After an otherwise sunny afternoon in the town of Emerald Isle just off the coast of North Carolina, Joshua Lanier spotted an ominous cylindrical mass swirling just above the water’s surface.
Lanier caught it on camera from his beach house shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday and posted it to Twitter, where upwards of 3,000 people have since watched the video.
The tornado-like vortex he filmed is what’s known as a waterspout.
But it’s not the first to make an appearance along the North Carolina shoreline this year.
Another waterspout was filmed at Wrightsville Beach in June, just 200 yards off the beach, WRAL reported. It was short lived, but WRAL reported the National Weather Service still issued a special marine warning after the waterspout shifted offshore.
The NWS in Newport and Morehead City, North Carolina, said there was actually an influx of waterspout reports across the state on Monday.
The phenomenon isn’t new to Emerald Isle, a beach town on the Crystal Coast and just south of the Outer Banks, a popular tourist destination. Town officials thought a waterspout that came ashore in December was to blame for some minor property damage that befell residents, the Carteret County News-Times reported.
But the NWS later said that damage was likely caused by “straight line winds rather than the rotating winds associated with a tornado,” the Charlotte Observer found.
The National Ocean Service defines a waterspout as “a whirling column of air and mist” that is typically classified as either “fair weather” or “tornadic.”
According to the NOS, tornadic waterspouts are just what they sound like: tornadoes over water. They carry similar characteristics and are typically accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail and frequent lightning.
Fair weather waterspouts are different, the NOS says, as they tend to “form along the dark flat base of a line of developing cumulus clouds” and are “generally not associated with thunderstorms.”
“While tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm, a fair weather waterspout develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward,” the NOS says. “By the time the funnel is visible, a fair weather waterspout is near maturity. Fair weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions so they normally move very little.”
A tornado warning is issued if a waterspout shifts to land, according to the NWS. Some are considered dangerous, though experts say the fair weather waterspouts tend to dispel quickly once on land and rarely move farther inward.