Kevin Lighty, who is the Chief Meteorologist at KSPR-TV in Springfield, Missouri took this photo while on a stormchase in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma this week.
At first glance, it's surely a tornado. But not so fast! Before we come to a definitive conclusion, we need to examine it further. While there is a slight chance there is a funnel or even a tornado a few miles beyond the tree in the center of the photo, there's probably not. The part of the cloud that looks like a tornado is in fact a wall cloud. While wall clouds are where tornadoes usually form, a few more details can help us decipher the mystery. The horizontal striations within the cloud (under our "StormTrack 8 logo") are typically not seen in a tornadic storm. In well-developed severe storms, the central part of the cloud mass will be the darkest, as it contains lots of rain, hail, and even tornadic debris.
So, it's most likely that this cloud is just an SLC...or a "scary looking cloud."
The best thing to do when you see an ominous cloud is concentrate on it and try to determine if you can see any rotation. Kevin reports that when they were observing this, there was no visible rotation within the cloud. A good rule of thumb: if it's spinning, it's dangerous. If it's just hanging there, it's not. Reminds me of the old National Weather Service saying "If it doesn't spin, don't call it in."
Kevin is an expert when it comes to severe weather. And astute enough to not assume something based on an outward appearance. If you ever find yourself in Southeastern Missouri or have friends or family there, I highly recommend finding him for a source of severe weather info.
-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen