MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Today’s tornado on the north end of Myrtle Beach resulted in fairly minimal damage but resulted in lots of questions as to whether it was a tornado or a waterspout.
In general sense a waterspout is simply a tornado over water. If a waterspout moves onshore it’s called a tornado. If a tornado moves over the water, it’s called a waterspout. However, the formation process between a tornado and a waterspout is very different.
There are technically two types of waterspouts; Fair weather waterspouts and tornadic water spouts.
“Fair-weather” waterspouts: These are waterspouts that are not associated with strong or severe thunderstorms , and are by far the most common type. Fair-weather waterspouts occur in coastal waters and are associated with dark, flat-bottomed, developing showers. They usually rapidly develop and dissipate, having life cycles shorter than 20 minutes. They are common in the morning hours when winds are light and the rising air beneath the developing showers are able to easily rotate. This type of waterspout is not too uncommon along the Grand Strand from July through October. These fair-weather waterspouts are often very difficult to detect by radar since the rotation is very weak.
Tornadic Waterspouts: This type of waterspout forms from a strong or severe thunderstorm that has a strong area of rotation. They are essentially a tornado produced from a severe thunderstorm that happens to be over water. These waterspouts tend to be stronger than the “fair-weather” variety. If a strong thunderstorm begins to rotate, that area of rotation can extend to the surface in the form of a tornado. If it happens to be over water, then it’s considered a tornado waterspout.
The tornado that hit the area of northern Myrtle Beach on Friday would be considered a tornadic waterspout.
The storm that produced the tornado initially formed near Surfside beach around 2:35 PM Friday afternoon. By 3:04 PM, the storm had intensified as it passed over Myrtle Beach and was starting to show signs of rotation in the mid-levels.
By 3:19 PM, the rotation had become very strong and was starting to reach down into the lower portions of the storm near 50th Avenue North. The tornado finally touched down over the water at approximately 3:26 PM. The tornado then moved onto the beach and lifted near 74th Avenue. Thankfully, damage was limited to beach chairs, umbrellas and lifeguard stands.