Is It a Tornado?

Is It a Tornado? (Image 1)

It was quite a scary sight in North Alabama yesterday.  Severe weather struck, and many thought they saw a tornado in Cullman (my hometown).

Just look at the first picture and see what you think.  Would this sight alert you?

Well, it’s not a tornado. 

Instead, it’s either a scud cloud or a cold air funnel. 

First, let’s talk about scud clouds.  These clouds are low, ragged and wind-torn cloud fragments.  They are often mistaken for wall clouds and tornadoes, but they DO NOT produce severe weather.  One way to tell the difference is that scud clouds move away from the rain area while wall clouds keep the same relative distance. 

Next, let’s define cold air funnels.  This weather phenomenon develops well above the earth’s surface.  It has weak circulation and forms in a cool air mass.  A cold air funnel can look threatening, but they rarely ever touch the ground.  Because of this, the National Weather Service does not issue tornado warnings for cold air funnels. 

According to ABC 33/40 Chief Meteorologist James Spann of Birmingham, viewers reported no rotation with the ‘creepy’ cloud in Cullman, Alabama.  Some viewers did report slow, erratic rotation. 

So no tornadoes yesterday… just plenty of hail reports. 

(sources:  National Weather Service, The Weather Prediction, James Spann & Accuweather)

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