What Is a Waterspout?

A waterspout popped up off the coast in Limassol, Cyprus, this week, turning heads at the pier. There were no reports of damage, but it did raise plenty of questions, like what exactly is a waterspout and what causes this weather phenomenon?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a waterspout is a whirling column of air and mist. Also known as a water devil, it tends to fall under the two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.

Tornadic waterspouts form over water, or move from land to water. They usually occur in conjunction with severe thunderstorms that include high winds, high water levels and large hail.

Fair weather waterspouts tend to form along a dark flat base of a line of developing cumulus clouds. They're not associated with thunderstorms. They form at the water's surface and work upward. That's another one one seen in Cypress in the video above.

The National Weather Service will issue tornado warnings for waterspouts if they make landfall. However, most of them tend to dissipate rapidly.

In addition, waterspouts aren't much different than their earth-bound cousins, landspouts.

Waterspouts occur more frequently in tropical areas like the Florida Keys, but interestingly, they don't form by sucking up water. In fact, they're formed by droplets created by condensation that create a funnel cloud.

Videos and in-person reports reveal that sometimes they make hissing or bubbling noises as they move across the water.

As fascinating as these weather occurrences are, NOAA recommends that you should keep your distance, and if you can't avoid one, keep yourself at a 90-degree angle to its movement.

If you're too close to move out of the way, seek shelter in a secure and safe location just like you would for a tornado.