Saturday, July 5, 2014

Out of This World

The recent strong winds from out of the west help generate some very impressive lenticular clouds. These are the “flying saucer” shaped clouds that form from time to time around Tehachapi. OK, they can form elsewhere, but we do get our share.

The reason we get them here is the combination of wind and mountains. As the wind comes through we get the wind going up the sides of the mountain (orographic lifting, if you want a fancy term for it) and then forming waves in the atmosphere. These are called “standing” waves because they sort of stay in one place. Which isn't to say that the air is staying in place, it is wind after all. But certain peaks and troughs, invisible though they are, form in the air flow.

And it is this that allows the air to rise high enough to reach the dew point and have clouds begin to form. That's why we get lenticular clouds when we having moist air blowing in off the ocean. The greater the humidity the lower the dew point and the easier it is to get clouds forming. Then as the air moves on it starts to drop down again the temperature rises above the dew point and the cloud evaporates. This leaves just a spot where the conditions are just right for the formation of the lenticular cloud. And that what we see.

A cloud that is forming in one spot and “dissolving” away from that spot. So it looks like it is just standing there in one place.

Now, does understanding how these clouds form decrease your appreciation for how pretty these cloud formations are? It shouldn't. Perhaps if you've invested a lot of mental energy in stories about flying saucers hiding in cloud formations like this, I suppose it might. But for me, knowing how they form and the specialness of the place they form (we are special here aren't we?) increases my enjoyment of these remarkable clouds.

Which I think is a great way to look at the world. Yes, you can just look at a flower and appreciate its beauty. But you can also learn the name of the flower, which might tell you more about what you're seeing. What is it related to? Why is it growing here and not there? How is it pollinated?

 There are so many things that you can learn about the world that can deepen your appreciation of the world we live in. So next time we get a lenticular cloud, don't just look at it. But look around and see the curve of the mountains that are helping it form. Feel the air for the humidity needed to form those clouds. Put in a little effort to understand what it is you're seeing. And the cloud will be all the more amazing.

No comments:

Post a Comment