MEMPHIS, Tenn. (CBSNews) — Earlier this month, people near Memphis, Tennessee, spotted an odd formation in the sky after a storm. It was an ominous, cylindrical mass that some likened to a UFO. The mysterious sight prompted at least one person to snap photos, wondering what this UFO-like image might be.
Colby Hutton saw the mass in the sky over Adamsville, Tennessee, as he was driving over a bridge, his mom Angie Hutton told CBS News. Angie shared her son’s photo on Facebook, hoping someone could help them identify what it was. Local news station WMC-TV looked into the case.
It wasn’t an unidentified flying object, and despite its odd appearance, it has nothing to do with aliens at all. It’s a “roll cloud,” the National Weather Service (NWS) explains. These rare cloud formations are “low, horizontal tube-shaped arcus cloud associated with a thunderstorm gust front,” or sometimes, a cold front, NWS says.
Roll clouds are completely detached from the thunderstorm base or other cloud features. Roll clouds usually appear to be “rolling” about a horizontal axis, but should not be confused with funnel clouds.
“These rare long clouds may form near advancing cold fronts. In particular, a downdraft from an advancing storm front can cause moist warm air to rise, cool below its dew point, and so form a cloud,” NASA explains. Despite the dramatic formation’s resemblance to a massive funnel laying on its side, NASA says roll clouds aren’t thought to be able to morph into a tornado.
These clouds are so rare, you could go your whole life and never see one in person, CNET reports.