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Waterspouts, Tornadoes, and Tropics

How quickly a quiet morning can change! We find that out sometimes in the weather business, and that definitely was the case yesterday with waterspouts keeping us on our toes along the Cape Fear Coast.

Waterspouts & Tornadoes, Oh my!

So unless you were living under a rock, you caught some of the coverage of the incredible waterspout we saw up close in Carolina Beach. If you haven't -- do yourself a favor and check out all the great images and videos sent in by our viewers. These waterspouts may have popped up fast, but they didn't necessarily come out of the blue.

We were tracking a few storms offshore throughout the morning, but it wasn't until 9:45 or so that a couple stronger cells popped up. One was just off of Oak Island, and the other Carolina Beach. Then the calls came. Tons of people sighted waterspouts out of both storms. Of course, the stronger one ended up being in CB - where light winds caused the cell to drift ashore, when a full-blown tornado warning was issued.

A couple of things worked in favor of creating waterspouts Thursday AM.

- Warm water temperatures created large scale rising air over the ocean. Since the ocean was warmer than the land, storms formed there as air rose through the cool atmosphere.

- Weak winds at the surface and above allowed these storms to remain relatively still, allowing some small circulations to develop over the water. These circulations grew quickly since they were undisturbed by and disrupting winds.

- Light winds guided one of the cells onshore, which turned the waterspout into a short-lived tornado over Carolina Beach.

These aquatic twisters are not the same as tornadoes we track over land during severe weather season. They are typically much weaker, less chaotic, and form under very specific conditions - compared to tornadoes that form out of violently rotating severe thunderstorms.

And whether you knew it or not, they're actually not too rare here in North Carolina. A couple times each summer we'll get a report of a waterspout offshore. What IS rare, is for one to make a landfall like we saw yesterday. They're usually broken up by air currents by then.

As the Tropics turn...

Not too much has changed since we last talked tropics here. Still following a couple systems in the Atlantic... one of more concern than the other.


The only officially classified storm as of Friday morning is the one I don't care much about. Tropical Depression Eight is dancing around the coast of Honduras - and may strengthen into a weak tropical storm. Either way, this is a rainmaker for Central America - and no threat to any interests in the US. Moving on!

The wave we told you about earlier is still alive in the Atlantic. This system is battling out some dry air as it moves westward, but should have enough juice to hold together. Once it gets toward the Caribbean it has a great chance at turning into a storm and quickly intensifying. From there, we start to throw darts at a dartboard.

There are three possible paths if the storm strengthens into a hurricane (which many models say it will):

1) The storm stays on a westerly course and heads into the Gulf

2) The storm turns north, nipping the coast of Florida and maybe making a landfall somewhere in the Carolinas.

3) The storm takes a BIG turn, and heads out to sea completely -- missing the coast.

The way the models are flip-flopping back and forth 7-days out, I'd give each of those possibilities about an equal chance. For what it's worth, here are the Friday AM models we're looking at.

This is just a "wait and see" situation right now. But there's another wave right behind it, and the African continent is full of more tropical waves to follow. Bottom line - we're in the time where we need to be prepared in case a storm heads our way, so get your plans together now!

Have a great weekend everybody...

- TB




By: Tim Buckley