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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, a waterspout is a non-supercell tornado over water having 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 a visible condensation funnel; and ultimately, decay.
Most waterspouts do not suck up water; they are small, weak rotating columns of air over water. Although typically weaker than their land counterparts, stronger versions—spawned by mesocyclones—do occasionally occur.
While waterspouts form mostly in tropical and subtropical areas, they are also reported in Europe, Western Asia (the Middle East), 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.