Horseshoe Vortices and other Weather Oddities


hshoe-1.jpg (8855 bytes)
Vortices in jet contrail. This photo was taken near Black Mesa, Oklahoma.
hshoe-2.jpg (16958 bytes) Photo #1 of 3- Looking east at a "horse-shoe" vortex. I took this series of photos in Richardson, Texas in the late 1980s after catching sight of the vortex while driving home from work. The center of a southeastwardly moving upper level low was passing 30 or so miles to the east. Surface winds were northerly at the time. The three photos are in chronological order from left to right. These photos were published in Weatherwise Magazine. At the time, skeptics wrote the magazine to dispute that horseshoe vortices were actually rotating. I have seen many of these since then, and have videoed several. Other storm chasers have seen these vortices. Their existence is now accepted, and the term"horseshoe vortex", which I coined while describing the cloud to Al Moller, is now used frequently. Al was skeptical, but suggested that I should send the photos to Weatherwise Magazine.
hshoe-3.jpg (16064 bytes) Photo 2 of 3
hshoe-4.jpg (15585 bytes) Photo 3 of 3
hshoe-5.jpg (14667 bytes) Photo 1 of 2 - Horse-shoe vortex remaining from dissipating cumulus fractus photographed near Abilene, Texas. I clearly observed the rotation of this vortex through binoculars.
hshoe-6.jpg (13171 bytes) Photo 2 of 2 - Horseshoe vortices seem to form in more than one way. Occasionally, the rotating updraft core of a relatively small sheared towering cumulus may remain after the "body" of the cloud dissipates, leaving behind a vortex that assumes a horse-shoe shape. In other cases, a horse-shoe vortex may form in clear air, with no connection to a dissipating cumulus cloud. Clear air vortices of this type are often seen in the inflow field near supercell thunderstorms and are considered to be indicative of strong vertical wind shear.
Funnel attached to a small cumulus cloud. This oddity occurred in the wake of a fast moving supercell thunderstorm near Lake Tawakoni, east of Dallas.
Holes in altocumulus, probably caused by aircraft passing through the cloud layer, causing precipitation to form. Note the streamers of virga falling below the holes. Some cirrus holes may be caused by micro-comets.


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Revised February 23, 2007