Scary looking clouds in Atoka Tuesday morning! - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Scary looking clouds in Atoka Tuesday morning!

Atoka, TN 5/31/16 Photo: Jay Dee Clifton Atoka, TN 5/31/16 Photo: Jay Dee Clifton
Roll cloud formation Roll cloud formation

A rare site was seen (and photographed by WMC Action News 5 viewer Jay Dee Clifton) this morning in Atoka, TN: a roll cloud! This scary-looking tube cloud is not something we often see here in land-locked Tennessee, but it does occur.

A roll cloud typically develops due to circulating sea breezes. In the United States, this is a somewhat common occurrence in the Pacific NW and Alaska. Other times, as in this morning’s case in Atoka, the roll cloud develops as a result of outflow from a thunderstorm. While storms weren’t intense this morning, a strong shower rolling in and out with strong circulating air caused the phenomena.

Low to the ground, there are winds changing speeds and directions at the point of an inversion-- where you have warm air on top of cooler air-- something that happens along a front or boundary like this morning. The "Twisting and turning" (shear) air creates a rolling motion which forms clouds that look like this.

Really well-defined inversions with enough moisture to form roll clouds typically occur in the morning hours.

While spectacular to look at, roll clouds are not usually associated with severe weather. Along a severe thunderstorm, you would see something similar, although more grand-looking, called a shelf cloud.

Meteorologist Andrew Kozak

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