PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A waterspout that formed off the Pinellas County coast Wednesday afternoon turned into a brief tornado when it made its way onshore a beach, kicking up sand and sending beachgoers running.
Photos and videos of the waterspout started coming in around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. One video sent to WFLA.com shows the waterspout moving in from the Gulf of Mexico and toward North Redington Beach.
That video, captured by Frances Lanier Williams, shows the moment the waterspout hit the beach, making landfall to become a brief tornado.
“It was a bit scary watching it come on shore,” Lanier Williams said in a message to WFLA.com. “It made a turn to the south and missed us.”
“It did, in fact, hit the beach so it was a landfilling waterspout [that] turned briefly into a tornado,” WFLA Chief Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli said.
In the video taken by Lanier Williams, people are seen running from the vortex as it kicks up sand on the beach.
“I see it all the time – beach umbrellas, beach chairs get picked up very easily,” Berardelli said. “They can become dangerous.”
Berardelli said the waterspout Wednesday came onshore with just a few small showers, not with big thunderstorms.
“These weren’t tornadic waterspouts,” he said.
People who were in other parts of Pinellas County on Wednesday afternoon spotted the waterspout as well. Alyssa LaCava took video of the vortex from south of Indian Rocks Beach.
Derek Eisengart also grabbed video of the waterspout. He sent his view from nearby the Madeira Beach Fundamental School.
Another video, captured by Mike Richards, shows the waterspout start to dissipate and unravel. Richards took the video near Seminole High School.
According to Berardelli, the waterspout seen in Pinellas County Wednesday was what’s known as a “fair-weather waterspout.”
“These weren’t severe thunderstorms that caused these waterspouts,” Berardelli explained. “Fair-weather waterspouts – people go out boating and you’ll often see them, especially during the summer – very common here in the Tampa Bay area, very common down in the Florida Keys. And they usually pose absolutely no threat to folks on land unless they actually get to the beach.”
If they do get to the beach, Berardelli says it’s important to keep an eye out because they can throw projectiles around and become dangerous.
“But these fair-weather waterspouts never go more than 30 seconds or a minute or so without dissipating before they get on the beach for the most part,” he said. “That’s because they’re not caused by parent thunderstorms. They’re caused by instability in the atmosphere.”
Stay weather aware on the go with the free Max Defender 8 Weather app. You can also sign up to get daily forecast newsletters and weather alert emails sent to your inbox.