The incident happened at Fort Myers beach in southwest Florida on Saturday. Video of the incident showed dark clouds forming and chairs and tents being blown away by powerful gusts as beachgoers ran for shelter.
The National Weather Service (NWS) later confirmed that the waterspout had moved onshore as a weak tornado and that they were investigating the sudden weather change.
NWS said that the tornado had peak winds of around 65mph.
“Essentially, because a waterspout is basically a tornado over water, that means that the waterspout ended up being a tornado as it moved onshore,” Ross Giarratana, a NWS meteorologist in Tampa, said.
No injuries were reported. Minor property damage occurred at the nearby Lani Kai Island Resort.
Audrey and Dale Groombridge, who have vacationed in Fort Myers for the past 45 years, told local news station,WINK-TV, that they had come for a shrimp festival at the beach but festivities were cut short by the weather.
Cheryl Sackaris, a vendor at the shrimp festival, told the station that it was one of the scariest days of her life.
“You can see our tent is shaking like crazy right now, but, um, you know, I’m used to it to a point because I’ve been doing shows for about 24 years,” said Ms Sackaris.
🌪Here’s the VIDEO👇🏻of waterspout, then tornado that struck Fort Myers Beach & the Lani Kai Island Resort. Damage reported and power out. #waterspout #tornado #FortMyersBeach #wxtwitter #LaniKaiResort pic.twitter.com/rFV6AQoEY6
— Steve Norris (@SteveNorrisTV) March 12, 2022
“Today, I think, was a little bit of the scariest. Because it came all of a sudden, like what’s going on, there’s a water spout, here we go, where’s it going?” she added.
There is much debate among scientists over whether the climate crisis is playing a role in tornadoes.
Recent analysis found that while all seasons are impacted by global heating, winter is warming the fastest across much of the US, intensifying conditions in the atmosphere which can spawn tornadoes.
Twisters are tricky to study partly because they are relatively short-lived, and tend to appear in less densely-populated areas. In decades before cell phones, data largely relied on people spotting tornadoes and calling them into the National Weather Service.
But the body of research is growing. A study in 2014 from the National Severe Storms Laboratory found that in the past 50 years, clusters of tornadoes have become more common.
A separate 2018 study found that over the past four decades, America’s “Tornado Alley” appears to be shifting towards the East Coast, away from typical paths through Kansas and Oklahoma.