Residents of Union Island were mystified last Saturday morning after seeing what was believed to be a tornado in the Clifton Harbour. This weather phenomenon has the potential of causing a major disaster.

One eyewitness Florine Adams reflected: “It had a circular motion, coming down from the clouds to the water and it faded within fifteen minutes.”

Other persons reported that there were three of these formations and another one in the vicinity of Carriacou to the southwest.

The formations were waterspouts, sometimes called a tornado over water. A waterspout is defined as a columnar vertex that occurs over a body of water and is normally connected to a cumuliform cloud. The waterspouts seen in the waters of Clifton from all appearances were non-tornadic or fair-weather waterspouts, which are the most common types; they are commonly seen in coastal waters and are associated with dark, flat-bottomed, developing convective cumulus tower clouds, as was the case on Saturday. This type of waterspout has a rapid life cycle, developing and dissipating within twenty minutes; they have weak winds measuring EF0 (the lowest) on the Enhanced Fujita Scale and travel very slowly.

On the other hand, a tornado, usually referred to as a twister, is a violent rotating column of air that moves over land, with much higher wind speeds reaching 110 miles per hour and about 250 feet in diameter. The most extreme ones can span a diameter of over two miles wide and reach wind speeds of 300 miles per hour, causing severe damage to property and loss of lives.

Disturbance caused by the Waterspout

They normally develop in areas that are prone to severe thunderstorm. Recently over 300 tornadoes ripped through several states in the US, killing around 337 persons and leaving behind millions of dollars in damage to property.

Waterspouts are common in this region; only a few days ago some were spotted off the coast of Guyana touching down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Story by Stanton Gomes

Also published in the Vincentian Newspaper