Viral weather videos: News 6 meteorologist explains how they happen

Tom Sorrells reveals weirdest weather event he’s ever encountered

News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells explains the science behind waterspouts, mammatus clouds and floating fire ant islands.

ORLANDO, Fla. – When you work as a meteorologist for over 20 years — like News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells has — it means you see a lot of wild weather.

And thanks to cell phones, incredible weather events are often caught on camera, like this waterspout that formed over the Gulf of Mexico.

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Beachgoers in Destin were in for a sight this morning along the Emerald Coast.

“The only reason it wasn’t a tornado is that it was out over the open water,” Sorrells said on the News 6 podcast Talk To Tom.

Sorrells reacted to some viral videos to explain the science behind certain weather phenomenon like tornadoes and mammatus clouds.

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Tornado at EPCOT?

A picture that went viral last year showed an ominous funnel cloud forming behind Walt Disney World’s EPCOT theme park.

Wicked weather is caught on video near Disney World.

“That’s kind of a smaller funnel. It’s not particularly tied to a lot of lightning,” Sorrells said. “It is not truly tornadic. It’s only a funnel, a little funnel cloud that didn’t last long. We were actually fortunate to have captured this.”

Floating fire ants

There’s only one thing worse than a fire ant pile: a floating fire ant pile.

A video showing a small mountain of stinging fire ants floating in Florida flood water after Hurricane Ian garnered millions of views online.

It may look like a mound of dirt. Or floating debris on top of the water. But if you look closer, it’s actually a mound with thousands of aggressive and venomous fire ants. Since Hurricane Ian brought record-breaking rain and flooding to many parts of Central Florida the, what appears to be, ‘life boats’ made of thousands of fire ants are popping up all over the area. (We’re not the only ones trying to survive the rising flood waters.) The unique sight is getting a lot of attention on social media. People posting photos and videos in flooded neighborhoods and waterways, showing groups of ants banding together to survive the rising waters. Lets face it, it’s kind of cool.

So how do the ants survive on top of the water?

“They have some way of staying alive, or they’ll latch on to one another. They have their own float, and they take turns at the top to stay alive. They actually cooperate to stay alive until they get a hold of you,” Sorrells said.

Tom’s weirdest weather experiences

Sorrells’ meteorology career began in the 1990s and spans several states, including Ohio, South Carolina, Michigan, and eventually Central Florida.

However, there is only one time Sorrells experienced the true force of a hurricane.

“My worst hurricane personally that I ever survived was Hurricane Hugo. September of 1989. Sept. 21, and Sept. 22, of 1989. That was a Category 4 storm.”

Less than a decade later, Sorrells said he experienced firsthand the power of a rain-wrapped tornado.

Tom Sorrells. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

It happened near his parents home in Greenbriar, Tennessee.

“I went to the front door to watch,” Sorrells recalled. “It was right across Highway 41. And I did the thing you’re not supposed to do, I went right to the front door to watch the tornado. And the storm door caved in and hit me in the head. So when I say, ‘Stay away from doors and windows during a tornado,’ that is the reason why.”

He’s no stranger to the cold either.

One the first day of spring in January 1994, Sorrells was in Detroit when he witnessed the biggest snow total he’s ever seen.

“It actually shut down schools that day. Some areas had 10 inches. It shut down school in Detroit, which is hard to do, because they just don’t stop for snow,” Sorrells said.

To learn more and submit your question to Sorrells, tap here.

Check out Talk to Tom on News 6 Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. or watch anytime on News 6+.

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About the Authors:

Katrina Scales is a producer for the News 6+ Takeover at 5:30 p.m. She also writes and voices the podcast Your Florida Daily. Katrina was born and raised in Brevard County and started her journalism career in radio before joining News 6 in June 2021.

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 5:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.