Phenomena

Wave Clouds in the Front Range

Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds at sunset over metro Denver

Last Sunday night metro Denver was treated to a rare sight: clouds resembling breaking waves formed near sunset. These are Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, and the comparison to ocean waves is apt, since the same physics is behind both. Winds were unusually calm near the ground Sunday night, but strong winds blew at the altitude just above the lower cloud layer. That velocity difference created strong shear where the two air layers met. With the cloud layer in place to differentiate the slower-moving air from the faster, we can what’s normally invisible: how the two air layers mix.

The Denver Post has several more views of the wave clouds from around the area, and you can learn lots more about the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability here. (Image credit: R. Fields; via the Denver Post)

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