Sunday, September 13, 2009

30 Apocalyptic Mammatus Clouds Gather Over the USA

NY mammatus formations photo: Rahuu

Like portents of doom, mammatus clouds loom overhead, a globular blanket that might seem suffocating if we didn’t know of literally noxious gases released into the ether by human activity. Yet mammatus clouds are as exquisite as they ominous. As their name implies, are a thing of feminine beauty, and with sunlight percolating down through them, it could seem as if heaven itself is unlocking its gates.

South Dakota/Nebraska mammatus clouds photo: Steve took it

The name mammatus comes from the Latin mamma, meaning udder or breast, in reference to the clouds’ shape and the female physiological features they can be seen to resemble. Their texture also recalls hot wax dripping or thick smoke on the ceiling of a burning room – but in reality they are a cellular pattern of pouches hanging beneath the base of a cloud composed of ice or a mixture of ice and water.

San Diego, CA mammatus clouds photo: bruinshorty

When occurring in tall, dense cumulonimbus clouds – or the anvil cloud stretching from them – mammatus often signal the onset of fierce storms and may warn of tornadoes. Tending to form in warmer months over the Midwest and eastern areas of the US, mammatus are nonetheless found elsewhere, as our chase across the States to track this singular meteorological phenomenon will reveal.

Photo: Mila Zinkova

First stop, California, and while the Golden State isn’t renowned for mammatus clouds, the photo above shows that when they do occur – here complete with crepuscular rays over San Francisco Bay – they can make for an impressive sight.

Photo: markgallagher

This threatening looking shot of mammatus clouds above the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado is actually the aftermath of nature’s own air strike – a nasty storm that took place in October 2004.

Photo: Jeff Wignal

The peach coloured mammatus above were snapped after a storm on June 26, 2009 in Stratford, Connecticut. The clouds were quite an event in the region, where crowds gathered in the streets to spy the unusual formations in the sky.

Photo: HaleyHyatt

Geeorgia is the location for this almost terrifying mammatus sunrise. The deep red and yellow was likened to the inside of a volcano, and the fast moving clouds swept along a giant flock of buzzards on their thermals. Apocalyptic indeed.

Photo: lindenbaum

Next, another softer face of the cloud formation. This mammatus sunset was photographed in McLean County, Illinois in July 2007, and what heavenly summer tones to feast the eyes upon.

Photo: Steve took it

If the weather vane doesn’t warn that there’s a storm a brewing’ then the mammatus clouds certainly do – and it sure as heck hailed shortly after this beautifully composed shot was taken somewhere in Iowa.

Photo: Cat Sidh

Like so many of their kind, these mammatus clouds – with their characteristic lobes – in the skies overlooking Bloomington, Indiana told of extremely strong thunderstorms in the offing.

Photo: 3D King

Almost jellyfish like in appearance, these semi-translucent mammatus clouds were photographed in that most famous of storm ridden states, Kansas, before another night of storms and tornado activity in 2008.

Photo: Will Montague

As the child in this photo watches for the incoming storm over Scott County, Kentucky, the clouds in the background begin to take on a familiar and menacing mammatus shape.

Photo: CMan3002

Although in this next shot it might seem as if we’re taking a rest from signs of impending doom, the mammatus clouds high in the sky over Portland Head Light in Maine were indeed snapped ahead of a severe thunderstorm.

Photo: dumarismck

These mammatus formations were captured as a storm was rolling in over Lake Michigan. Interestingly, there are numerous competing theories for the mechanisms through which these unique clouds are formed.

Photo: murphy-R

Yet the differing theories agree that between the mammatus clouds – like these, pictured before a tornadic storm in Missouri – and the anvil cloud overhead, there are sharp differences in temperature, moisture, and momentum or wind shear.

Photo: Zachary Hauri

The softly toned mammatus clouds shown here lying over Minnesota in 2005 show a seemingly more serene side to this still poorly understood meteorological phenomenon, into which further research needed.

Photo: pfflynn

These mammatus clouds were shot from 10,500′ up in an airplane flying over Montana. Even though they were about 3,000′ overhead, the ride was bumpy, so it’s no wonder pilots are strongly advised to avoid cumulonimbus with mammatus.

Photo: nebraskasc

This shot of wave after wave of mammatus clouds rolling in was taken over Kearmy, Nebraska, and it’s no surprise they were the sign of a huge storm brewing. A severe wind shear in the cloud formation tend to mean severe weather on the horizon.

Photo: adventurejournalist

These incredible snapshots of mammatus clouds gathering show the skies over Reno, Nevada, another location where the phenomenon is less commonly seen. Mammatus truly are at once pretty and portentous.

New Jersey
Photo: Sterne Slaven

This next photo of mammatus clouds as seen from Hoboken, New Jersey is another taken during the spectacular sunset following the summer storm of June 26, 2009. Replete with red hues, the cotton clouds call to mind abstract art.

New Mexico
Photo: jared

There’s perhaps a little Photoshop trickery at play in this next snap, but the mammatus clouds rolling in through the thunderstorm bitten New Mexico sky get the last word.

New York
Photo: Digiart2001 jason.kuffer

Here we see Manhattan resplendent under the mammatus cloud that graced the Big Apple and its environs at sunset, again on June 26, 2009. Some might think a UFO was coming; we say Ghostbusters and watch out for Marshmallow Man.

Photo: NOAA Photo Library

It’s back in time with this next pic, a famous photo that depicts mammatus clouds in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, 1973. The blue, billowing mass seems the epitome of beautiful menace.

South Carolina
Photo: turbojoe

South Carolina is the stage for this next show by mammatus, with the yellowish-orange cast provided by the light of sunrise adding a tranquil feel to these so often tumultuous clouds.

South Dakota
Photo: KevinAker

Finally, as so often threatened, the flash of lightning illuminates the scene. Severe thunderstorms and lightning ripped through Rapid City, South Dakota, the latter showing up the accompanying mammatus clouds in for us a new light.

Photo: CoreBurn

More beautifully bulging mammatus clouds in this next shot, taken during a thunderstorm in Texas. One observer even likened this particularly foreboding looking formation to a brain.

Photo: Fool-on-the-hill

Even by mammatus standards, these cloud formations look strange, due in part no doubt because of the light. They appeared in sky after a thunderstorm that drenched Utah Arts Festival. Perhaps they wanted to be part of the show.

Photo: Darlisa Black

No, aliens weren’t landing in Washington State; it was simply the arrival of an exceptionally rare cloud formation for the area – mammatus, which briefly paid a visit to the little town of White Salmon.

Photo: nicholasjon

Despite being boosted a little by HDR, this photo is nevertheless a great capture of the looming mammatus clouds mixed up with a thunderstorm that took place somewhere over Wisconsin.

Beneath_Mammatus Clouds_behind_a_passing_storm_cell_Canyon_Village_Wyoming
Photo: Jonah Westrich / jw creations

Our final image shows the clouds passing behind a passing storm cell encountered on a drive back from Canyon Village in Wyoming. Ominous beauty pervades the air.


jeannette stgermain said...

Ann, you did a lot of research for this post!! What amazing cloud pics! And that one like a volcano in the sky is very scary! Thanks for sharing!

Nancy said...

yes, LOTS of research. I am in awe of these beautiful magical clouds and I've never even heard of them! I will be looking up even more now thanks to you...


Gerry said...

All I can say is that this is a cloud type that seems kind of ominous I have never seen or heard of before. They are entirely new for me. And all these photos testify that they are not uncommon. I have never seen them in the west, but maybe they don't form here as they do other places. Gerry

Jason R. Hunter said...

Cool, just wanted to say thanks for using one of my photos. (the one listed as by Coreburn)

If I remember correctly I was looking almost straight up when I took the photos in that series and there was a tornado warning for a storm not very far west of where I was.