Volume 4    Number 15

Tornado of the Ocean: the Waterspout

Waterspout near Bimini

In April and May 2003, many tornados have appeared across several states in the midwestern United States. Several of those storms were powerful and caused much damage to homes and businesses. The staff of ReefNews sends their heartfelt condolences to those who suffered loss from those storms.

Although tornados over land can be very large and powerful, tornados over water are usually small and not nearly as powerful. A tornado is a windstorm. Warm air rises, creating a low pressure near land. As the air rises, the motion of the earth underneath the moving air causes the rising air to spin around in a circle. If the conditions in the upper atmosphere are just right, the spinning, rising air gets amplified. The winds get faster as the air chases itself around and around in a tight cylinder above the earth. This is a tornado.

Tornados over water are called waterspouts. Waterspouts are the same as tornados over land, but they are usually no bigger than the smallest of over-land tornados. Winds of a waterspout may be as slow as only 45 miles per hour. On the other hand, winds of the biggest tornados over land may be faster than 300 miles per hour.

Where the waterspout touches the ocean, the rising air pulls up a big spray of water. The waterspout in this picture may have been as much as 400 feet tall. The width of the funnel may have been only 10 or 20 feet across.

This picture first appeared on the ReefNews CD-ROM "Bimini: Jewel of the Gulf Stream." You also can read more about the island of Bimini and its reefs on the ReefNews website, at http://www.reefnews.com/reefnews/oceangeo/bimini/bimini.html.



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