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A man looks at a watersprout in the sea near Bitung, in the Indonesia's north Sulawesi province REUTERS/Yusuf Ahmad

Holidaymakers and locals in the sleepy Suffolk coastal village of Thorpeness had a shock when they saw what appeared to be a gigantic tornado off the coast. As the giant grey spiral drew closer to land it was revealed to be an even stranger natural phenomenon: a waterspout.

The waterspout was first spotted by pub chef Phil Hannam as he was taking a break at the Thorpeness pub, The Kitchen. Seeing the strange clouds towards the east he took a photograph. Soon afterwards it drew closer, and could be seen by drinkers in the beer garden as it circled the village. The presence of this potentially deadly destructive force was not enough to put most drinkers off their pints, however.

Amy Youngs, manager of The Kitchen, told The Mirror: "It was muggy and stormy yesterday and we had all sorts of weather, but we've never seen a tornado over Suffolk before. We were stunned when Phil came back and showed us the photo on his mobile phone."

Some locals who took pictures thought the oddity was a tornado, as these are sometimes seen in the area, but weather-watchers on the internet were quick to point out their mistake. Although waterspouts are similar to tornadoes, they occur on water and are usually less powerful. They usually dissipate on reaching land and have often been blamed for phenomena such as raining fish, where marine life is sucked up and then dropped up to 100 miles inland.

However, there have been cases in history where waterspouts have caused multiple casualties. In 1851 twin waterspouts in Sicily are blamed for the deaths of more than 500 people. In Malta in 1551, at least 600 were killed when a waterspout entered the grand harbour sinking ships at anchor.