I wasn’t going to post today. I planned an end-of-week posting again but when this photo came up and knowing that today will be well over 100°F here in Indianapolis (they say highs today will be 104°F [40°C] ), I had to post it. Maybe it will cool me down.
I wish it were rain clouds, though, and in today’s sky.
So what do you do when you can’t decide which flag-flying-in-the-breeze-with-fluffy-cloud-in-the-background photo to use? Use them all! Turn them into an animated GIF.
One Sunday afternoon in 2010 I took a wild ride into a storm. I didn’t know it at the time I set out, I just wanted to escape the city. I remember that it had been a difficult week and I needed some distance. I headed out east, first on the freeway and then on the back roads. Storm clouds filled the sky and I found myself driving through pockets of heavy rain. The storm and rain fit my mood.
I had a dear friend who had noticed that I was agitated that day so while driving, I got a phone call from him to see if I was all right. I told him where I was.
“Turn around, Dezra,” he urged. “There’s a tornado warning where you are right now.” I didn’t doubt him at all. I saw the dark sky, the clouds, the potential for funnel clouds. So I turned around. He kept me on the phone for a bit just to make sure I was safe. I remember crossing a bridge at the same time that the wind whipped up and I felt my car shudder. I saw tree limbs skitter across the road. Storms don’t frighten me, but I was white-knuckling the steering wheel.
Rain came and went as I continued back to Indianapolis and I looked at the sky ahead of me to judge how difficult it would be to get home. Far in the distance the sun lit white clouds. If I can only get there before the darkness above me and all around me does something terrible….
Since I was on the back roads, choices as to which road to take back to Indianapolis were many. I travel the back roads by instinct so when I got a gut reaction telling me to turn, I turned.
I was amazed. All that storming? All the wind and rain and terrible weather? Behind me. Ahead of me the road opened up into glorious sun breaking through the dark clouds. The wet pavement shimmered. I was the only one on the road and ahead of me the path was clear and bright. I pulled over, overwhelmed at how beautiful it was.
Somewhere off to the side a rainbow arched high into the sky.
A cathartic moment. I had had a tumultuous week, a storm in my heart. My drive that day mirrored my week. And there, at the end, the clouds broke, the sun streamed ahead of me, and a rainbow appeared. I knew that everything would be ok.
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.