Friday, June 3, 2011

Portland's Spring Weather: In Pictures

One of my favorite parts about my job are the viewer emails that we receive on a daily basis. Most emails are VERY opinionated stances on stories or programming (one of my personal favorites being a complaint about the station not airing a classic Perry Mason re-run. You know, the one where Perry wins the case?). Those emails are a story for another day. But during crazy weather times, which we have had plenty so far this year, we do receive some very cool photos! I thought I would share a few of them with you all.

This first photo was taken earlier this Spring. These are some of the most unique cloud forms, it's easy to see why! Sometimes referred to as flying saucers or "the mothership", the scientific name for these clouds is "lenticular clouds". They form over hills or mountains as moisture in the atmosphere is forced to rise over the geographical barrier and forms a cloud. The size of the cloud is normally determined by the jet stream above, causing shear to the cloud, or tearing of the cloud. In the above photo, you can see the jet stream is pushing the cloud from the left side of the photo to the right. Look at the top right-hand side of the cloud. You can see the tops of the cloud being pushed down-wind (to the right). These clouds will appear stationary, giving it that hovering, "mothership" look. In fact, the cloud is repeatedly fed moisture from the air and just re-generates a new cloud. As the air moves down the back side of the hill or mountain, the moisture in the air evaporates, thus no cloud! If you look towards Mt. Hood on a clear day, you can often see a "cap" over the top of the mountain. The cool thing about lenticular clouds is that they don't generate any precipitation and are typically a sign of fair conditions!

Our next photo depicts a visually stunning but dangerous cloud!
This photo was sent in from Woodburn. But it looks very similar to a cloud that people in the South and Midwest have seen lately. I am fairly certain that this is a cloud known as a "wall cloud". The reason why I am not 100% sure is that in order to confirm it, there would have to be rotation. But judging from the photo, I feel confident that this is a rare wall cloud in Oregon! Why is this cloud rare in Oregon? Because we only average 2 tornadoes a year! This low-hanging cloud formation is often a significant indicator of a tornado. This storm setup has a large amount of air at the surface being sucked into the storm. Imagine air from the left side of the photo being sucked into the central portion of the storm. As the air gets sucked into the storm, it quickly cools and condenses into a cloud that forms at a lower elevation. Research has shown that the lower the level of the wall cloud, the more likely a tornado is to spawn. All that being said, this storm did not tornado. The environment has to be just right and most times the ingredients just aren't there for the development of tornadoes. But if you notice this low-hanging cloud in the future...probably best to take cover, just to be safe!

The final picture I have today could be considered a cloud "relative" of the wall cloud.
What we are looking at are the low-hanging clouds at the base of the ominous dark cloud. The clouds appear right above the rooftops of the buildings in Vancouver. While very similar to a wall cloud, these clouds known as "scud" are actually smaller, often rugged individual clouds. Scud clouds form when moist, cool air falls out of the storm, this is known as the outflow. The outflow forces the warmer air around the outside of the storm to rise. As the warmer air rises, it cools and forms a cloud. So these Scud clouds are indicators of a cool outflow from the storm!
It is easier to make out the individual clouds in this photo. They just kind of linger around the base of the storm. Because they hang around the base of the storm, they often times get confused as wall clouds. This is not the case as Scud clouds do not spawn tornadoes.

There was a brief look at what has been happening around Portland this spring. The wall and scud clouds are very rare for Oregon and the NW as a whole but do occur. Lenticular clouds, on the other hand, are quite common for us. The Cascade mountain range offers us plenty of opportunities for lenticular development on top of all those mountains!

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