The Accidental Cloud Spotter

   What a glorious morning! I woke early and decided to bite the bullet and ride my bike to the Co-op for a the first time. The Co-op is just 3 miles from my house, but is not along a scenic route or full bike-laned, so I usually drive. But today, I need just a few things and I needed to get out. I attached the buckets to the back of bike and set off.
  I am kind of a wimpy bike rider, but it's Bicycle Commuter Month here in Olympia, and I needed to rack up some miles doing errands. I work from home and do not commute, but errands count. Recreational biking does not. On Mother's Day Sunday my husband dragged me on a seemingly endless 19.8-mile ride and, because I was in agony, I begged him to let me stop somewhere and buy something, dammit, so I could count  each and every mile. "That's not the point," he said. 
   I dreaded my ride to the Co-op and half expected to be run over by a car when I hit the short, uphill stretch of road with no bike lane. But, on this morning, the car traffic was light; I had timed  my ride (accidentally) to occur after the 8 o'clock school rush and before the 9 o'clock school rush. It was a breeze and I was at the Co-op in less than 20 minutes. I was in agony-free ecstasy. 
  I parked my bike, bought a few essentials that make me sound like I live on a Tuscan commune (olive oil, milk, yogurt, Dr. Bronner's soap, kale, polenta), and then strolled into the Co-op Garden to drink my coffee and call a friend to wish her a Happy Birthday. I pulled a few clumps of weeds, found someone's sunglasses, set them on the picnic table, talked for half an hour. I was home before 9 and still ahead of schedule for my 12-5 writing day.
    So, I loaded up my car with things to recycle, donate, and dispose of responsibly--you know, the things that had been piled in the front hall for two weeks. To save on gas, I decided to drive a loop that would take me to the county landfill where I would dispose of my many compact fluorescent light bulbs at HazoHouse, drop some things off at the on-site Goodwill, walk my dog at the on-site dog park, then visit a friend for a walk on our wonderful rails-to-trails path.  
   I set out thinking I knew where the landfill was. When the right turn onto the road leading to the landfill failed to appear again and again and again, I turned the car around. I was going to be late to visit my friend. Oh, but the dog! There he sat in the back, with a full bladder, panting. Luckily, I hadn't mentioned the D-o-g P-a-r-k.  He would just have to endure a fast-paced leashed walk with me and my friend.  
   The hour-plus walk was wonderful despite my dog having to mark his territory every twelve feet one way and having to be dragged back by his leash the other. 
  After our walk, I consulted my map and set out for the landfill. About ten minutes into the trip, I pulled the car over, whipped out my cell phone and called my husband.
   "Can you check real quick to see when HazoHouse is open? I'm on my way there, but am thinking they close mid-week." 
    Less than a minute later my suspicions were confirmed. I headed home, passing the Co-op as I did, bummed out that my eco-plan du jour had bombed. 
    The silver lining of my tiny cloud was that my driving around allowed me a view of the sky I would not have gotten from my bike. Well, I could have gotten it from my bike, but it would have been agonizing.
   What I saw was the celestial dome covered in cirrus clouds--long, long cirrus "mare's tails," the hooked cirrus uncinus, cirrus intortus, and cirrus fibratus, and the thick cirrostratus cloud from which most seemed to originate to the north. The sky was spectacular, almost like fireworks. And, of course, I had not brought my camera. 
  When I got home, I found my camera, went outside and could not see the "mother cloud," but captured this: 

     And this:
  Which is just a tiny, tree-hampered view, a slice, a glimpse, a fraction of the sky en route to the landfill. But isn't it wonderful?

The Answer My Friends...

   As promised, more on these unusual cirrus clouds I photographed a few weeks back and blogged about. I sent my photos to Art Rangno in Arizona for an explanation of the dramatic "tail" shifting (it did a 180-degree turn, from the 3 o'clock position to the 9 o'clock position as I watched it).
  Art Rangno has spent most of his life studying and loving clouds, 30 years of it as a meteorologist with UW's Department of Atmospheric Sciences in Seattle. He is an accomplished scientist in the field of airborne cloud studies and is the creative genius, photographer, and writer of the popular "guide to the sky" cloud posters, which got me hooked on clouds in the first place. Speaking of hooks....
The cirrus clouds above are called cirrus uncinus (hooked cirrus) and here is what Art knows about them: 
    Cirrus uncinus usually, as we think of it, has a hook, but it can also be a tuft at the top as in your first photo [below].
This would have happened many minutes before your first photo, likely over the horizon and out of view, as indicated by the length of the fallstreifen, aka, ice crystals.  At first, the formation of a cirrus uncinus is hard-looking, sharp edged dots and it has been suggested that they are water drops before almost instantly converting to ice (temperatures are generally below -30 C).  There must be some updraft to do create those specs, somewhat like in cumulus, but much more gentle, perhaps of the order of just a mile or two per hour.   One of the signs that there was an updraft with stronger and weaker portions is the stranding that shows different sizes of particles developed when the cloud formed. The different sizes are due to the differences in updraft velocities, the larger crystals forming where the updrafts were that bit stronger.  

They are formed, from time to time, out of the blue as something that would resemble a patch of cirrocumulus, a granulated cloud patch [below], though usually the granules are more splotchy. 
 At the stage you have photographed this cloud, they are usually "done", at least in their updraft stage, and now  the crystals are merely settling out from the original location, and as they do, you get to see how the wind changes with height, normally the crystals falling into regions of somewhat lower wind speeds below the "head" and leaving a comet's tail below.
The reason that they exist is that the air up there is likely saturated with respect to ice, or, below the head, very close to it.  The longer and lower the tail goes, the deeper the near ice-saturation layer.The crystals in these clouds are almost always bullet rosettes [below], BTW, ones that can get pretty large, and hence, fall relatively fast compared to the smaller crystals in haze like ice clouds such as a high veil of cirrostratus.
Photo courtesy Cal Tech

Fleeting Formation

On watch in my favorite cloudspotting hammock over the weekend, these strange clouds covered a patch of the sky. Judging by their height, I figured they were cirrus, but couldn't figure out what variety. I grabbed The Cloud Collector's Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and flipped through it--quickly for what I hoped would be an instant match between sky and page. I found it under lacunosus. "This variety of cloud is identified in terms of the gaps between cloud elements, rather than the clouds themselves," Pretor-Pinney writes. "It is when a cloud layer is composed of more or less regular holes, around which fringes of cloud form, like a net or rough honeycomb."

So the cloud pictured here is a cirrocumulus undulatus lacunosus. These cirrus because they are high-elevation clouds formed of ice crystals; cumulus because they appear in patches or layers of cloudlets (not wisps like plain cirrus); undulatus because they appear in waves which form when the air above and below the cloud layer is moving at different speeds or in different directions; and lacunosus because of the holes formed by sinking pockets of air.

Apparently, this variety of cloud is short-lived (and earns bonus points on the cloudspotter's scorecard). In fact, about ten minutes after I photographed them, they disappeared.

While collecting points for spotting clouds is geeky, it was oddly gratifying to be able to name clouds I would have described as "white" a year ago.