QUESTION: Is this picture a tornado?
BACKSTORY: WFMY News 2 received this picture from two Facebook users who both wanted us to find out if the picture shared on social media during the storms in Rockingham County on Wednesday night was a tornado. The picture was taken in the Monroeton area of Rockingham County, along 158.
PROCESS: WFMY News 2 reached out to the National Weather Service (NWS). The National Weather Service said they do not believe the picture is of a tornado. The NWS said they too received the same photo from Emergency Management.
They believe it’s a lowering on the front side of the storm and not a tornado. Basically, it has a ragged appearance. Tornadoes spin fast and typically have a smooth, more distinct appearance. The cloud bends and leans, which doesn’t happen often in a tornado.
They also backed it up the claim due to the damage reports in the area. The damage was broad and widespread instead of more confined. It also pointed in the same direction, which would indicate severe straight-line winds.
The NWS did not plan to send anyone to survey the damage from the storm. If the NWS believes that a tornado has hit the area they will send out a team to survey the damage but they did not in this case.
WFMY News 2’s Chief Meteorologist said the very spooky looking cloud is likely caused by the extreme high-wind rushing out of the thunderstorm. The air is cooler in the first place and can create clouds like this when they rush out of the storm.
Clouds like this, called "scud" clouds can form as cooler air rushes out of a thunderstorm, and often take the shape of a funnel cloud.
This was an awful windstorm, but it's unlikely that a tornado caused the damage for the reasons explained above.
SOURCES: Phil Hysell, National Weather Service
WFMY News 2 Chief Meteorologist, Tim Buckley