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I was able to figure this out, if anyone is curious. Changing the ray transform order in MultiRayShape.cc (gazebo) to yaw->pitch from pitch->yaw did the trick. Now my 360 degree lidar point cloud looks perfect. Without this change, the vertical component of the point cloud distance becomes inverted in the rear semi circle of the horizontal fov. Difficult to notice with small horizontal range.

Change line 116 to this: axis.Set(cos(pitchAngle.GetAsRadian()) * cos(yawAngle.GetAsRadian()), cos(pitchAngle.GetAsRadian()) * sin(yawAngle.GetAsRadian()), sin(pitchAngle.GetAsRadian()));