What is a Scud Cloud?

June 1, 2023

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) - A lot of people wonder what is a scud cloud because they can look scary. They are ragged clouds with low heights over the ground and are detached from the base of a storm cloud. They are also wispy in appearance. Scud clouds often appear on the leading edge of a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms lift warm moist air into colder areas where it saturates. This is a process called updraft and downdraft. If the downdraft becomes too weak it sucks scud clouds in towards the main updraft. This can result in wall or funnel clouds which can be very similar to a tornado.

Scud clouds are sometimes confused with a developing tornado, landspout or waterspout because of their shape and proximity to the ground. The distinction can be made by looking for signs of rotation in the cloud structure or whether it is attached to the base of a storm cloud.

The biggest difference between a scud and a funnel is that a scud does not rotate. Funnel clouds do rotate and are often seen extending downward from the base of a storm cloud. The only time a tornado is truly dangerous is when it touches the ground.

Scud clouds indicate that a cumulonimbus parent cloud is approaching with potential rain, hail and severe wind. If there is a clear sky ahead of the storm, scud clouds can be seen in the distance and may not interfere with travel.

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