Kelvin-Helmholtz Wave Clouds



Redditor alison_bee photographed these bizarre clouds over Birmingham, Alabama. I planned to go with the end of the world as an explanation, but another redditor, claiming to be a meteorologist, explains what's happening in more scientific terms:

What is happening is that the nocturnal near-surface layers (lowest 50-100m) of the atmosphere are much more stable than the layers above it in the mornings. Until the ground heats up due to daytime heating, the surface layers stay more stable than the air over it. Kelvin-Helmholtz waves occur when the wind shear between the layers destabilizes the topmost portion of that stable layer, and entrains the air into the unstable layer. What you see is stable air being lifted, cooled, and condensed so that this process becomes visible, though this commonly happens many places without being visible.

I'd also like to note that this is different from gravity waves as stated elsewhere as these are completely shear induced while gravity waves are usually from lifting buoyant air into a stable region and gravity pulling that air back down. When that air is pulled back down, it can overshoot it's location of being stable, and a wave pattern forms.


Link -via Geekosystem (where there's a video)

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