Cloudatious skies have cool science behind them
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – More than one curious, skyward-thinking Buckrailer has asked, “What’s up with the crazy clouds lately?” We paraphrased, but that was the gist.
Jason Husband captured a ‘money’ shot from Alta of multi-tiered creamy sky over the Tetons that makes the landscape portrait look more like a dessert (or maybe we’re just hungry).
Brian McDaniel also noticed and caught some cumulous goodness over the Gros Ventre Range. He said, “We’ve had this strange weather pattern north of town for the majority of the day. These dark clouds looming over the Tetons, blue skies, and then darkness again over the Gros Ventres and Wind Range.”
We forwarded the photos over to the definitive expert on all things meteorological, Jim Woodmencey. He founded local’s favorite source for super-accurate weather, Mountain Weather, in 1991.
Woodmencey took note of the photos, calling them “great shots.” He added that they are a prime example of “mountain wave clouds.” The atmospheric phenomenon needs a few things to occur, but key are mountains…and we certainly have those.
“[The most recent pattern] is a result of a combo of high wind speeds at ridgetop level and above (jet stream was right overhead), and moisture at those same levels in the atmosphere,” Woodmencey said. “We had a strong westerly flow aloft, which is more or less perpendicular to the Teton Range—also a requirement for mountain waves to develop. As that wave of air crosses the Tetons, it is lifted, then sinks over the valley, thus the break in the clouds, as the air dries as it sinks. Then the air is lifted again as it pushes over the Gros Ventres, and clouds reform.”
The wave pattern, much like a wave in the ocean, Woodmencey says, will fluctuate with wind speed and moisture supply from upstream.