EarthSky Community Photos

Submit your photo here. Comment or upvote on photo pages. Search via photographers' names. More improvements coming! To help, please donate.

Diane Rains
Hudson, WI, USA
01:53 am

Equipment Details:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 on a rather shaky monopod. Shot through a window.

Post-processing Details:

To get the camera to see anything in the dark, I had to open the aperture quite a bit. This made the resulting image look slightly brighter than it appeared to the naked eye. So in post-processing I darkened the exposure just a tad to compensate.

Image Details:

Fun with atoptics (atmospheric optics)!


Two weeks ago, I was (sadly) awake at about 2 am, shortly after thunderstorms had moved through our property. I looked out our second story bedroom picture window and saw what appeared to be a huge funnel cloud to our northeast! Eek! Weather radar revealed nothing at all. So I watched this freaky cloud, which morphed and changed but stayed in place, for over an hour. I took many photos.

Finally the thing SEEMED to be getting closer. So I ran downstairs where Stu was sleeping with the new puppy (long story) and woke them up. We all dashed downstairs to hide in the basement. (We'd had an actual tornado warning about a week earlier, so caution seemed prudent!)

We hid out in the basement, trying to figure out whom we could contact about this apparent funnel cloud. We called our local sheriff, who sent his deputies on the road to look for it. They didn't find it.

Finally we lit on the idea of posting a few pics on the National Weather Service Twitter feed. "What the heck IS this thing?!" we asked. A few minutes later, a meteorologist said it looked to him like some sort of shadow – definitely not a tornado, no worries! So we finally went back to bed at 4 am.

I wasn't quite satisfied with the shadow theory. With binoculars I could see circular motion high up in that cloud, and on occasion the whole thng would suddely waft horizontally, then return to center. Ultimately, I decided it might be a "smokenado," originating perhaps from a lightning-struck tree.


Fast forward to last night. Another thunderstorm had passed. I woke up at about 130 am, opened the bedroom curtains, and there it was again! This time it remained stationary – no wafting, though it did shift from a tubular shape to a spear shape to more of a dispersed funnel.

With this new appearance, I had to agree that this was an unusual projection of a tall shadow on heavy, low cloud layers. But what caused it?

Google Earth to the rescue! About 20 away from us in the same direction as our funnel is Xcel Energy's Allen S King Power Plant. There is a tall emissions tower there which is well lit at night.

With atmospheric conditions "just so," that rather common structure becomes a mysterious shadow tower. Interestingly, several layers of trees between us and the tower were also projected as huge shadows on our clouds.


Ain't nature grand??? 😍