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9 scary images of shelf clouds

By: Russell McLendon on Oct. 5, 2011, 9:02 a.m.
Shelf cloud over Miami

Photo: Kunal Mukherjee/Flickr

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Miami Beach, Fla.

South Florida is no stranger to thunderstorms, but it's still hard to shrug off a sight like this. A graduate student from MIT shot this shelf cloud as it swept across Miami Beach on Dec. 4, 2010.

Shelf clouds are a type of arcus cloud, formed by colliding updrafts and downdrafts. As a storm vacuums up warm air from below, it also pumps out cooler air at the top, which can spill forward, slip below the warm updrafts and condense into a horizontal "shelf." While some arcus clouds float away on their own — they're known as "roll clouds" — shelf clouds like this one remain attached to their parent storms.