Caught! Waterspout Comes Onshore in Tampa

Tampa Bay waterspout
A waterspout hit Tampa this morning at 11:12 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. (Image credit: Robert Siegel/National Weather Service)

As a waterspout sped toward Tampa, Fla., this morning (Feb. 26), a quick-thinking weather watcher snapped the vacation photo of a lifetime.

Robert Siegel, a spotter for the National Weather Service's volunteer program, was on vacation in Florida when the waterspout appeared in northern Hillsborough Bay at 11:12 a.m. Siegel, who lives in Colorado, shot photos and emailed them to the National Weather Service, which shared the waterspout image via Twitter.

The photos show dark, stormy skies and water swirling above the bay. The waterspout came ashore as a tornado with 60 mph (96 kph) winds, according to a statement from the National Weather Service's Tampa Bay office.

The Tampa waterspout transformed into a tornado when it hit land, damaging roofs and five vehicles. (Image credit: Robert Siegel/National Weather Service)

The tornado then hit the Westin Hotel and proceeded down a channel between the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Harbour Island, the NWS said. The twister lifted just east of the Florida Aquarium, traveling about 4,500 feet (1,360 meters) in all. Wind gusts associated with the tornado reached 75 to 85 mph (120 to 136 kph).

No injuries were reported, but damage included roofing, condo furniture, downed light poles and five vehicles, the NWS said.

The entire Tampa Bay region was under a tornado watch for the morning as a cold front moved in from the north. The watch was canceled around 1 p.m. EST.

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Contributing Writer
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.