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Summer of waterspouts continues around Tampa Bay

So what's with all these waterspouts?

Notoriously unpredictable, they pop up suddenly and disappear just as quickly. They are virtually impossible to forecast.

But this summer they seem to show up frequently, including one particularly striking vortex on Tampa Bay Tuesday evening.

"It's just dumb luck," said Mike Clay, head meteorologist for Bay News 9.

The region is seeing an above-average amount of waterspouts this summer, keeping amateur photographers busy, but the increase is not a result of any one thing, Clay said.

Waterspouts are fickle.

They are a product of two or more weather systems colliding over water under the right mix of conditions.

"If storms collide over Brandon, you don't get a waterspout," Clay said.

Waterspouts, unlike large Midwestern tornadoes, tend to form almost instantly, giving little warning.

As a system moves across land and water, Clay said, differences in friction may cause it to start rotating and turning into a funnel cloud.

"That's why we see so many in Tampa Bay, because it's a large body of water, but it's surrounded by land and there's a lot of tiny islands and things like that," he said.

In addition, weather patterns have been particularly favorable for waterspout formation in 2013, National Weather Service meteorologist Ernie Jillson said.

The east coast sea breeze has pushed across the state into Tampa Bay, Jillson said, causing it to collide with the west coast sea breeze just offshore.

Such conditions are favorable for big storms and updrafts, a key ingredient in creating funnel clouds, he said.

While waterspouts usually break up after hitting land, they still can cause damage, toppling trees and ripping apart roofs or patios.

"Most of our waterspouts are probably in the range of 40 to 60 mph winds," Jillson said. That's a significant storm, but it's far less ferocious than the tornadoes that sweep across the Midwest.

Winds in some of the Midwestern tornadoes this summer reached 200 mph.

Will we see more funnel clouds?

If favorable climate conditions persist, Jillson said, residents will probably see waterspouts into August.

But it's tough to tell, Clay said.

"There's no way to know."

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Twitter: @zacksampson.

Summer of waterspouts continues around Tampa Bay 07/31/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 11:24pm]
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