Waterspouts can be just as strong as some hurricanes experts say

Posted at 6:15 PM, Jul 30, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-30 19:53:36-04

Several people vacationing along the Outer Banks got an unwelcome visitor this week.  A waterspout, which formed over the coastal waters of Dare County in North Carolina Monday, July 30th, caused quite a stir for beachgoers and others near the Bodie Island Lighthouse.  We received several pictures of the waterspout into our newsroom – pictures that remind us how important it is to take waterspouts seriously if you see one along the coast.

Most fair weather waterspouts – those that form over open water during ideal atmospheric conditions – are typically weaker than most land-forming tornadoes.  In fact, most fair weather waterspouts are small, relatively brief, and usually less dangerous.  However, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service Office in Wilmington, NC, waterspouts can have wind speeds as strong as some hurricanes, which can either capsize or destroy small boats at sea.

Photos: Water spout in South Nags Head

If you happen to be on a boat and see a waterspout, seek safe harbor immediately.  Experts say it’s best to move your boat at a right angle to the direction of the movement of the waterspout.  This will take you out of the path of the waterspout and carry you to safety.

If you happen to be at the beach and you see a waterspout moving toward land, seek shelter immediately. You should go to a sturdy structure like a hotel or well-constructed home.  Waterspouts that move onshore can cause damage usually up to a half mile in distance before they dissipate fairly quickly.

Again, it’s important to take waterspouts seriously if you spot one.  Just remember to treat waterspouts like tornadoes.  If you see a waterspout, you should think safety first. They can cause injury and sometimes death if you’re unprotected.

Source: National Weather Service (Wilmington, NC), National Ocean Service (NOAA)