What appeared to be a water spout gave some East Enders a brief show Friday afternoon, coasting over the Peconic Bay before dissipating, authorities said.
The whirling column of mist and air appeared about 2 p.m. and was gone in about 10 minutes, said meteorologist Bill Goodman at the Upton-based National Weather Service, which got several calls about the phenomenon.
It first developed off Riverhead, then moved east over the bay past Southampton and about two miles from the town's police headquarters, where dispatcher Kathleen Vonatzski photographed the column with her cellphone.
"It went by pretty quick," Vonatzski said. "It looked like what you'd see on TV, like a tornado coming down to the ground ... except it was over the water."
Southampton Town police said they got several calls.
The water spout formed when the updraft from a heavy shower over the area met the front edge of a sea breeze, Goodman said. The shower's updraft compacted and stretched the cold air and mist of the sea breeze's front edge, tilting it upward to form a column from the rain clouds to the water, he said.
He likened the formation to when skaters draw their arms close to their bodies -- they spin faster as they stretch their arms up and draw them in.
But one boater reported that it didn't touch the water, the meteorologist said. "I'm wondering if that's true," he said. "Technically, it wouldn't be a water spout but close to it. It if didn't touch down, it might be a funnel cloud."
Water spouts are like tornadoes, able to move at high speeds and cause damage.
"If you're out in the water and you're near a water spout, it can be dangerous," Goodman said. "It can overturn a boat. Thank God nobody was close enough."