Weirdest Weather: Waterspouts

Haboobs? Volcano lightning? Keep your hat on, the sky isn't falling just yet.

    Photo: burax/Flickr

WHAT: An up to 8,000-foot-high swirling column of air – sometimes containing a visible funnel cloud – that can move at 30 knots and create winds of 200 miles per hour.

WHERE: The Great Lakes, the Mediterranean, and most tropical and subtropical shallow seas. The Florida Keys average 100 to 500 spouts a summer.

HOW: As warm, moist air rises to form low-lying cumulus clouds over large bodies of water, winds create a swirling vortex that can send a column of condensation up into the clouds’ base.

SUPERFREAKS: Waterspouts have knocked down telephone poles and lifted Cadillacs. They also could explain accounts of frogs and fish falling from the sky: as water gets sucked into an updraft, critters can be, too. Citizens of the Australian town of Lajamanu – 326 miles from the nearest river – say it has happened at least three times in the past 40 years.

THE FORECAST: “If the models are right about rising sea-surface temperatures over the next century, we may see an increase in waterspout activity in the Florida Keys and tropical island nations,” says former NOAA scientist Joseph Golden.

From Outside Magazine, Jul 2013 Get the Latest Issue

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