A waterspout in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., moved ashore briefly and became a minor tornado on Saturday, sending swimmers rapidly fleeing the area.
According to the National Ocean Service, a waterspout is a type of tornado that can either form over water or move from land to water. This type of weather event is often associated with severe thunderstorms, which can include high winds, hail and lightning.
“Essentially, because a waterspout is basically a tornado over water, that means the waterspout ended up being a tornado when it moved toward land,” said Ross Giarratana, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Tampa. Fort Myers News-Press.
The tornado touched down on the beach around 12 p.m., according to videos posted on social media. Meteorologists typically measure the strength of a waterspout using the Enhanced Fujita Scale, however, Giarratana said they were unable to determine its strength exactly based on video footage.
The NWS said the tornado dissipated quickly and no injuries were reported.
Witnesses said the tornado tipped over trash cans and created minor damage at the Lani Kai Beach Resort. Video footage captured the tornado touching down quickly, as visitors on the beach ran to safety.
“I was just trying to check a patch at a table because it started to rain a bit heavily,” said Lisa Wanjiku, a waitress at a local beachfront restaurant. News-Press. “When I turned around, he was picking up chairs and strollers, and trash was flying everywhere. It was a scary bustle with everyone, but it was also shocking to see tourists still standing on the beach because they didn’t understand what was going on.”
Scott Trevino, who was at a bar in the resort, told the outlet it sounded like a “huge swell of wind”, which damaged part of the building.
The tornado occurred as part of a larger storm system moving over southwest Florida that brought colder temperatures to the area. In neighboring Collier County, more than 4,500 people have experienced weather-related power outages so far, according to Florida Power & Light.
“Wide hazards are in effect today across the eastern United States as a powerful cold front and low pressure system moves through the region. Hazards include winter storm warnings, widespread wind advisories and currently a tornado watch in effect throughout Florida until 11 a.m.,” the NWS said. said Saturday in a statement.