Do Storm Clouds Look the Same Worldwide?

Did you ever wonder if storm clouds look the same worldwide?   Surely they must be different - right?

The answer - yes, they look the same.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a gentleman who lives in Germany.  He attached three amazing pictures of a shelf cloud that was on the front side of an approaching severe thunderstorm complex.  He was camping on the shore of the North Sea with his wife and 4-year-old daughter.  When the straight-line, downburst winds of the severe storm complex hit the camp ground, his daughter was in their tent.  Ultimately, she and the tent were taken for a ride of about 45 meters (about 148 feet or a little over 49 yards).  She was unhurt.

Below are three pictures of the approaching shelf cloud - definitely an interesting example!  Keep in mind that tornadoes and funnel clouds are totally lacking in the pictures.  Right behind the shelf cloud you can indentify the downburst with its heavy rains, etc.  Note the steep accent of warm, moist air on the front side of the horizontally-orientated shelf cloud.

Germany Shelf cloud 1  Shelf cloud 2 Germany

  Shefl cloud 3 - Germany

Thomas Laukat also mentioned a few facts about the severe storm.  Here's his story:

The storm front "norina" came from west (France) to Germany and caused severe damage in North Rhine Westphalia (1 person dead) and then moved to Northern Germany (Cuxhaven), left the mainland, crossed the North Sea (40 miles) and collapsed at Helgoland campsite. According to "Deutscher Wetter Dienst":  35C (98F) in front ..  20C (68F) behind, gusts at 26 m/s (58 mph) (Bft 10) at Cuxhaven. I do not know how fast the wind was on Helgoland as it fell down but it felt like an atomic bomb shock wave.  120 tents destroyed - 11 seriously injured camper - 1 plane (cesna) upside down - my daughter flew 45 meter while she was sleeping in the tent.

Some background information is on order as to how Thomas found my e-mail address and thought I might be interested in seeing his pictures.  Apparently, Thomas used a search engine on the phrase "shelf cloud," and found a link to the on-line, Scary Looking Cloud (SLC) Club story I maintain on the WFO Milwaukee web site.  Within the SLC Club story we talk about shefl clouds, wall clouds, tornadoes, and of course scary looking clouds!  My e-mail address is in the first paragraph of the story so that people who want to join the SLC club can send me their picture of a scary looking cloud.

The link for the SLC Club is found on the "Other Useful Links" page in the  "Additional Info" section on our web site (lower left).  So, looking at Thomas's pictures, you do see some scary looking cloud fragments at the base of the shelf cloud that resemble funnel clouds.  However, they were not funnel clouds since they were not rotating.  By the way, we'll add Thomas's pictures to the SLC Club.

Getting back to the title of this web story, given the same weather conditions in terms of moisture, temperatures, and winds, cloud formations are the same worldwide.  Keep in mind that except for Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean area, tornadoes and severe weather have been reported on every continent. It just so happens to be that the North American continent has the highest frequency of severe weather due to it's geographical characteristics.

To view a cloud chart, click here.

Rusty Kapela, Warning Coordination Meteorologist   


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