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

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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.

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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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