When A Waterspout Strikes…

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Image: Jerry Liew

The formation of a waterspout off the coast of Singapore.

All images are copyrighted and used with permission of Jerry Liew

The waterspout appeared, stretching up out of the ocean and seeming to skirt between boats – boats whose situation off the coast of Singapore suddenly looked decidedly more perilous.

Bystanders on land watched the towering vortex, awestruck. An eerie howling sound could be heard preceding a burst of heavy rain and extremely strong winds. If people on shore ducked instinctively at this expression of Nature’s power, then we can only guess at the reaction of those on the boats as these terrific elements were unleashed. Yet no sooner had the phenomenon started than it ceased, leaving observers gaping at the display they had witnessed.


Image: Jerry Liew

The cascade of sea spray with the funnel rising skyward to the cloud.

Boats in the vicinity of waterspouts like this must feel vulnerable, to say the least. Though most are less ferocious than tornadoes – their land-based cousins – waterspouts are still serious marine hazards that can wreak havoc when they surprise ships, helicopters, planes and swimmers.

Waterspouts (at least, those classified as non-tornadic) generally begin their life cycle at the water’s surface before climbing up into the sky. They occur in high humidity, when warm water temperatures interact with cold air. Despite what we might perceive, the giant column does not really suck up seawater into its midst; the funnel is technically a cloud, made visible by water droplets formed by condensation.

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Image: Jerry Liew

The funnel appearing to grow in intensity.

The waterspout photographs shown here were taken off the southeastern coast of Singapore, home of photographer Jerry Liew. Liew spotted the waterspouts from the comfort of his apartment, and being so centrally located, he has witnessed quite a few of them over the years. According to Liew, they occur several times a year along Singapore’s coastline.

Even so, there must surely be some good fortune involved in capturing not one but two such series on camera – as Liew managed to do, in 2007 and 2009. Waterspouts often form too far out at sea to be seen from land (although they do generally occur within 60 miles (100 km) of the coast). Add to this the fact that when such an event happens, many bystanders must be simply too awestruck to remember to take out their cameras, and you begin to realize why there are so few amazing image sequences like this one.

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