|Cirrus duplicatus over Enumclaw, Washington|
Our recent and most-welcome warm weather in Western Washington this week has brought warm temperatures (50s F) and cloudy skies to the region. Cloudy
?! locals might gasp. Yes, cloudy
, the Accidental Naturalist insists. I'm on a mission to restore the good name of "cloudy" and divorce it from its knee-jerk association with low, gray, rain-making clouds. This weekend was cloudy. Just look.
Saturday, my husband and I drove toward Enumclaw for a snow-free, low-elevation hike along the White River. With the dog. Who needed a leg-stretch. Who got us out on a rails-to-trails path outside the town of Buckley. Where we watched the skies get crazy with cirrus clouds that first caught my husband's eye because they looked "square."
Nature isn't too fond of square shapes, especially in the cloud department, but these clouds had some edges and corners (at least from our perspective):
|"Square" clouds indicate cirrus at more than one altitude with winds blowing the filaments in different directions.|
Once we started looking up at these clouds, we couldn't stop looking. Then the breeze kicked up. We walked a bit further, looking east, west, north, and south toward Mt. Rainier. We couldn't figure out what the skies were telling us. So I told my husband I thought the sky was "thickening" a bit and it would likely rain in 24 hours. Maybe 36. This was a mistake. I figured I had a 70-30 chance of being right. It was, after all, February in the Pacific Northwest. Often, cirrus clouds to portend rain. But only if they show a marked progression of lowering (to cirrostratus, altostratus, nimbostratus...rain). These cirrus dominated the sky.
|I'm not sure what's going on here with this leaping cirrus cloud.|
|Here we have cirrus fibratus (I'm 86% sure) and what appears to be a salmonid migration of small altocumulus lenticularis.|
I have about fifty photographs of the skies on Saturday. I will spare you only so I have your attention for what happened on Sunday--another cloudy day in South Puget Sound. Look!
|Clouds at sunset at Nisqually NWR. During the Super Bowl. It is challenging to tell cirrocumulus from altocumulus--I haven't acquired the skill yet to judge the size of the cloudlets or height of the clouds. I'm working on it.|
|Heading west on the I-5 toward the Black Hills, the clouds produced a feature that looked like whale's baleen. I believe these are trailing ice-crystals called virga. |
At this point, you might be wondering why I seem to know so little about the clouds I saw this weekend. The problem is that despite my studying, constant use of cloud guides, sky guides, weather blogs, and National Weather Service data, it's difficult to match the clouds I'm seeing at any one moment to the data available. And no matter how many photographs I scrutinize, the clouds in the pictures (the supposed "type specimen") never quite match the pictures I've taken. Unlike the American Bittern.
|An American Bittern, one of four seen hunting during the Super Bowl at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.|
Under those gorgeous sunset skies at Nisqually on Sunday, my husband and I were able to identify the secretive and camouflaged marsh bird--the American Bittern. This relative of the herons was hunting in the reeds and grass along one of the inner boardwalks. It looked just like its photograph in the Audubon field guide. We walked a bit further. And we saw four more bitterns. They looked and acted like the field guides said they would. It was so simple. And so satisfying.