HAZARD — The storm that struck Perry County on June 22 was a strong one. No one questions that fact. What has people scratching their heads, however, is a cloud that loomed ominously on the horizon near the Hal Rogers Parkway. Was it an honest to goodness funnel cloud or merely an optical illusion?
Several folks snapped pictures as the storm barrelled through town. One of the photos that received hundreds of shares on Facebook was captured by Kimberly Holland.
“I was at work and was going on break at the hospital,” Holland said, “But when I got to the back door, I changed my mind. I saw the dark clouds coming up over the hill and it was really dark out. It was a scary time for a few minutes.”
Sue Campbell also caught the image in a photograph from the LKLP office building near the hospital. When asked about her thoughts at the moment her pictures were taken, Campbell said,
“I’ve always been a little worried with storms, and when I saw this, I took the pics because I wasn’t sure if I was seeing a real tornado or just scary clouds. I was a little scared and in awe at the same time, I guess.”
As pictures began going viral, the question arose: Was the cloud hovering over Hazard a funnel cloud or a scud cloud?
To put it in very basic terms, a funnel cloud is the birth of a tornado. Sometimes funnel clouds stay in the sky and dissipate before wreaking havoc on the landscape below. When a funnel cloud gains enough energy to descend all the way to the ground, it then becomes a full-fledged twister. Scud clouds, on the other hand, are essentially harmless, although they do often tag along with a thunderstorm. Because they are smaller and travel below their bulky cumulus cousins, scud clouds occassionally slip out in front of storm clouds in their race across the sky, and when this happens, they can look identical to funnel clouds. Rotation is the key factor when determining which is which. If the clouds are rotating, the same way a cyclone does, then folks need to take shelter because a funnel cloud is trying its best to kiss the earth. Without rotation, chances are highly in favor of a scud cloud playing a little prank on its human spectators.
Folks in Southeast Kentucky cling to the belief that the mountains protect us from tornadoes. Yet the phenomenon is not as uncommon in Appalachia as some natives might expect. The tornadoes that ripped through West Liberty and Salyersville in March of 2012 left devastation that our Commonwealth will never forget. Tornadoes touch down regularly in the mountains, and sometimes, when they do, their fury is catastrophic.
As dangerous as tornadoes are, people should keep in mind that flash flooding, which is a far more common occurrence in Southeast Kentucky, kills more Americans every year than tornadoes, and lightening is almost even with tornadoes in terms of fatalities. The bottom line truth is; everyone should practice extreme caution when a thunderstorm rolls overhead.
The debate lingers as to whether or not a funnel cloud raged atop Hazard on June 22. Some weather experts claim that the still-shots do not show the kind of evidence necessary to officially deem the cloud as tornadic, although, video recorded a few miles up the road in Knott County at the time of the storm did show clouds with twirling motion, which means the existence of a funnel cloud was totally possible. One factor of Wednesday’s storm that does little to solve the debate is also a factor that should make all of us extremely thankful. No injuries or damage were reported as a result of the storm.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.