News & Blogs
What Were Those Apocalyptic Clouds Over New York City Tuesday?
Published: May 16, 2018
The sky over New York City turned apocalyptic on Tuesday as a squall line of severe thunderstorms raced through the Northeast, producing over 250 reports of high winds or wind damage.
Big Apple residents took to social media to share their photos of these dark, turbulent clouds, known colloquially by meteorologists as the "whale's mouth."
Rain-cooled air from a thunderstorm's downdraft spreads out when reaching the ground, lifting the warmer air near the surface. The leading edge of this so-called gust front produces the smooth-looking, dramatic shelf cloud as the warmer air cools upon ascent and its moisture condenses.
After the shelf cloud passes, the whale's mouth forms as a result of turbulent mixing of the cool and warm air aloft associated with a severe thunderstorm's updraft and downdraft.
(MET 101: What is a Shelf Cloud?)
The resulting clouds resemble the appearance of the inside of a whale's mouth and accompany the portion of the storm likely producing thunder, lightning, strong wind gusts, hail and heavy rain.
The video in the tweet below shows a timelapse of the whale's mouth as it rolled through Manhattan.
The next video is another a timelapse, but also shows how strong the winds were blowing as the squall line approached Long Island.
Before those whale's mouth clouds arrived, photographer Michael Busch of Great South Bay Images captured these stunning photos of a shelf cloud passing over Long Island's Captree Island.
And we must also mention that Tuesday's severe thunderstorms produced an incredible show of lightning, including in New York City.
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.