Weather Blog

More photos surface of dramatic cloud display over Mt. Rainier

More photos surface of dramatic cloud display over Mt. Rainier
Photo of double-stacked lenticular clouds over Mt. Rainier on Nov. 20, 2004 (Photo: Ron Lloyd)

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog showcasing a double layer of lenticular clouds from Nov. 20, 2004 that sought to clear up some confusion over A) who the photographer was of some of the photos that went viral over the internet and B) disputing some of those viral posts that the mountain shown was Mt. Rainier, not Mt. St. Helens.

There are two versions of viral emails/web posts of the event from separate photographers. We found that Jim George had taken one, but the other, which  remains elusive.

However, in searching for that second photographer, others who witnessed the event have been sending me their photos of that day, and I thought it'd be nice to share.

Ron Lloyd says he was on his way to school that morning and stopped to get gas at a gas station on the South Hill neighborhood of Puyallup. "I noticed the clouds and they were bight orange like the one in your article," Lloyd wrote. "I did not have my camera with me so after filling up my gas tank went back home and grabbed my camera, by the time I got back to the Albertsons parking lot (right next to the gas station) the sun had rose enough and the orange glow was gone."

Apparently, the clouds were around through the day, because he took more photos on his way home that show the two layers merging together:



The lenticular clouds are formed when you have three ingredients: Warm, moist air that is just on the cusp of saturation, laminar flow (when you have winds constant with height -- as in little to no turbulence or shear) and something big to get in the way, like, say, the region's tallest mountain.

When the air flows over the mountain, it will create waves where the air is now going up and down, and up, and down -- like ripples on a pond or waves on the ocean. When the air goes up, it cools a little bit and when conditions are on the cusp of saturation, that slight cooling is enough to create a cloud. When the air sinks back down again, an opposite drying effect occurs and the cloud disappears.

While to us it might look like the clouds are floating in place, in fact, the air is streaming through the cloud as it hovers there -- the cloud is just showcasing the right spot in the atmosphere where the air is undergoing its lift and sink. Sometimes this occurs right over the summit, giving the mountain a hat. Other times, it's just downstream.

To get the "stack of pancakes" look, you have this effect happening at multiple layers.

I've also gone back and added the original photos from Jim George, and also a few new photos from Luke Meyers.

Enjoy!