What are shelf clouds? Stunning photos here

Shelf clouds sometimes form at the forward edge of thunderstorms. See photos here.

Shelf clouds occur at the leading edge of thunderstorms. A form of arcus cloud (along with wall clouds), these striking formations look like a long bar or shelf of cloud below a storm cloud. Shelf clouds are accompanied by gusts of wind, and often followed by precipitation – rain, hail, or both.

Long, flat linear cloud over gray water.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Jim Saudade captured this early afternoon shelf cloud formed over Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on June 28, 2020. He said: “Shelf cloud quickly followed by pea sized hail and a deluge of rain.”

A dark, bulging, flat cloud moving over a green pasture.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sarah Iler of Birch Run, Michigan, captured this image on August 2, 2020, at 8:39 p.m. She wrote: “Thunderstorms all afternoon and then this shelf cloud formed in the evening. It was amazing.”

Long, curved, bar-like linear cloud over buildings.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Jay Banfield caught this shelf cloud from Centerton, Indiana, at 11:56 a.m. on August 17, 2019. Jay described it as: “Well defined shelf cloud ahead of a 15-20 degree temperature drop.”

Layers of shelf-like linear clouds below a thunderstorm.

Shelf cloud photographed by Rita Addison at Osmond Beach, Florida, on June 3, 2018.

Shelf cloud with turbulent top under gray sky.

A shelf cloud moving over the Fire Island Inlet Bridge, on Long Island, NY, May 15, 2018, by James Trezza. Nikon D750 & Nikon 20mm.

Odd-looking shelf cloud above a field.

Josh Blash caught this shelf cloud from Rye, New Hampshire, on July 23, 2016. Josh said: “Everything got very still when I took this, just moments before the fury of the storm began.”

Shelf cloud above a beach.

Simon Toogood in Tasmania captured this impressive shelf cloud in 2014. He said: “Stormy weather – and shelf clouds like these – are common at this time of year.”

Bottom line: Photos of stunning examples of shelf clouds, from the EarthSky community.

Claudia Crowley