The clouds washed over me like an upside-down ocean. I raced to grab my point-and-shoot camera from my purse before they morphed into something more mundane. I had been reading about lenticular clouds in Galen Rowell’s book “Mountain Light” and what causes them so I was primed to look for unusual cloud formations. I ran through the parking lot snapping whatever photos I could get and I wondered if anyone else noticed them. No one seemed to be looking up even though I was making a spectacle of myself.
I really wish I knew what air pattern caused these cloud formations. I want to call them wave clouds, especially the first one, because it looks like a small ocean wave with white caps. I also want to call them lenticular clouds, but my understanding is that lenticular is only encountered on the lee-side of mountains because of the way the air drops down. Indiana doesn’t have the right geography to cause lenticular clouds. The converging of these cloud forms seems to be creating a vortex; not a vortex for a tornado, but a vortex into the sky and I wished I was directly under them to see what lay beyond.
Just as fast as these clouds coalesced together, they changed into something less dramatic.
In my readings on Rowell, I am learning that it’s not always just luck that gets you the photo. It’s also knowing the environment and anticipating the possibilities and then seeking them when they present themselves. Although it’s not about clouds, one of Rowell’s most memorable photos, Rainbow over the Potala Palace, Lhasa (Tibet, 1981), didn’t just happen because he was standing there. The story goes that he and other photographers were in Tibet when the rainbow appeared. In his mind’s eye, he envisioned it shining down on the Potala Palace. Unfortunately, the Palace was nearly a mile away. So Rowell went running, keeping himself at an angle that would maintain the rainbow. No one else followed him since they already got their rainbow shots and were ready to call it a day. Rowell knew the properties of rainbows, the angle he needed to maintain to keep it in sight, how much time he might have before the light was not conducive for rainbows, etc., and he got the shot. But he wouldn’t have if he didn’t understand the properties of rainbows.
When I look at these clouds, I wonder what caused them so that the next time the environment offers up a similar situation, I am ready with a better camera and lens to make the photo.
(I’ve uploaded each cloud separately to my Flickr account. You can see them here.)
UPDATE (2/25/12): Gary at krikitarts said they’re called ‘Asperatus’ clouds. You can read about it in this online article: The cloud with no name: Meteorologists campaign to classify unique ‘Asperatus’ clouds seen across the world. According to The Cloud Appreciation Society, the name isn’t official yet because they must have the blessing of the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva. But the term has been widely adopted anyway and has a strong chance of becoming a new term.