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    What's With All the Waterspouts Lately?

    By Grace Muller, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
    May 20, 2012, 5:50:46 AM EDT

    Over the past few weeks, many waterspouts formed off the shores of Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. Waterspouts on the Gulf Coast are not common at this time of year.

    Related:
    Crazy Photos of Multiple Gulf Coast Water Spouts

    "The jet stream has been dipping down across that area and it has been very stormy lately," AccuWeather.com Expert Meteorologist Henry Margusity said. "[The jet stream] brings the cold area aloft down with it. Plus, the ocean temperatures are very warm from our warm winter."

    Waterspouts are similar in structure to tornadoes but are very thin. They can last anywhere from a few minutes to a half an hour. They tend to dissipate when they hit land.

    Cold air moving over warm waters can cause waterspouts to form. AccuWeather.com Expert Meteorologist Dave Dombek said that in order for waterspouts to develop, the difference between the temperature of the water and that of the air about 5,000 feet aloft needs to be at least 23° F (13° C). The greater the difference in temperature, the more unstable conditions become and the stronger the waterspout.

    Ordinary waterspouts differ from their far more dangerous kin, tornadoes, in that their size is much smaller and they lack the powerful parent "supercell" thunderstorm. However, even a powerful supercell tornado can be called a waterspout while over water.

    Safety Precautions For Waterspouts
    If you see a waterspout, stay away. Like tornadoes, they can produce significant damage and are hazardous for boaters.

    People planning on boating should keep a few things in mind in order to stay safe.

    First, be on the lookout for thunderstorms or cumulus clouds (clouds that look like cotton balls) with dark, flat bases. Waterspouts tend to form beneath these clouds and in thunderstorms. If you see a waterspout, immediately move at a 90-degree angle from the motion of the waterspout. Never try to navigate through it. Though waterspouts are usually weaker than tornadoes, they can still seriously damage a boat and hurt people.


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