Cold Air Funnels Spotted in Kansas, Utah This Week. What Are They and Should You Be Concerned?

Linda Lam
Published: May 22, 2019

A type of tornado called a cold air funnel was spotted in northern Utah and southwestern Kansas this week, and although they look menacing, they are usually harmless.

On Tuesday, cold air funnels formed in southwestern Kansas, including this one in Ulysses.

The funnels are more common in the spring and fall, when the sun is able to warm the air near the ground but temperatures higher in the atmosphere stay cold. If there is enough instability and the warm air rises, weak showers or thunderstorms form and cold air funnels can develop.

Showers and thunderstorms are not needed for a cold air funnel to form if there is enough wind shear, meaning wind changing direction and or speed with height. However, there needs to be enough moisture in the air for the funnel to be visible.

Cold air funnels are much less violent than other types of tornadoes. Most of the time they're just a cool sights in the sky because their rotation is high above the ground and relatively weak.

If they reach the ground, they can cause damage. If that happens, it would be a weak tornado and you should get into a small interior room on the lowest level and stay away from windows.

Cold air funnels are difficult to detect on radar so spotter reports help the National Weather Service monitor a potential risk.

In southwestern Kansas on Tuesday, low pressure was in the area and cold air was filtering in. Temperatures began to drop Tuesday afternoon and were quite chilly aloft.

The disturbance in the area allowed showers and thunderstorms to develop , so conditions were favorable for a few cold air funnels to form. The good news is that these did not reach the ground and cause damage.

Pink areas on the map indicate cold air aloft.

On Monday, the same upper-level disturbance that brought the cold air funnels to Kansas on Tuesday moved through the Great Basin and a few showers and snow showers in the higher elevations developed.

There was enough instability and cold air aloft for a cold air funnel to form in northern Utah Monday, north of Salt Lake City.

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