'Mini tornado' spotted in Somerset skies - this is what causes a funnel cloud

  • Watch funnel cloud above M5

A funnel cloud has been caught on camera forming over the M5 in Somerset.

Jeremy Pidgeon spotted the cloud at around 2.15pm on Sunday 16 May, saying it looked like a "mini tornado".

There were heavy showers throughout the weekend, with torrential rain across some parts of the West Country.

This May could turn out to be one of the wettest on record, but something else spawned from those showers though across the Somerset skyline. Funnel clouds were spotted; little cone-shaped areas reaching from the base of the cloud towards the ground.

A funnel cloud reaches towards the ground in Highbridge, Somerset. Credit: Emma Huddy

How do they form?

In powerful, energetic shower clouds known as cumulonimbus, air is moving around piling in moisture and heat, creating thunderstorms and intense rain. Sometimes the air starts to rotate and if this happens in a small area at the base of the cloud a tiny area of low pressure is created. This draws in water droplets and hangs down from the cloud base as a funnel cloud.

Isn't this just a tornado?

If a funnel cloud reaches the ground then it becomes a tornado. Similarly, if a funnel cloud forms over water and touches the surface it becomes a waterspout. These occur in the UK more often than you might think but they do not tend to be that powerful or destructive, certainly not compared to the ones you see in the USA.

Funnel cloud over Saddle Tor in August 2020 Credit: Ben King
A waterspout trying to form over the Bristol Channel in August 2020

Read more: