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What the (Water) Devil?

What the (Water) Devil?

Imagine this: It’s the middle ages, and you are a fisherman with a small wooden boat. Every morning, you and your neighbors head out to sea to catch your livelihood. One morning, as you drop your nets, a serpentine column rises out of the water with an eerie groaning sound. It towers at least 1,000 feet above your boat as it weaves drunkenly across the surface of the water. You watch in horror as it approaches another fisherman’s boat, reducing it to splinters in a matter of seconds and dragging your comrade into the roiling sea beneath it. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it slips back beneath the waves without a trace. Throughout your entire ordeal, the sun shone brightly, and only a few small, fluffy clouds marked the sky. Whatever it was that you saw, one thing is certain; you’ll be a popular man at the pub tonight …

This type of occurrence — along with sightings of whales and other impressive sea life — is likely responsible for many of the more colorful historical accounts of deadly monsters lurking in our oceans. What is described here, however, is not a sea serpent, but a type of tornado called a waterspout. At lower levels of intensity — usually not severe enough to destroy a boat — waterspouts are often referred to by the more poetic name “water devils.”

Waterspouts generally occur during warmer months — from May to September in the Northern Hemisphere. Like tornadoes, they are cyclonic disturbances that form when fronts of high and low pressure collide. Unlike tornadoes, waterspouts often occur when the weather is otherwise fair. Waterspouts can form over any body of water, are usually short-lived, and are rarely as destructive as land tornadoes. Even so, they are impressive, and can reach heights of up to 3,000 feet!

Sea serpent or not, seeing a waterspout or water devil is definitely a tale worth sharing.

3 comments

1 andrew belecque { 07.08.11 at 12:23 am }

i was kayaking on July 7,2011 when i think on of these water devils appeared out of nowhere and i was right in its path it flipped my boat and i was in the water it was raining all around me but like 150 meters away was my dad in his boat oblivious to what is going on behind him and there is no rain. after my panic attack i looked up and saw a full circle rainbow around the sun i don’t know if this is associated with this or not it was scary as hell email me back an tell me what you think. also the water devil thing or whatever vanished after it hit me it only lasted like 20 seconds.

2 Jaime McLeod { 05.05.10 at 8:46 am }

Hi AD & AJ. I have to admit, your question has stumped me. My research was clear that a waterspout can form over “any body of water,” so I suppose a swimming pool should, indeed, qualify. If a waterspout did form over a pool, though, it wouldn’t be very impressive – more of a water “spurt.” To get an idea of the scale of a waterspout, check out this video of a recent waterspout in Singapore. Notice how wide the base of the waterspout is in comparison to the nearby ships. That would require a lot of swimming pools!

As I was looking for an answer to your question, though, I stumbled upon a fun news item. On August 12, 1984, George Messe of Annapolis, Md., discovered a four-inch lobster in his backyard swimming pool after a big storm. Messe told reporters he believed a waterspout had picked the lobster up out of the ocean and deposited it in his pool. Whether that’s what actually happened or not, I can’t say. Mr. Messe would have needed to live very close to the ocean for that to be possible, though, because waterspouts break up as soon as they reach land. One blogger who lives near Lake Erie described standing on the beach waiting for a waterspout to reach the shore and give everyone a good dousing.

3 AD & AJ { 05.04.10 at 9:34 pm }

My children & I enjoyed learning about “water devils”. I came to this site to get weather info but noticed the photo of the water spout and shared it with my sons. They learned a lot and were impressed by how high it can get! We’re wondering if waterspouts can occur in swimming pools since it is a body of water?!

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