There are few natural wonders as strange as a columnar water spout. It’s one thing when a cyclone-like column of wind picks up a tower of loose dirt, but when it dips into the ocean and whirls up a spire of water that reaches to the clouds, the sight resembles something from another world.
A prime example of this rare weather phenomenon occurred off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida this past weekend. Reaching down from an ominous black storm cloud, the waterspout was visible for miles around, as this Washington Post video shows.
The National Ocean Service defines a waterspout as “a whirling column of air and water mist.” Waterspouts come in two varieties: tornadic waterspouts and fair weather waterspouts. Tornadic waterspouts are generally, well, tornadoes. Fair weather waterspouts, the kind that occurred in Jacksonville over the weekend, form in lighter wind conditions and are not generally associated with storms. They develop on the surface of the water, then spiral upward.
While fair weather waterspouts don’t generally pose a threat to anyone on solid ground, as they usually dissipate when they reach land, waterspouts can be a hazard (and a frightening sight) to anyone on nearby boats that are dwarfed by the towers of water. They can also pose a threat to marine wildlife, as fish can get swept up in the vortex and tossed for miles.
Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to firstname.lastname@example.org.