Tornado? Actually, No.

scud_cloudThis may look like a funnel cloud or even a tornado, but it’s not.

What the heck is it?
It’s actually called a scud cloud. These clouds are often mistaken for tornadoes or funnel clouds, but they’re not that extreme at all.

Scud Clouds
Technically speaking, they’re a type of fractus cloud. In simpler terms, they’re basically just irregular clouds, or fractions of a complete cloud. They do usually form in the vicinity of thunderstorms, so it’s understandable why they are often mistaken for a tornado.

How do they develop?
As the warm and moist air (typically associated with a thunderstorm) develops, condensation can take place. This can push clouds away from an updraft, causing the clouds to break apart from their counterparts. Due to the flow, these clouds often form ahead of an approaching thunderstorm.

Other reasons why they are mistaken for tornadoes:

  • Scud clouds are often pushed ahead of thunderstorms, which typically results in them moving quickly across the sky.
  • As the clouds move faster than the surrounding clouds, there can be a false impression that they are spinning or rotating.
  • Severe weather often happens in the vicinity of these clouds (but not always), so the worsening conditions may also contribute to the false alarm.

Personal experience
I remember video taping some thunderstorms as a kid and once saw a scud cloud. It developed during a severe thunderstorm and after reviewing the tape, I initially thought the cloud was a funnel cloud.
Although Connecticut does get tornadoes from time to time, they are not a common phenomenon. I’ve seen many pictures posted online of scud clouds that were mistaken for tornadoes.

Key differences between scuds and tornadoes:

  1. Scud clouds are separated from the other clouds, where tornadoes are connected by the funnel.
  2. Scud clouds often get pushed ahead of thunderstorms and often move faster than the other clouds.
  3. Scud clouds can sink towards the ground and may actually resemble fog after further descent.
  4. Scud clouds do not rotate!

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Quincy

Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com.

After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design.

He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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