13 Incredible Tornadic Wall Clouds

Simone Preuss
Simone Preuss
Scribol Staff
Science, March 02, 2010
  • Wall cloud with lightning in Miami, Texas

    Every child knows that converging warm and cool streams of air cause thunderstorms. But next time you notice a zeppelin-like structure forming below one of the cumulus clouds, beware – this might be a tornado in the making! Wall clouds, as pretty and dramatic as they may look, are often just the first warning sign, spelling out “RUN!” as clearly as they can.

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  • Apocalypse now? Dramatic looking wall cloud

    Simply put, a wall cloud is the lower portion of a cumulus cloud, caused by ascending warm air that mixes with descending cool and moist air. Thunderstorms are a result of this phenomenon but wall clouds also form the basis for tornadoes.

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  • Wall cloud over the Danby Beacon, UK during a violent thunderstorm

    First, a low cloud base descending underneath the main storm updraft will form the wall cloud, for example in a thunderstorm; then it will start to rotate, thus forming the basis for a tornado. Wall clouds can also form when rising scud – small and ragged cloud fragments – organize and consolidate.

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  • A rather spooky looking wall cloud over Spearman, Texas

    The end of a supercell – a thunderstorm with a deep, continuously rotating updraft – often forms wall clouds that can range in size from a few hundred feet (0.25 km) to over 8 km (5 miles). Especially in moist environments, many wall clouds have tails, an extension formed by a ragged band of cloud and cloud tags.

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  • Wall cloud with a gigantic tall cloud at the Oklahoma-Texas border

    Severe storm researcher Ted Fujita, a.k.a. “Mr. Tornado”, was the first to identify wall clouds and their role in tornado formation, or tornadogenesis, in the 1950s. Thunderstorms containing a rotating wall cloud are most likely to produce tornadoes and are therefore a phenomenon that tornado spotters watch out for. But typically, a wall cloud precedes tornadogenesis by only ten to twenty minutes, so quick action is needed.

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  • Wall cloud of the 1981 Alfalfa Tornado in Oklahoma

    If a thunderstorm with accompanying wall cloud is especially persistent with rapid ascension and rotation, it can take as little as one minute for a tornado to form. If this ascension and rotation is slower, this process can take more than an hour – not much time for a warning in any case.

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  • Tornadic wall cloud panorama

    Here’s an example of a typical supercell with wall cloud. The different images for this panorama were taken between Rouvres and Oulins in Eure-et-Loir, France.

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  • Here we see the incredible sequence of the tornado formation near Dimmit, Texas on June 2, 1995, often called one of the best observed violent tornadoes in history.

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  • Like tentacles waiting to reach down

    This wall cloud nicely shows the rear flank downdraft (RFD), an area of descending air said to be essential for tornado formation.

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  • Pretty but don’t be fooled

    This rather friendly looking wall cloud should not mislead anyone as this is the stuff tornadoes are made off.

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  • One hell of a wall cloud over a small town in Poland

    Looming high in the sky, this wall cloud looks like something out of the Ghostbusters movies.

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  • A picture-book wall cloud over Columbus, Ohio

    Next, a wall cloud that drops from the sky – a wedge appearing to fall on the city beneath.

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  • Getting darker and darker – wall cloud over Texas

    And a wall cloud with a zigzagging underside as a storm brewed over a Texan interstate.

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