Cameras jumped from students to a tornado-lookalike cloud during a New Jersey high school graduation on Thursday.
A severe storm producing dangerous lightning, loud booms of thunder, high winds, large hail and scary clouds cut the graduation ceremony at Absegami High School in Atlantic County, N.J., short during the evening hours. Hundreds darted for shelter, but not before many got soaked by rain and hit by large hailstones.
But the hail was not the scariest part to many of the witnesses at the graduation; the scary, tornado-lookalike cloud stole the show.
Many thought that the cloud was a funnel cloud, which is defined as a rotating column of air (visible due to condensation) that does not reach the ground. Funnel clouds that reach all the way to the ground are tornadoes.
A public statement released by the National Weather Service at 6:50 p.m. ET Thursday, read: "A FUNNEL CLOUD WAS REPORTED IN GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP. HOWEVER SOME PICTURES SHOW THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A DEVELOPING WALL CLOUD."
AccuWeather.com meteorologists were skeptical of it being a funnel cloud as well, since there was no apparent rotation in the cloud. It appears that the cloud was a result of condensation that occurred as humid air was rapidly lifted into the storm.
Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity described what he thinks the cloud is after analyzing video, radar and observations. He stated the cloud is the result of "an updraft along the gust front that causes clouds to form in a shape that resembles a funnel. As the air rises along the slope of the gust front, mixing occurs which causes clouds to form under the base of the storm which can resemble a funnel cloud or wall cloud."
Some other AccuWeather meteorologists feel that it is possible that the cloud was a non-rotating wall cloud, which is a lowered cloud from a thunderstorm. The National Weather Service defines a wall cloud as "a localized, persistent, often abrupt lowering from a rain-free base. Wall clouds can range from a fraction of a mile up to nearly five miles in diameter, and normally are found on the south or southwest (inflow) side of the thunderstorm."
When a wall cloud rotates, it is often a sign of a well-developed thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado.
Severe weather will return to the Plains once again early next week as a potent storm system moves into the region.
Around 8:47 p.m. PDT, an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.7 shook in the mountains of California, according to the USGS.
The Memorial Day weekend will begin cool, windy and rainy in New England and part of the mid-Atlantic.
With one day remaining before Memorial Day weekend, the Sandy-battered Jersey coastline is hustling to finish last-minute preparations.
More than 500 inbound and outbound flights at LaGuardia in New York were delayed due to the storms.
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