GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Severe thunderstorms come with their fair share of funky looking clouds. One cloud type can serve as a warning sign for tornado formation. Which brings me to this week’s episode, “What are mammatus clouds?”

Mammatus clouds are equally beautiful and oddly ominous. They almost resemble a falling sky, and their formation is not completely understood by scientists. 

Usually within a thunderstorm, clouds are created because of rising air. For example, warm moist air full of water vapor at the surface rises because it is less dense than the surrounding cooler air. With dust particles floating around in the atmosphere, this water vapor latches onto the dust.

With more and more water particles clinging to dust, a cloud begins to form, all due to rising motion. This is an unstable environment which develops into thunderstorm formation if the process continues. 

Mammatus clouds are a little more confusing to figure out because they are rare and created by a sinking motion rather than a rising motion. That’s why these clouds literally look like they are sinking through the sky.

Mammatus clouds are located at the base of a cumulonimbus anvil cloud, which is an indication of a very powerful severe thunderstorm.

 If you do come across some mammatus clouds in the sky, there is most likely heavy rain, hail, thunder, and lightning in the nearby region, so be sure to use caution.