The National Weather Service issued a special marine warning this afternoon (10-31-14), after a local pilot reported a waterspout off Middle Island, near Sitka. The waterspout was reported around noon, moving north.
Rick Fritsch is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau. He said that given the weather conditions, waterspouts were likely throughout the afternoon.
“A waterspout is, you know, some folks will call it a tornado over water. [That’s] not entirely true,” Fritsch said. “Waterspouts are not nearly as powerful as a tornado, although they still have the potential to swamp small boats. But not the destructive capability of a tornado. Still, if you were to look at one and see it out over the water, it would look very much like a tornado, without the debris flying around.”
Fritsch said that waterspouts often accompany thunderstorm activity. But it’s not the kind of thing he’s used to seeing near Sitka.
“No, this is not at all a common occurrence out there on the outer coast,” Fritsch said. “We do see things like this during certain weather patterns over Lynn Canal out of Berners Bay, but much less frequent out over the outer coast.”
Fritsch said the risk of waterspouts would recede by sundown.