CBS News Falls for Hoax, Reports on Nonexistent "Sideways Tornado"

CBS News published an article this afternoon reporting on a super rare "sideways tornado" spotted in Maryland. The only problem is that there is no such thing as a sideways tornado, and apparently CBS has no meteorologists (or elementary school graduates) on its payroll to fact check this sideways article.

The report quotes the boater, who insists that he's not a meteorologist (and I believe it!):

Horizontal tornadoes, although not unique are pretty rare, and the likelihood is that they spin off from a more common vertical tornado and do not last very long,according to Livescience.com.

But Roman is not a meteorologist, he just runs a tugboat and he's happy he was able to get such a rare photo.

That comes thanks to weather patterns that Roman and others working on the Baltimore waterfront see normally before most others do.

The livescience article to which CBS links is an explainer on how individual vortices within a larger, violent tornado can break off from the main funnel and twist and turn in all different directions. The only other thing that comes close to a "sideways tornado" is rope tornadoes like those one would commonly find on the Plains, which bear no resemblance to what the boater photographed in Baltimore.

CBS News Falls for Hoax, Reports on Nonexistent "Sideways Tornado"

What is that in the picture, then? It's a shelf cloud much like the one pictured above. One of the first posts to appear on The Vane was an explainer on how shelf clouds form. They have nothing to do with tornadoes. In fact, storms that create shelf clouds are usually pretty hostile to tornadoes.

Shelf clouds form when a "bubble" of cool air from a thunderstorm moves across the surface of the earth, lifting warm, moist air above it. As the warm air rises up and over the cooler air, the water vapor condenses into a shelf-shaped cloud.

Here is another example of a shelf cloud. And another. And another. Oh, and one more.

It's always fun when news organizations force reporters who know very little about the weather to write about the weather.

UPDATE: CBS pulled the story from their site, but as Gawker's resident debunker informed me on Twitter, nothing ever really goes away on the internet.

UPDATE 2: CBS republished a corrected story (same URL as previously linked) after consulting a meteorologist for a CBS affiliate. The story includes this note:

Editors Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to a weather phenomenon as a "sideways tornado" when it fact it was likely a shelf cloud. CBS News regrets the error.

[Screenshot via CBS News, shelf cloud photo via Melinda Swinford on Flickr | h/t Jordan Tessler, thanks!]