Watch as rare water spout forms off the Illawarra coastline

Nature has put on a spectacular display for NSW's Illawarra beachgoers, creating a rare waterspout out at sea.

Illawarra Mercury readers have captured photos of the spectacle, which formed off the coast on Wollongong this afternoon.

Nathan Burke, who captured the spout on video, told the Mercury he was at Shellharbour ocean pool when he noticed the sky getting darker around him.

Video by Nathan Burke

He said a large streak of lightning to the north-west caught his attention.

"When I looked up I saw the dark shape of a funnel begin to appear from the dark layer of clouds in the photograph," he said.

"Other people walking along the path at Shellharbour also saw the spout forming.

"It appeared to get close to a vessel in the distance. I took my phone and took some photographs and videos and watched it until it appeared to dissociate."

A water spout is basically a column of rotating, cloud-filled wind which descends from a cumulus cloud to an ocean or a lake.

They are associated with developing thunderstorms but not storms themselves, and generally form over warmer water.

They form differently to tornadoes. Most most water spouts are not dangerous and will usually be short lived. These are known as 'fair weather water spouts'.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Abrar Shabren said water spout were often associated with thunderstorms.

"They're often accompanied by high winds and high seas and can have hail as well and frequently have dangerous lightning as well," he said.

This story Watch a rare waterspout as it forms first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.