13 Incredible Tornadic Wall Clouds

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Image: Brad Smull, NOAA

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.


Image: NOAA

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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Image: Colin Grice

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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