Cloudy with a chance of Physics

I don’t know. That’s a bit of a desperate title. But in exchange, a rather nice cloud formation, don’t you think?

clouds_3_3_2014_1

This was from the sky over Los Angeles yesterday evening (a shot of the sky in the other direction is to the right – click for larger), and my first thought was “what’s the physics behind these beautiful structures?” There’s enough regularity here to expect there to be a mechanism, but I do not know what it is. Some combination of atmospheric conditions like wind speed, clouds_3_3_2014_2temperature, perhaps some layering of different bodies of air, and so forth, resulted in this and I’d love to know more. What factors set the roughly regular size of the structures, their pretty uniform distance apart, etc? (These are typical physicist’s questions, in case you’re wondering.) I found an article on Wired with lots of nice pictures and the beginnings of some discussions of the effects (be sure to visit all seven pages to see the different spectacular cloud types discussed), but all it did was whet my appetite. There’s not much there and it certainly did not say anything about this sort of formation. But it is a start. Apparently it is partly because there’s not a large community out there studying cloud formations for their own sake. Seems to me they ought to team up with the sand-pile people. This stuff could turn out to be useful for something, I’ll bet…

Anyway, Yay, Cloud!

-cvj

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