Ask Storm Team 11: What is a supercell?


A supercell is a rotating, long-lived thunderstorm. The main hazard from a supercell is the possibility of a tornado. 

Another hazard supercells can produce is hail, and potentially large hail. This is indicated by strong reflectivity values that are pink or black in color on Live Vipir Radar. 

Cold upper-level winds in combination with warm lower-level winds meet to help the storm rotate. This gives the supercell that signature hook echo look. 

If these winds tighten enough, a tornado can form. A tornado can be verified with several radar products. One is base reflectivity (what we look at for rain). Radar does not just pick up on rain but other objects, like debris, as well. Debris lifted by a tornado can be picked up as high returns on radar. We call this a debris ball.

On a supercell’s leading edge, you will likely encounter a gust front. Strong winds from inside the storm are pushed out ahead of it. This is why if you are caught outside before a storm approaches, the winds pick up and the temperature cools.

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