Phenomena

A Lenticular Cloud With a Curl

A lenticular cloud with a Kelvin-Helmholtz curl seen at Mount Washington Observatory.

Lens-shaped lenticular clouds are not terribly rare in mountainous areas, but observers at Mount Washington caught a very unusual cloud near sunrise in late February. This lenticular cloud had an added curl on top thanks to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability!

Lenticular clouds form when air is forced to flow up over a mountain in such a way that its temperature and pressure drop and water vapor in the air condenses. The resulting water droplets form a cloud that appears stationary over the mountain, even though the air continues to flow.

To get that added wave-like curl, there needs to be another, faster-moving layer of air just above the cloud. As that air flows past, it shears the cloud layer, causing the interface to curl. Neither of these cloud types is long-lived — Kelvin-Helmholtz formations often last only a few minutes — so catching such a great dual example is lucky, indeed! (Image credit: Mount Washington Observatory; via Smithsonian Magazine; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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