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A well-formed wall cloud and also tornado near College Park, Maryland, September 24, 2001. The tornado continued to be on the ground because that 17.5 miles together it moved north-northeast through College Park, Beltsville and Laurel, Maryland. Source: Washington Weather


You are watching: A tornado cloud that does not touch the ground is called

The major weather event last week that dropped a near-record daily number of tornadoes throughout Maryland was pretty far-reaching as much as regional weather background goes, also if many of those tornadoes were rather quick lived and also quite weak.

At the exact same time, a number of images were passed roughly as tornadoes that were plainly not tornadoes. In that light, we assumed it would certainly be good to study a couple of of the most typical scary looking clouds that periodically are mistakenly dubbed tornadoes.

Funnel vs. Tornado


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photo of a funnel cloud, via NOAA main Library.

To start, over there is a very specific definition of a tornado.

The circulation must reach the ground. If not, and it’s rotating, it’s most likely either a funnel cloud or a wall cloud (see below). Simply, a funnel cloud is a tornado the does not reach the ground. Often, you’ll check out funnel clouds make it about halfway from the basic to the ground, despite it can expand much further or much less.

Sometimes it’s not always apparent if the circulation — if over there is one — is reaching the ground as trees (see here) have the right to block the view, or a condensation funnel might not be obvious even if there is listed circulation in ~ the surface.

Example: A most likely funnel cloud in Brambleton, Va from June 1. The not possible to phone call if this touched the ground. The national Weather company has not reported a tornado in this area.

wall surface cloud


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A wall surface cloud is seen on a storm the eventually developed tornadoes in Kansas on might 25, 2012. Photo by CWG photographer Ian Livingston.

Wall clouds are often connected with tornadic thunderstorms yet not always, and many wall clouds do not rotate. However, the presence of one is more often than no a authorize of a mature serious thunderstorm. This low-hanging cloud bring the basic closer come the ground i m sorry aids tornado development. When rotation is present, funnels or tornadoes can drop native them. In itself, it’s no terribly dangerous, but if seen, it need to not it is in ignored.

instance of likely wall surface cloud with feasible funnel forming from June 1 outbreak in Takoma, Washington, D.C.

Tail cloud


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A wall surface cloud through tail cloud prolonging from it. NOAA picture Library, NOAA main Library; NSSL.

Tail clouds look prefer a funnel or tornado in many ways. Castle are often bent on one axis that is not fairly horizontal and also not rather vertical. While they space not us dangerous, favor a wall cloud, tail clouds are regularly indicative of significant weather and potential tornadic activity. Tail clouds by an interpretation connect into a wall surface cloud. It’s possible that the wall cloud would not be quickly visible at the time of the town hall a tail cloud though.

This video from June 1 in Greenbelt reported as a funnel or tornado carefully matches what a tail cloud and wall cloud look favor together.

Beaver tail


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picture of a beaver tail (top line) and tail cloud (lower) top top a supercell thunderstorm by chris Escandor, via NWS rapid City, southern Dakota.

A beaver tail is somewhat similar in appearance to a tail cloud, despite in one idealized atmosphere it is much longer and attached come the key storm base (typically a supercell) rather than the wall surface cloud. This is an area where the updraft and also downdraft meet. The clash of wait masses reasons a border to form with clouds condensing along this line. This is additionally one form of feeder band sending moisture right into the system.

Shelf clouds / roll clouds


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A shelf cloud disonnected from the key cloud basic (roll cloud) passes through Minnesota. Photo by Jon Zenzel, via NASA’s planet Science Division.

Even though they are frequently easy come identify, numerous false reports that tornadoes are linked with shelf clouds. This clouds are led to by cold outflow rushing the end ahead that a storm. Despite they frequently resemble waves, obstructions can create the appearance that they space not horizontally aligned to the storm. This can additionally happen in ~ the leaf of the shelf cloud whereby it might look favor one next of the is a tornado-shaped object.

Scud clouds


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A scud cloud end southwestern Virginia. Picture by Ross Spoon, via Kevin Myatt’s Weather Journal.

Scud clouds room frequently listed as funnels or tornadoes, however they are totally harmless (other than regularly being connected with serious weather). Scud space not enclosed to massive storm rotation. Castle are resulted in by cold wait outflow connecting with warmth ahead of the storm. This causes air to rise and condense. While these clouds often hang low under the base, they don’t show anything other than wind blowing the end of the storm.

many of the photos circulated throughout the June 1 occasion were most likely scud clouds. Example from Elkridge, Maryland.

Rain or hail shafts


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A thin ropelike rainshaft is seen on a supercell in Kansas that eventually developed tornadoes on might 25, 2012. Photograph by CWG photographer Ian Livingston. Note: This rain pillar was seemingly initially reported together a tornado ~ above this storm and helped guide ground reports ~ above the first tornado warning because that it.

This one seems straightforward enough to stop confusing together a tornado together it’s not even a cloud, yet some storms have such a small or dense central rain tower that it may take ~ above the figure of a twister. The visual impact is because of the area the rain showing up darker 보다 the surrounding air. Comparable illusions can happen from hail shafts installed within rain, though an ext often than no hail shafts appear lighter 보다 the neighboring environment due to the fact that of ice’s reflectivity.

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Ian Livingston Ian Livingston is a forecaster/photographer and also information lead because that the funding Weather Gang. By day, Ian is a defense and national security researcher in ~ a D.C. Think tank. follow


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