Hilton Head Waterspout Surprises Beachgoers Sunday Afternoon - WNCN: News, Weather

Hilton Head Waterspout Surprises Beachgoers Sunday Afternoon

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -

UPDATE: When swirling clouds funneled down into the water off Hilton Head Island on Sunday, beach goers fled from the waters. After taking cover, several stopped long enough to marvel at the sight, snapping photos and taking video of it happening. Blake Snyder took the video News Three shares above. 

"It looked like just little pieces of clouds, and then it started out slow and then it started forming really quickly," another beach goer, Teri Eaton says.  

"Everybody said, 'It's a tornado! It's a tornado!' but of course, it was a water spout over the water. I guess it's basically the same thing, but it was throwing water real high, probably 100 feet in the air," David Deal says.

The National Weather Service (NWS) says the water spout never made it to land, where it would have become a tornado. 

"It started going towards the south end of the island, so I guess maybe that's why I didn't sense fear, because I knew it wasn't coming towards us," Eaton says. 

"It looked like when it started turning towards land, it hit another bank of clouds or something and it just kind of fizzled out, so I don't think it hit land," Deals adds.

Those who watched it all say it traveled some five miles and lasted maybe 20 minutes. Nevertheless, Storm Team 3 Meteorologist Lee Haywood says a water spout is something you may not want to stick around to watch. 

"You need to be off the beaches if that thing is coming onto shore," Haywood says. "Keep in mind, water spouts can produce winds of up to 65 miles per hour or less." He says they are more common than one would think.

However, there was still a buzz about the phenomenon Monday. "Everybody was excited. And after it was over, everybody talked about it for an hour or two I know afterwards," Deal says.

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While trying to make the best of a rainy and cloudy weekend, many beach goers along Hilton Head Island were surprised to look up and see a waterspout just offshore Sunday afternoon around 3:40 PM.

A waterspout is a rotating column of water and spray formed by a whirlwind occurring over a body of water.

Most waterspouts rapidly develop and dissipate, having life cycles shorter than 20 minutes.

They usually rate no higher than EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, generally exhibiting winds of less than 67 mph.

In the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry most of our waterspouts occur from late Spring, through Summer, and into early Fall.

If a waterspout moves onshore it's classified as a tornado.

Although unofficial, we did receive reports from those nearby on the beach that the waterspout briefly became a tornado just before it quickly dissipated onshore. We'll continue to follow up and verify that as new information becomes available.

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