Cold air funnels: what are they and should we worry?

Jun 15, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:23 pm

Cold air funnel in Utah County....

Cold air funnel seen in Lehi. Photo Credit: Alex Gold

LEHI, Utah —  On Thursday morning a cold air funnel was seen in Lehi as drivers headed into work. And while they are an anomaly, (cold air funnels don’t typically make an appearance in Utah) for the most part, they are fairly harmless.


According to the National Weather Service, cold air funnels can form in mild thunderstorms and rain showers – the exact type of weather that northern Utah has been experiencing. They form when there is warm air at lower altitudes and colder air above the clouds. 

“No, it is not a tornado, but has some similarities,” said KSL Meteorologist Matt Johnson. And he said there’s no need to worry about them.

Ninety-nine percent of the time they do nothing. They just don’t have the dynamical support that a real tornado has.”

Funnels form when cold air travels over warm land, according to Johnson. Tornadoes form in very strong thunderstorms. Additionally, funnels are created with an updraft of air moving in different directions and tornadoes have the “whole cloud base spinning with a lot of power,” according to Johnson. 

A funnel does not become a tornado unless it touches the ground.  And even then, the World Meteorological Organization said, the resulting tornado will have low wind speed.

Keep your eyes peeled, Johnson said. Northern Utahns may see more of these cold air funnels as this weather pattern persists. Just know that if you do see one, they are not a cause for alarm.

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Cold air funnels: what are they and should we worry?