A weak tornado briefly touched down just north of Pine Bluff early Wednesday afternoon. The National Weather Service in Little Rock determined the tornado was a landspout tornado.

So what is a landspout, and how are they different from regular tornadoes?

The biggest difference is the strength. Although landspouts can be as strong as an EF-2 tornado, they are typically rated as an EF-0 or EF-U like Wednesday’s landspout. Winds are typically less than 100 mph in a landspout. Landspouts are much less damaging and dangerous than tornadoes.

The second difference is how they form. A tornado is formed in the rotating updraft of a supercell thunderstorm. A supercell thunderstorm is a thunderstorm that is rotating. A landspout can be formed in a rain shower or a thunderstorm that is not rotating. The spin of a landspout actually originates at the ground.

Waterspouts which are very common in the Gulf of Mexico, are the same as landspouts but they are over water.

Because landspout form from the ground up, they are nearly impossible to detect with radar and can go unwarned by the National Weather Service.

If you see a landspout heading toward you the safest thing to do is go inside and get away from windows. Unlike with stronger tornadoes, going inside a mobile home will keep you safe.

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