The pictures are dramatic. But forecasters with the National Weather Service office in Missoula are confirming that the weather phenomenon over the Mission Valley Tuesday was, in fact, a "landspout."

Social media erupted in the southern end of the Mission Valley late Tuesday afternoon when residents from Charlo to St. Ignatius noticed the formation of a long funnel cloud moving through the area.

Credit: Lisa Hendrickson Diamond H Livestock
Credit: Lisa Hendrickson Diamond H Livestock

National Weather Service forecaster Travis Booth says it appeared the cloud might have hit the ground, but there were no damage reports coming in.

"Further investigation, some videos it looks like it did touch down which would make it a land spout. At this point, we haven't received any reports of damage associated with it and it seemed to be fairly short-lived," Booth said.

At one point, the formation appeared to even pick up snow off the crest of the Mission Mountains as it moved east.

Booth explains a "landspout" actually starts with pressure at the surface, and then extended upward. The opposite of the classic "twister" you might see in the Midwest or even Eastern Montana.

"This situation, it was a cold air funnel, so not your classic, you know, tornado formation as you think of on the plains where it's, you know, the whole thunderstorm is rotating. And the funnel actually progresses from the cloud down to the ground. These landspouts actually form from the ground upward."

It's a scenario often seen in the open country across Southwest Montana and a few years ago over Flathead Lake when a huge water spout kicked upwards.

"The updraft just gets a little spin to it and then gets stretched into the cloud and there you go. If there's some condensation," Booth said. "You can actually see it spinning. Typically they're fairly harmless, you know, wind gusts of 50 mph or less, but occasionally they can be a bit stronger."

Although there wasn't damage to inspect, Booth says NWS would still like to hear from anyone with additional reports. 

"Certainly, yes. If there are some reports of damage out there, we would certainly love to hear more. Certainly can just contact the office. Our number is on our web page."

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