Rare horseshoe cloud caught on camera in parts of Virginia

This cloud is very rarely seen and can dissipate within minutes

Alex Thornton - Midlothian
Alex Thornton - Midlothian (Alex Thornton)

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. – In this part of Virginia, we can see some pretty unique cloud formations that are oftentimes due to the complex terrain. The example of a horseshoe cloud or horseshoe vortex, however, has little to do with our mountains and is very rare.

Alex Thornton is a meteorology graduate from Virginia Tech and caught some pictures of one this week in Midlothian.

Alex Thornton - Midlothian
Alex Thornton - Midlothian (Alex Thornton)

In addition, David Ramsey of Spencer caught a glimpse of one in Henry County (pictured below).

David Ramsey - Spencer
David Ramsey - Spencer (David Ramsey)

Why is it so rare? It has to do with the small-scale dynamics and also how short-lasting this cloud/vortex typically is.

You start with an area of strong winds above, indicating that there’s wind shear (wind speed difference between the air above and below). You also have an area of rising air. A small, fair-weather cumulus cloud will move into that column of rising air. Once the air lifts the cumulus cloud toward the area of wind shear, it levels out and begins to spin. At the same time, the outer edges of the cloud are left below.

How horseshoe clouds form
How horseshoe clouds form (WSLS)

This is what gives the horseshoe or mustache appearance. If you ever see one, act quick. They tend to dissipate very soon after they form.

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