A waterspout occurs when a tornado forms over oceans, lakes, or rivers. They form when high layers of cool air blow across a body of water while warm moist air sweeps up from below. They appear as thin columns with the funnels sucking up water over mushroom-shaped water sprays.
Waterspouts can vary in size from a few feet to more than a mile in height, and from a few feet to hundreds of feet wide. Witnesses say they make hissing and sucking noises as they move. These water twisters can move anywhere from 2 to 80 miles an hour. Winds within the waterspout can spiral around at 60-120 miles an hour. These phenomena usually last up to fifteen minutes, and few last more than half an hour.
Similar to tornadoes, waterspouts are often seen in groups. Ships out on the ocean have reported as many as 30 in one day!
Waterspouts, like their land counterparts, can pick up and transport some interesting objects. In Montreal, a waterspout once carried lizards and rained them on the hapless Canadians. They have sent showers of tadpoles in New York, and even toads in France. One in Providence, Rhode Island, rained fish down on the people, who promptly collected and sold them.
Waterspouts appear most often from May to September over warm ocean water. They are usually not as dangerous as tornadoes, but can still cause serious damage to ships. The Lilian Morris, a sailing ship, struck a 500-foot-wide waterspout that tore its masts, sails, and swept a man overboard. Waterspouts sank five ships at Tunis, on the North African coast, in 1885.