What's the difference between a waterspout and a tornado?

What's the difference between a waterspout and a tornado?


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The only difference is that a waterspout takes place over water, a tornado takes place over land.  

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P., Here are some links that will show the difference..

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Tornado vs. Waterspout

Posted: 8:52 PM May 24, 2009


This morning at 8:59 a 'Tornado Warning' popped up in Coastal Walton County. My immediate thought when seeing the warning, was that it was a waterspout along the coast. Oscar and I got to chatting about it today, and agreed that in an ideal world, warnings should be distinguished between actual tornadoes, and water spouts. Granted, some waterspouts can be tornadic, but most are not, and it gives a false sense of danger when one sees a Tornado Warning on TV


So what's the difference? The obvious assumption would be that a water spout must develop over water. This is not necessarily true.  By simple definition, a water spout is a column of rotating wind over water that has characteristics of a tornado or dust devil. That would be the rotation. But many times water is picked up and becomes highly visible, sometimes a lot more than just the dust seen in tornados. This can give the impression that they are a lot stronger than they really are.
Now we must make the distinction between a tornadic waterspout and a non-tornadic waterspout. A tornadic waterspout is one that originated as a tornado over land, and eventually moved over water. These become very dangerous for boats and marinas, and especially boats not anchored or tied down. Tornadic waterspouts are typically more dangerous than "fair weather waterspouts", and are usually much larger. Non-tornadic waterspouts average between 3-100 meters, and have rotating winds less than 45 kts. which would make it an F0 tornado had it been over land.\
What occurred in Walton county this morning was most likely a non-tornadic waterspout that moved inland for a brief period of time, and then fizzled. The storms at that time were moving South to North, and the 'Tornado Warning' was only issued for fifteen minutes. Tornado warnings for land based tornadoes are generally issued for 45 minutes, and dropped early if the storm loses its rotation.
Waterspouts not only form over the sea, but can also develop over larger lakes. One of the biggest misconceptions about waterspouts is that it is assumed that a waterspout draws up water from the body of water it is over. This is NOT true. The water that makes a waterspout visible largely comprised of the same things that tornadoes are made visible by, condensed water vapor and dust with converging winds that rise around a core. However, some of the water you see at the very bottom of the waterspout is spray from that body of water, but only goes up a few meters.
Waterspouts are very common in areas where there are daily convective thunderstorms, like the Florida Keys. Tornadic waterspouts are far more dangerous, less common and more damaging. Today, this was not the case.
Tornado vs. Waterspout: Conneaut twister sparks questions

Posted: 06/29/20 By: Mark Johnson

CLEVELAND - Here is a great question from a Madison, Ohio viewer:
"Hi Mark, What is the difference between a tornado and a waterspout? I saw the picture you showed of the Conneaut tornado when it was out over the lake and having lived lakefront all my life, I assumed it was a waterspout. Shouldn't it have dissipated when it reached shore? We did see what we called a "waterspout wannabe" with that storm and it appears that it was just forming."
Mark's response: Great question! What you witnessed over Lake Erie Sunday evening was indeed a tornado for all intents and purposes. Technically, though, by definition, any rapidly rotating column of air t ouching a water surface is called a waterspout. But a tornadic waterspout, like the one on Sunday, is very different from your typical fair weatherwaterspout in how it forms. Tornadic waterspouts are produced by severe thunderstorms, just like tornadoes over land. They are really one in the same. Fair weather waterspouts don't require thunderstorms to form at all.
A typical fair weather waterspout does not drop from the base of a thunderstorm. In fact, there may be no rain at all nearby. Fair weather waterspouts are weak circulations that form when very cold air a few thousand feet above the earth's surface, moves over very warm water and a very shallow layer of warm air next to that warm water. This often happens here in Ohio, after the passage of a strong cold front in summer. Warm 70+ degree lake water warms the air near the surface while the air just above it remains cold. The warm air begins to rise, while the cold air aloft begins to fall. The two competing circulations become intertwined and can form a funnel. Once this waterspout reaches land, the warm air/cold air interaction is lost and the funnel dissipates
True tornadoes are different animals than your common fair weather waterspouts. They form in severe thunderstorms often ahead of an approaching cold front. Since severe thunderstorms can occur over land or water, a tornado can form over land or water! The storm that produced a tornado in Conneaut on Sunday also produced a tornado near Detroit, Michigan earlier in the day! The storm just happened to travel over Lake Erie on its way southeast into Ohio.
So how do you tell the difference? Understand the weather patterns occurring at the time you see the funnel. Is a cold front approaching but not yet through? Is the air very warm and humid? Is a Severe Thunderstorm Watch in effect? Are severe thunderstorms in the area? This would more likely be the conditions favourable for a true tornado.  Also, notice the cloud structures...tornadoes are often accompanied by violent thunder and lightning, heavy rain and ominous looking cloud formations such as wall clouds and tail clouds. Common fair weather waterspouts will develop and dropout of low, thick cumulus clouds but may not have any rain at all around them.

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