A tornado or not a tornado?

May. 01, 2013 @ 05:06 AM

What some people thought were funnel clouds in Rutherford County turned out to be similar to waterspouts.

According to the National Weather Service, based at the Greenville/Spartanburg (S.C.) Airport, the funnels which were witnessed Tuesday afternoon were not dangerous.

“Most of the time they are really pretty weak and a majority of the time they don’t even reach the ground,” said Pat Tanner, hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “They were not tornadic by any means. The atmosphere was not conducive to really strong downdrafts.”

Tanner said the funnels reported were “cold-air funnels” that are similar to waterspouts. He said the National Weather Service had no indications of any tornadic activity in the area before or during the sightings.

“We had taken our radar down for preventive maintenance during the day and we would not have done that if there was even a remote chance of a tornado in the coverage area,” Tanner said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a waterspout is broken into two categories: fair weather and tornadic. A fair weather waterspout forms along a “dark flat base of clouds” and is not generally associated with thunderstorms.

Law enforcement officials reported two different funnel sightings near Spindale and Forest City just before 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“You could see a nub coming down and it went back up,” said Phillip Dowling, a Forest City landscaper. “It kept going up and coming down a little bit lower each time.”

Dowling, who was working at a home outside Forest City, said he saw the funnel pick up what looked like vapor from surrounding trees.

“I was really worried for the people in the house behind where I was at,” Dowling said.

Just after 2 p.m. the National Weather Service issued a statement indicating that the funnels were forming “in association with weak rain showers.” The statement also said the funnels “rarely” touch down.

“They aren’t particularly common in general,” Tanner said. “We don’t really hear of them that much. It is pretty rare.”

Even when the National Weather Service regained access to its radar, Tanner said there was still no indication of any storm activity in the region.

“All it showed was just some small showers in Rutherford County and into the upstate of South Carolina in Union County,” Tanner said.