What Is a Horseshoe Cloud?

This cloud sort of looks more like a droopy and uneven mustache than a horseshoe. GerritR/Wikimedia Commons

Look! In the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... a horseshoe?

That was the question some folks in Battle Mountain, Nevada, and on social media were asking after a photo was shared of a decidedly odd-looking cloud.

The cloud above, and others like it, aren't figments of your imagination or a plane's unfinished loop-the-loop. Instead, they're a very rare type of cloud called a — you guessed it — horseshoe cloud.

These clouds are the result of a combination of air flows getting mixed together. According to the Weather Channel, horseshoe clouds begin when a flat, often a small cumulus cloud, moves over a thermal, a column of rising warm air. The air rises fastest where it's the warmest, and that happens to be the middle of the cloud in the cases of these horseshoe clouds. The middle of the cloud rises faster than the sides and, presto, the ends of the clouds are sort of drooping while the middle is soaring.

The difference in these speeds can also create a bit of a spin in the cloud. So the middle section of the cloud is pulling away faster. Or as one Twitter user explained, "It's a very weak & sideways cousin of a waterspout or tornado."

These clouds are not only rare because they require the exact right sort of conditions, but they're also quick to dissipate.

Of course, some people weren't convinced that the cloud in Nevada was actually a horseshoe ... or a staple.

Or are actually the result of clouds and air.

But clouds and air are all they are. Unless, of course, you just can't let go of the UFO theory ...