic waterspouts and "fair-weather" waterspouts. A waterspout becomes a tornado once it reaches land.

Types of Water Spouts

"Fair-weather" waterspouts
These waterspouts generally form in fair weather over very warm ocean temperatures. Warm water heats the area, which rises and may begin to rotate (it atmospheric conditions are just right).

They are typically more common in the morning, when the air temperature may be cooler than the water temperature. Commonly the waterspout may be connected to a larger cumulus cloud, but it is not always the case. These waterspouts are typically the weaker waterspouts and are akin to dust devils.

Tornadic/Supercell Waterspouts
This is essentially a strong tornado produced from a severe thunderstorm that happens to be over water. These waterspouts tend to be stronger than the "fair-weather" variety.

The spouts form slightly different from the fair weather variety and have the same formation process as land tornadoes. Strong updrafts in thunderstorms transform horizontally turning winds into vertically rotating funnels as they are ingested into the thunderstorm.

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