Waterspouts are, I believe, more frequently seen at sea than on land, but I have an account from my brother, Mr. F.E. Savory, of one he saw many years ago in Wiltshire. He writes:
“When I was at Manningford Bruce in 1873 or 1874, I saw a dense black cloud travelling towards the southeast, the lower part of which became pointed like a funnel in shape, waving about as it descended until, I suppose, the attraction of the earth overcame the cohesion of the cloud’s vapour, and it discharged itself. I could see it looking lighter and lighter, from the middle outwards, until it was entirely dispersed. I heard that the water fell on the side of the Down near Collingbourne, about five miles off, and washed some of the soil away, but I did not see that. The weather was stormy, but I do not remember the time of year or any other particulars.”
It would seem that a waterspout is caused by a whirlwind entering a cloud and gathering vapour together by its rotary action into such a heavy mass that it descends in the funnel shape described. We are all familiar with the small whirlwinds that travel across a road in summer, carrying the dust round and round with them; these are called “whirly-curlies” in Worcestershire, and are regarded as a sign of fine weather. I have sometimes seen quite a strong one crossing rows of hay just ready to carry, cutting a clean track through each row, and leaving the ground bare where it passed. The hay is often carried to a great height, and sometimes dropped in an adjoining field.
On a bright morning in summer one often sees, a little distance away, a tremulous or flickering movement in the air, not far from the ground, which Tennyson refers to in In Memoriam, as, “The landscape winking thro’ the heat”; and again in The Princess:
the rich to come
Reels, as the golden Autumn woodland reels
Athwart the smoke of burning weeds.”
I am told that this appearance is “due to layers of air of different degrees of refracting power, in motion, relative to one another. Air at different temperatures will refract light differently.” In Hampshire this phenomenon is known by the pretty name of “the summer dance.”
Since I came to the Forest I have seen two very curious and, I think, unusual natural appearances. As I was cycling one rather dull afternoon from Wimborne to Ringwood, I noticed a colourless rainbow, or perhaps I should say, “mist-bow,” for there was no rain, and the sun was partially obscured. The sun was about south-west, and the bow was north-east; it was merely a series of well-defined but colourless segments of circles, close to each other but shaded so as to make them distinguishable, arranged exactly like a rainbow but without a trace of colour beyond a grey uniformity. It was on my left for several miles, perhaps half of the total distance of nine miles between the two towns.