Was That a Tornado?

Viewers sent in pictures from Tuesday's storm that sure look menacing...

Tim Stauring

Looks may be deceiving when it comes to the skies Tuesday afternoon and evening. Storms accompanied by heavy rain, wind, and hail created what is known as a gust front.
People described the storm as it moved in and what appeared to be a tornado in the sky reaching for the ground. After the cloud passed over head the rain moved in and then, "the rain came to a immediate stop, going from downpour to absolutely no rain in three seconds! It also became chilly when the cloud passed overhead."

The big drop in temperature is associated with the gust front. Like a cold front but on a much smaller scale, they are blown out ahead of the thunderstorms as cold air rushes down and out ahead of a storm. As the cold air rushes along the ground it will force warm and humid air up and over it. If conditions are right then scud or fractus clouds may form as the warm moist air rises.
These clouds move much faster relative the the storm clouds overhead and can appear to swirl and rise giving the impression of a tornado. Unlike a tornado however, the edges appear ragged, they do not spin and the wind speeds associated with them are nowhere near the speeds in a tornado.
Next time you see a cloud like this in the picture moving in your direction, get ready for rain, maybe some hail, and gusty wind. It's no tornado even though the wind gusts may cause some damage.

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