Friends in High Places

I've just returned from a trip to the East Coast to see for myself what the clouds had done to my home landscape of Northern Virginia this winter: plenty. Though I missed the brunt of the "Snowmageddon" storms, I was still able to walk in knee-deep snow left by armies of icy clouds and enjoy one snowball fight. On my flight home, my plane flew over the Shenandoah River Valley. On clear days, this feature is easy to recognize from the air as two mostly parallel mountain ridges form what looks like an enormous bathtub with a river running down the middle. But last Saturday, the skies were cloudy and obnubilated (see below) the ground. 

What I saw instead were clouds--altocumulus lenticularis (pictured below). These are the "flying saucer" clouds that may form in the lee of a mountain or ridge.

Mount Rainier is famous for these clouds, which some say are responsible for generating the national UFO craze in the 1940s. They are a familiar sight here in Washington State and even have a nickname--Lennies.
(I love being on a first-name basis with the clouds.) Until Saturday, I had never see Lennies in Virginia, where I spent most of my life.  Having learned recently how these clouds form made it possible for me to deduce that my westbound plane was over the Shenadoah Mountains--that the clouds were forming as moist air rose up the western flanks of the mountains (not visible, but at the right edge of the photo). In a break in the clouds I could see that the clouds were hovering over the meandering Shenandoah River. Quite a sight!

The night after I returned home, I got a Cloudspotter Alert call from a friend urging me to go outside to look at what the full moon and clouds had done to the night sky. It was beautiful and surreal. With my dinky digital camera ISO set on 1600, I captured the image below. It's pretty pixely, but the camera actually picked up more detail that my eye.
I love hearing from friends and neighbors about what's going on in the skies. Many call with "weird" cloud sightings that send me running, biking, or driving out with my camera to enjoy the fleeting phenomenon. As I spend more time inside writing my cloud book these days, it's great to know there are cloudspotters with cell phones out there. Thanks Bonnie for "obnubilate" and Sarah for the Full Moon Clouds. Keep those calls and text messages coming!