Scud Cloud Defined: Clouds that mirror the appearance of tornadoes

Weather Glossary

Featured image above courtesy of abcnurse12 on Twitter

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – Clouds can take on some unique shapes and characteristics depending on the environment, and clouds that form in the midst of storms in particular can take on some pretty scary appearances. A perfect example of a cloud that has more “bark than bite” is what’s known as a scud cloud. These types of clouds are often mistaken for tornadoes or waterspouts based on their closeness to the ground and ominous nature.

MaryAngela Messina

Scud clouds are typically ragged, low lying clouds or cloud “fragments” that are usually unattached to the base of the larger storm structure. They are typically wispy and loose in appearance, but depending on the conditions can take on a much more scary look such as the one below.

Rebecca Rafferty – Rochester

Sometimes scud clouds are often found behind the gust front of a thunderstorm, and associated with the outflow of a storm. When you have warm, moist air that rises over this cooler outflow from the main storm, the air rises, cools, and condenses as these air masses meet. This can sometimes form a connecting cloud that gets sucked up into the main storm’s updraft, which can almost resemble a giant tentacle coming out of the sky.

Curious about other cloud types? Click the link below!

The key in determining the difference between a tornado and a scud cloud is seeing if the cloud structure is rotating. If it’s spinning, it’s most likely a tornado. If it’s not spinning, it’s probably just a harmless scud cloud.

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