The vast expanse of the sky has always been one of the most enthralling wonders to me. Sometimes stormy, sometimes starry, and sometimes simply spread abroad in its spacious, clear blue. Because I love seeing and learning about different kinds of clouds, there’s one very funky cloud I’ve been on the lookout for over the past several years. They were particularly elusive to me because these clouds pretty much only form near mountains, which most certainly aren’t a part of my every-day topography experience. On my recent trip to Colorado Spring, Colorado (more about the geology on that trip here), I think I may have finally seen some of these odd cloud formations – lenticular clouds.
Lenticular clouds are lens/almond-shaped clouds that are often very bizarre looking and hang around for hours. They also tend to form in layers on top of each other, looking almost like a stack of plates with curved edges, creating a phenomenon that is called “pile d’assiettes” (French for “pile of plates). Because of their odd looks, these clouds are sometimes perceived as “flying saucers”.
While I’m a little doubtful that the clouds I saw in Colorado Spring really are genuine lenticular clouds, they are certainly the closest I’ve ever seen. According to official cloud classification, stratocumulus, altocumulus, and cirrocumulus cloud genera can all be of the lenticular cloud species (more on official cloud classification here). Most of the really striking lenticular cloud pictures are taken with altocumulus clouds or on several layers at once, while the ones I saw were more like stratocumulus clouds.
Lenticular clouds are best thought of as “wave clouds”. When a stable layer of air gets pushed over a mountain or hill, the air keeps bouncing in a wave-like motion for a little while after it crosses the obstacle, before the air can settle down again. Depending on relative temperatures and humidity levels in the different layers of the atmosphere, lenticular clouds can form at the crests of these waves. Pilots usually know to take lenticular clouds as a warning sign, because they mean that there’s a lot of turbulence in the air around the mountain.
It’s incredible to see the way God made our clouds and weather systems to be stunning as well as functional. Although the climate and topography of earth has been catastrophically changed by the global flood mentioned in the Bible, in His incredible mercy, God has allowed some pretty incredible things to come from it all, whether they are lenticular clouds or rock formations at “Garden of the gods”.
“The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not aquit the wicked: the LORD hath made His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet . . . the mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at His presence, yea the world and all that dwell therein . . . the LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble and He knoweth them that trust in Him” Nahum 1:3,5,7
The Weather Identification Handbook, published 2002, by Storm Dunlop
Guide to Weather Forecasting, published 2008, by Storm Dunlop
Meteorology: Understanding the Atmosphere (Instructors Edition), published 2003, by Steven Ackerman and John Knox