Waterspout Whips Across the Adriatic Sea

ADVERTISEMENT


Image: Mladen Duka

Looking at the dark clouds in this picture, we might jump to the conclusion that this waterspout is of the tornadic variety. However, as Duka explains (and the previous photograph illustrates), the weather was fine and still as the waterspout approached. “All around us was calm, windless, and we just heard the loud crickets sizzle and waterspout fizzle,” says Duka, describing the event (quite poetically, we think!).

Flashes of lightning notwithstanding, the relatively peaceful weather conditions in which this waterspout appeared suggest that it was of the fair weather type. Fair weather tornadoes commonly occur around coastal areas like this, and while they are generally less dangerous than their more violent tornadic counterparts, it’s still a good idea to keep out of their way. If they move onshore, they usually fizzle out pretty quickly, but can some waterspouts can damage property and leave people injured when they make landfall.


Image: Mladen Duka

Here’s a closer view of this waterspout. You can see that the bottom of the funnel-shaped cloud isn’t quite touching the ocean. This may be related to the fact that waterspouts, despite their appearance from a distance, don’t really suck up water. In fact, it’s more accurate to think of them as forming in the sky and reaching down towards the water’s surface, rather than rising out of the ocean. The white coloration we can see is actually spinning droplets of condensed water – the same kind of moisture that makes up clouds.

Although water is not being sucked up into the clouds in the way a drink is sucked up through a straw, a waterspout’s winds do cause the waters to swirl and rise up some way into the air, as we can see around the base of this example. Forming prior to the funnel itself, this sea spray is called the ‘cascade’.

ADVERTISEMENT


Image: Mladen Duka

As the spinning funnel of air and mist approaches, we’re given an even closer picture of the eddying cascade at its base. As with land tornadoes, a waterspout’s central vortex and the rotating updrafts that surround it can lift water and even objects or animals – like unfortunate fish – up into the air. And given that what goes up must come down, when the waterspout subsides, everything it may have lifted up into the sky will be dropped back down to earth.

Waterspouts have picked up, carried and then dropped some unusual items in the past. For example, Montreal once experienced raining lizards, New York has been hit by showers of tadpoles, and in France there was even a torrent of toads – all bizarre events that have been attributed to waterspouts. We certainly wouldn’t want to be caught without an umbrella in such weather!

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT