What is a Tail Cloud?
Clouds come in all shapes and sizes, and each type of cloud has its own unique characteristics. One type of cloud that is often seen in thunderstorms is the tail cloud. Tail clouds are fascinating meteorological phenomena that are often associated with severe weather events such as tornadoes. In this article, we will explore what a tail cloud is, how it forms, and its effects on weather patterns.
Definition and Description
A tail cloud is a low-lying, horizontal cloud formation that is attached to a cumulonimbus cloud. It is called a "tail cloud" because it often appears as a long, wispy tail extending from the base of the parent cloud. Tail clouds can be several kilometers long, and they usually form in the rear part of a thunderstorm. They are most commonly seen in supercell thunderstorms, which are a type of thunderstorm that is known for producing severe weather.
Formation and Characteristics
Tail clouds form when a thunderstorm’s updrafts and downdrafts interact with the surrounding environment. As the updrafts and downdrafts move through the atmosphere, they can create a rotation that causes the tail cloud to form. Tail clouds are often associated with strong winds and can be an indication that a storm is strengthening. They are typically lower in altitude than the parent cloud and can be seen hovering just above the ground.
Types of Tail Clouds
There are two main types of tail clouds: inflow and outflow tails. Inflow tails are formed when warm, moist air is pulled into the storm’s updrafts. This air rises and cools, which causes the water vapor to condense into a cloud. The inflow tail is usually found on the front side of a thunderstorm. An outflow tail, on the other hand, is formed when cold, dry air is forced out of the storm’s downdrafts. The outflow tail is typically found on the rear side of a thunderstorm.
How Tail Clouds Affect Weather
Tail clouds are often a sign of severe weather to come. They are indicative of strong updrafts and downdrafts, which can lead to the formation of large hailstones, damaging winds, and tornadoes. Because of their association with severe weather, tail clouds are often used as a warning sign by meteorologists to alert the public of potential hazards.
Tornadoes and Tail Clouds
Tail clouds are often seen in conjunction with tornadoes. In fact, the presence of a tail cloud can be an indication that a tornado is about to form. When the rotation of the tail cloud becomes more pronounced, it can create a mesocyclone, which is a rotating updraft that can lead to the formation of a tornado.
If you see a tail cloud, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself from potential hazards. Seek shelter indoors and stay away from windows or other areas where flying debris could pose a threat. If you are driving, pull over to a safe location and wait out the storm. Do not try to outrun or drive through a severe thunderstorm.
How to Identify Tail Clouds
Tail clouds can be identified by their long, wispy appearance, which often resembles a tail. They are usually attached to a larger, more massive cloud, such as a cumulonimbus cloud. Tail clouds are often seen in the rear part of a thunderstorm and can be accompanied by other severe weather phenomena, such as hail, strong winds, or tornadoes.
Tail Clouds vs. Wall Clouds
Tail clouds are often confused with wall clouds, which are another type of cloud formation that is commonly associated with severe weather. Wall clouds are rounded, lowering clouds that are attached to the base of a thunderstorm. Unlike tail clouds, wall clouds are not usually long and wispy. They are often indicative of the formation of a tornado and can be accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain.
Conclusion and Further Reading
Tail clouds are fascinating meteorological phenomena that are often associated with severe weather events. They are formed when a thunderstorm’s updrafts and downdrafts interact with the surrounding environment, and they can be an indication that a storm is strengthening. If you see a tail cloud, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself from potential hazards associated with severe weather. To learn more about tail clouds and other meteorological phenomena, check out the National Weather Service’s website.
Next time you see a tail cloud, you’ll know what it is and what it means. Stay safe and informed during severe weather events, and always remember to seek shelter indoors if possible.