Cold Air Funnels Spotted Over Central Ohio


Funnel clouds were spotted around 7 p.m. Saturday near the Franklin/Pickaway County line. While they looked ominous, there was never any danger from these cold air funnels as they are not associated with supercell thunderstorms and rarely reach the ground.

A cold air funnel is a high-based weak circulation that occurs in a cool air mass well above the earth's surface. Since it is high based and weak it rarely impacts the earth's surface. Unlike typical tornadoes, cold air funnels develop in a shallow cool air mass and often behind a cold frontal passage. The mixing of cool and breezy conditions in the air near the surface with air a bit higher up flowing in a different direction may spark the rotation that spins up the funnel. If the air is moist enough and rises enough the condensation funnel will be visible.

A supercell is a thunderstorm that is characterized by the presence of a mesocyclone which is a deep, persistently rotating updraft. For this reason, these storms are sometimes referred to as rotating thunderstorms. Of the four classifications of thunderstorms (supercell, squall line, multi-cell and single-cell), supercells are the overall least common and have the potential to be the most severe. Supercells are often isolated from other thunderstorms, and can dominate the local weather up to 20 miles away.

Supercells are often put into three classification types: Classic, Low-precipitation (LP) and High-precipitation (HP). LP supercells are usually found in climates that are more arid, such as the high plains of the United States, and HP supercells are most often found in moist climates. Supercells can occur anywhere in the world under the right pre-existing weather conditions, but they are most common in the Great Plains of the United States in an area known as Tornado Alley.