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Wednesday, Apr 18, 2018
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Tampa Bay Weather

Waterspout attention fueled by timing, sea breezes

Waterspouts are spouting more often than rainbows, or so it seems to motorists crossing Tampa Bay area bridges this summer.

"There have certainly been more waterspouts in the last two months than I have seen in the six years I've lived here," said News Channel 8 meteorologist Leigh Spann said.

Timing has a lot to do with the added attention.

"It also just so happens that many of them formed during the evening commute over Tampa Bay. That means a lot of people have seen the waterspouts and have taken lots of pictures and video of them so they are getting a lot of attention."

The Tampa Bay area has been getting very strong thunderstorms in the late afternoons over the past several weeks. Stronger storms increase the chances for waterspouts.

In June, Tampa International Airport recorded 11.30 inches of rain, 4.62 inches above normal, Spann said. July has dropped similar numbers, with 9.91 inches, or 3.06 inches above normal.

The thunderstorm that produced Tuesday night's waterspout over Old Tampa Bay dropped 2.16 inches of rain at the airport, setting a record for day.

Blame a strong easterly flow of winds, along with very warm bay waters and high humidity. The easterly flow helps sea breezes from the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean meet over the Bay area. Strong storms form where those boundaries meet.

"As those two collide over Tampa Bay, it gives us favorable condition for waterspouts formation," said Ernie Jillson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "Any year when we've had a lot of easterly flow, it happens."

Which is more often than many might expect. According to The Weather Channel, Florida is the nation's waterspout capital, citing the state's warm water, heat and humidity for growing clouds that can start the funnels.
There have been six waterspouts in or near Tampa Bay since June 1, Jillson said, citing preliminarily reports.

"Since there is always a small chance for waterspouts when we see thunderstorms form over water, the fact that we've had more thunderstorm activity recently means that the threat for waterspouts is higher," Spann said.

Weather Center