EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA) – It’s a video that’s been creating some buzz in Effingham County as storms rolled through on Sunday.
The video was taken by Elizabeth Johns and has been shared on Facebook across the State of Illinois.
She was at the Green Creek Rest Area on I-57 when she spotted something rising out of the trees.
In the video, you can see what appears to be clouds rising out of the trees.
At first glance, the clouds look like a developing tornado. But that’s not entirely what was happening.
At the time of the video, on Sunday at around 5:00p, developing thunderstorms were in the Effingham area, and they were growing quickly thanks to high instability in the atmosphere.
This instability induces rising motion which helps the storms feed off the warm and humid air near the surface. Many times you do not see this happen before your eyes, but in cases when the humidity is so high and there is an abundance of moisture on the surface, sometimes the air will condensate as it rises, creating a spooky looking cloud much like the video depicts.
Our Skycam caught some of the rising motion at around the same time the video was taken.
James Auten, Senior Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Lincoln, which covers much of Central Illinois including Effingham, also agrees.
“It looks like high humidity air being lifted into the storm. I’ve seen that before, especially in forested areas,” said Auten.
It’s not often that this does happen, but it looks like a combination of ample moisture in the soil, recent rains, high humidity and a rapidly developing storm helped create rising motion that made clouds look like a tornado, but in fact weren’t.
To be a tornado, there are a few things to look for.
First, a tornado is a violently rotating column of air, and usually has obvious signs of fast, rising motion.
This particular cloud had rising motion, but no rotation.
Tornadoes are also usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm. This video is hard to see, but the ragged nature of the clouds indicate that they are scud clouds.
Scud clouds are wispy and loose, usually torn apart and tossed around by turbulence in the atmosphere.
They often are on the leading edge of a storm, but also can occur in situations just like this.
In fact, the National Weather Service notes in their Storm Spotter Quick Reference Guide that scud clouds are one of the most common features mistaken for tornadoes.
To learn more about severe weather and how to be a storm spotter for your community, you can attend spotter training classes hosted by the National Weather Service. The local offices often hold these in the Spring months. We will post these dates as they become available on our website.