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Stunning shelf storm clouds over Maryland: Top 20 from May 27

Mount Airy, MD
Mount Airy, MD
Bobby Poore

Strong and severe storms blew through central Maryland later Tuesday and providing some incredible scenery. The weather was expected, but the views took many by surprise. I was honored to receive close to 100 photos through my Facebook page of cloud formations that would stop many like a deer caught in headlights. But due to the limitations of this forum, I had to make a cut for the top 20 to fit into this slide show. For what it’s worth, the multiple towns, photographers, and angles will prove that this was not fake.

Shelf clouds ahead of Tuesday's storms dominated Maryland skies
Kirk Siemaker

What were they?

Strong and severe thunderstorms often push a wedge of cooler air out ahead of them called a gust front. It’s cold air that spills over the top of the storm and rolls out ahead of it. This can create a lower level of clouds on the leading edge of the system. But the looks can be a little confusing. Based on the set up, these were all most likely shelf clouds. See the difference of similar clouds here:

Shelf Clouds

A low horizontal cloud on the leading edge of a storm, dropped below the main base like a lower shelf. This does not have a rising column, but it can be curved or semicircular in shape, often pointing in the direction of movement. These look like a disk, and can look like the invasion from “Independence Day”. There often is a smooth shape that justifies the saying that a storm is ‘rolling’ in.

Roll Clouds

These can sometimes look like shelf clouds, but they are not connected to the base of a larger cloud structure. They are like long tubes extending away from the main cloud. Some think they are like tornadoes on their sides, but they are not connected to a tornado at all.

Wall Clouds

These clouds can resemble shelf clouds, but encompassed around the base of a rotating cloud. That is a mesocyclone that can last for hours. It can give rise to a tornado, but not guaranteed. Then again, not all tornadoes are born from wall clouds.

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