A waterspout is an intense columnar vortex (usually appearing as a funnel-shaped cloud) that occurs over a body of water. Some are connected to a cumulus congestus cloud, some to a cumuliform cloud and some to a cumulonimbus cloud. In the common form, it is a non-supercell tornado over water.
While it is often weaker than most of its land counterparts, stronger versions spawned by mesocyclones do occur. Most waterspouts do not suck up water; they are small and weak rotating columns of air over water.
While waterspouts form mostly in the tropics and subtropical areas, other areas also report waterspouts, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Great Lakes, Antarctica and on rare occasions, the Great Salt Lake. Some are also found on the East Coast of the United States, and the coast of California. Although rare, waterspouts have been observed in connection with lake-effect snow precipitation bands.
Waterspouts have a five-part life cycle: formation of a dark spot on the water surface, spiral pattern on the water surface, formation of a spray ring, development of the visible condensation funnel, and ultimately decay.