Q: You sometimes hear the weatherman mention the term waterspouts. What are they?

A: A waterspout is a tornado that forms over an ocean, bay or a lake, said Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University.

“A waterspout is created in the same way as a tornado, but because it’s over water and not land, you don’t see the dark funnel cloud that a tornado has because there is no dust or dirt to form the ominous looking image that we associate with tornadoes,” he explained. “In fact, they often appear almost white or light blue in color.”

He added that there are two types of waterspouts: a tornadic waterspout and a fair weather waterspout.

“ Tornadic waterspouts are usually more dangerous than fair weather waterspouts because they generally start out as a tornado over land and then move across water,” he said. “They can be large and capable of destruction, while fair weather waterspouts are usually thin and not nearly as strong as a tornadic waterspout.”

Most form over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the southern Atlantic coastline, with the Florida Keys reporting the most waterspouts of any area, McRoberts said.

“While most of these are harmless, some can overturn boats or do serious damage to docks and structures along the water,” he added. “If you see a waterspout, consider it a dangerous event and be prepared to take shelter immediately.”

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2011-10-13 digital edition

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