Weather Center

Which Clouds Mean a Storm Is Coming?

By Paula Felps 4.9.13

When dark storm clouds move in rapidly, it’s natural to mistake them for more dangerous types of clouds. 

Many clouds that look dangerous are not, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and funnel clouds are often mistaken for tornadoes. NOAA has even started a Scary Looking Cloud Club to help people identify and understand the various types of clouds.

Knowing which ones mean trouble’s brewing can help keep you and your family safe from sudden storms. These are the ones to watch out for:

  • Shelf clouds. These get their name from the tiered appearance of the rising motion within. Strong winds often accompany these clouds, which usually appear at the leading edge of a thunderstorm. 
  • Wall clouds. These form in the area of a storm’s strongest updraft beneath the base of a cloud. Most strong tornadoes form from wall clouds, but not all wall clouds will become a tornado — however, if you see one, take it seriously.
  • Funnel clouds. Many confuse these with tornadoes because of their name and the ominous floating funnel shape. However, tornadoes are not clouds; they are violently rotating column of air extending from the cloud base to the ground. In many cases, however, a tornado is made visible by a funnel cloud.

NOAA says that while people should not “be fooled by scary looking clouds,” they should know which clouds could be dangerous and how to look to the skies for telltale signs.

When you’re in doubt about a coming storm, there are plenty of resources to rely on. Download weather apps so you can keep the forecast in your pocket at all times.

© 2013 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance