Divining images in the clouds

Everyone see things in the clouds. People, animals, Christ on the crossUFO’s, angels, and even schizophrenically imagined chemical attacks by contrails. You name it, somebody has seen it. So when I was prodded with a news item that said “new cloud type defined” I was thinking “uh oh, here we go again”. It is a lot like cyclomania, as humans tend to assign patterns to randomly ordered observations of nature. Looking for meanings in the clouds isn’t much different than looking for meanings in the alignments of the stars and planets.

From ChattahBox and The UK Telegraph:

Click for a larger image

(ChattahBox)—Meteorologists around the world have taken notice of a new storm cloud on the horizon, literally. And if they have their way the dark and choppy cloud will take its rightful place among its more famous cousins, cumulus, cumulus, cirrus and nimbus.

Cloud gazing Meteorologists first noticed the stormy and billowy formation floating over the Scottish Highlands and above Snowdonia, Wales. The unique gray storm cloud was also spotted over Australia, the cornfields of Iowa and high above the Arctic Sea off the coast of Greenland.

A group in England dedicated to cloud watching, the Cloud Appreciation Society, became quite excited when viewing numerous photos of the new storm cloud floating in the atmosphere.

The Cloud appreciators describe the cloud as “…a bit like looking at the surface of a choppy sea from below,” said Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, and the first man to identify the new cloud.

The Royal Meteorological Society has named the new cloud, “Asperatus,” the Latin word for rough, since the cloud has the appearance of a rough, choppy ocean.

The Royal meteorologists are now attempting to have Asperatus officially recognized by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization in Geneva to have it included in the International Cloud Atlas.

If the meteorologists are successful, this would mark the first time a new cloud was officially recognized since 1953.


I have seen clouds like this, but did not see them as being a new classification. Thus a little trouble with the idea of making an entirely new classification for this cloud, a sub classification perhaps would be more appropriate, especially since this cloud does not appear to inhabit the middle and higher levels of the atmosphere.

Here are the existing classifications:

Latin Root Translation Example






curl of hair


fair weather cumulus





High-Level Clouds

Cloud types include: cirrus and cirrostratus.

Mid-Level Clouds

Cloud types include: altocumulus, altostratus.

Low-Level Clouds

Cloud types include: nimbostratus and stratocumulus.

Clouds with Vertical Development

Cloud types include: fair weather cumulus and cumulonimbus.

Other Cloud Types

Cloud types include: contrails, billow clouds, mammatus, orographic and pileus clouds.

Source: http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/cld/cldtyp/home.rxml


So for “asperatus” I could see maybe “stratoasperatus” but not “altoasperatus” since there is no evidence of them at the high altitudes, and clouds at that level tend not to be rough edged.

I actually hope WMO doesn’t accept this ploy for attention by the Cloud Appreciation Society, if they do, it could open an avalanche of new cloud classification applications, we may see pitches of the most absurd kind.

For example, here’s another one from the Cloud Appreciation Society:

Adrian Chisholm.

This contrail formation has been sent in by several different cloudspotters, and has become known as the Dorset Doughnut. Over Dorset, U.K.

Altostratus Obamus” perhaps?

People see all sorts of things in the sky, if this new one is accepted, the petitioning for WMO recognition of new cloud types would never end.


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There’s two wave-systems (mountain lee waves) interfering in that photo, which often have associated rotor clouds this looks like rotor to me.


The Cloud Appreciation Society???????????????
Oh, man………………….

John Egan

Gemini –
You will get new ideas from the sky and become fabulously wealthy.


We had a stunning example of this in January inland from Timaru. Started out as mamatus and then developed the swirls and shears in the large scale. Never seen it before tho.

Brian Johnson

Surely the Dorset Doughnut is actually a chemtrail disappearing up its own orifice?


That’s a Photoshop image if ever I saw one.


Let’s just dump the u-tube age and get back to reality… please.

Cold Play

It’s the Thirty First of May not April the First?


Clearly AGW is producing new kinds of angry clouds. These ones undoubtedly will be discovered to accelerate positive feedback.


[snip – cumulonimbus mammatus is the word you are looking for]


How is this any different than an Altocumulus mackerel sky? I’m no meteorologist but that was the first thing that occurred to me when I saw it.

MJ Penny

I remember seeing clouds like these back in the 1970’s in the SF Bay Area. These are nothing new and do not need a new classification.

Very nice images!
OT: Everyone interested in good science should check this out:

John F. Hultquist

With an apology to William Wordsworth:
I wondered lonely toward a crowd
When all at once I saw a cloud
Above the lake, above the trees
Can we name it Asperatus, please
Sang the CA and RM societies
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Of course, due to global warming…or HE being manifested among the clouds (of course dark ones).
Perhaps, those cloud were a characteristic of Maunder Minimum, so they could be named Svensmark-Asperatus Clouds.

Choppy clouds?
That’s multiple wave formation produced by undulating terrain, as any glider pilot will tell you. Quite common over Wales too.

Bill P

That is quite a picture. Reminds me of this:


I have two new candidates, Cirrostreakus (formed from the spreading out of contrails), and Cumulosteamus, that visible low level cloud seen condensing near power plants.


Give me a break! These people have way too much idle time.


Off Topic:
I have noticed that 90% of the adds on this site are from alarmist organizations or groups (I just got a 400×300 flash ad peddling carbon offsets).
A not-so-subtle statement on the amount of money that can be made peddling alarmism. Maybe it is time to stop worrying about “Big Oil” and start worrying abount “Big Green”.


I can’t believe no one has said this yet! They look like flying sheep to me. Or maybe ducks… or kittens…
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programing.

Ron de Haan

Clouds often mirror the landscape.
In this case we see lenticularis clouds at the horizon.
These clouds mark the rising of the air current when the wind meets a mountain or mountenous terrain.
Some times these clouds also occure when a windsheer takes place above condensation level.
You would see a cumulus cloud with a Lenticularis cloud on top of it.
If the air is turbulent, the underside of the cloud would take the form of a mamatus.
No need for futher classifications.
We have seen it all.

You’re right Ralph Ellis.
This glider pilot has flown in wave numerous times. Often smooth air as you get a magic escalator ride to high altitudes. Then the clouds look smooth. Sometimes there is turbulence and I’ve seen clouds like those in the photo. You can then see the turbulence cells moving through the cloud. Rotor is usually much more ragged looking.

Chris D.

Looks more like somebody had a little fun with their image editing software…


Wonder what kind of clouds they have in New York? A frost warming is up for most of the state until Monday. Pretty late in the year for frost.


Oops. mean frost WARNING … freudian?

Robert Morris

The doughnut should definately be named after our own dear Britannic Prime Minister, Altostratus Brownholio.


I’ve seen these wavy cloud formations in Columbia, SC and Boulder, CO. I always assumed it was a manifestation of the Helmholtz Resonance.


I saw some suspicious looking contrails in my coffee this morning. Is there a Coffee Cloud Appreciation Society out there who could explain this to me? ;->


Yup not really rotor cloud, more like the wave-system in the distance petering out above stratus and thinning it without breaking through.

In upstate New York it’s snow clouds they’re seeing…
Saranac Lake, Adirondack Regional Airport
Lat: 44.39 Lon: -74.2 Elev: 1706
Last Update on May 31, 6:51 pm EDT
Heavy Snow Fog
33 °F
(1 °C)
Humidity: 96 %
Wind Speed: W 8 MPH
Barometer: 29.86″ (1012.0 mb)
Dewpoint: 32 °F (0 °C)
Wind Chill: 26 °F (-3 °C)
Visibility: 0.25 mi.

>>Give me a break! These people have way too much idle time.
No, no, these people just have no contact with society or the real world. They meant to call it Aspergeratus, but cannot spell either.


The image reminds me of a Van Gogh painting. As for naming new cloud types, I’m reminded of a quote from a biologist about the difficulty of defining species: “Nature mocks human categories.”

Mike Bryant

I’ve seen the cloud above over hills in Texas for miles upon miles along I-10.
My favorite clouds low and dangerous looking are the mammatus:

Leon Brozyna

Speaking of clouds…
Here’s a link to an article on The Resilient Earth about a new study on cloud formation, especially low level clouds. It looks like this new study is questioning some of the assumptions about clouds that have been made by climate modelers. Check it out:


I’m surprised that the present cloud classification hasn’t already been discredited by models as it was devised by the Quaker businessman and AMATEUR meteorologist Luke Howard who liked to do a bit of cloud spotting while walking between properties in London.
As we all know, there is no place for amateurs in climate ‘science’.

Mike Smith

We see those wave clouds in Kansas all the time.


A bit OT but a quote from a recent excellent 3 part series tucked away on BBC4 simply titled ‘Weather’.
“Hadley was an amateur, he was so amateur that no image exists”.
How sad and how times have changed where amateurs, who once made huge leaps in understanding, are now denigrated.


That is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image…basically 2+ images set at different exposures combined into one. Allows for optimum lighting on the entire subject. Normally if you shot a picture of a tree the sky would be whited out (example), but if you take two – one of the tree and one of the sky from a tripod, you can combine them and get a fancy picture. HDR images look terrible IMO and are misleading (as is this image). Just another digital photography gimmick. You can do it with traditional negatives as well, but it takes a lot of skill.
On another note…looks like gravity waves.


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Along with Mike Borgelt, a well known glider pilot, I also fly gliders.
I have not seen actual clouds as depicted but the conditions for the turbulence cells as Mike calls them, that form the cloud type depicted is very common.
On a lot of cloud free summer days in Australia this type of formation is clearly seen at the inversion levels or top of the convective layer where the identical to the pic undulations are often clearly marked by haze and sometimes smoke.
Sometimes the higher points on the undulations are marked by small, vaporous and momentary cumulous clouds.
When flying in clear skies on cloud free days, experienced glider pilots often use these undulations when they are marked by haze or smoke to find lift areas or to minimise flying in sinking air while flying long distances cross country.
The above phenomena occurs across the flat open terrain of Australia and does not have any connection with mountain wave formation.
The only unusual thing about that pic is that the undulations are marked by a cloud layer.
A stratified smoke layer at the top of the convective layer will often show the same characteristics as the pic.


It’s obvious why the RMS is playing “what figures can you see in the clouds”. From the article:
“Professor Paul Hardaker, the Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said: “The process is a long and convoluted one to get through, but we believe there is a good case for this cloud to be added.
“There would probably need to be quite a lot of heat around to produce the energy needed to generate such dramatic cloud formations. They are quite dark structures so there must be a lot of water vapour condensing in the cloud.”
“A lot of heat around”. Hint hint wink wink.

And if they have their way the dark and choppy cloud will take its rightful place among its more famous cousins, cumulus, cumulus, cirrus and nimbus.

I guess cumulus are so important they deserved mentioning twice.

Douglas DC

With every one else-I’m an old mountain pilot.I have flown Saliplanes and launched them in all kinds of weather.This is a Mountain wave. Period.
Next someone will tie them to Chemtrails….

Claude Harvey

I believe what they’re calling the Dorset Doughnut is actually an entirely new cloud formation. How do I petition for said classification? I propose to name the discovery “rectumulus”.


Looks like the “nor west arch” to me. Happens when air rises over the alps, looses its moisture and drops down the otherside onto the plains as warmer dry air. This occurs a few kms from the alps before reaching the sea.


Its not common, but on occassion the nor’west arch appears as above like a sea of undulating waves, quite immpressive when the sun is low and it catches and highlights the waves.


Off Topic or maybe kind of On Topic, either way, I found this article very interesting … Airborne Bacteria Discredit Climate Modeling Dogma … quite a good read.

Fluffy Clouds (Tim L)

just have to say this: I have been seeing the amounts/types of clouds like I saw when I was a wee lad in the 60s and some early 70s.
that is all, nothing to see here, move along folks move!


Looks like a nimbostratus. Whats wrong with calling it Nimbostratus Asperatus? Like you said, it seems a little more realistic to put it in a sub-category instead of a whole new category all together. It doesn’t seem like there are enough instances of this cloud to justify a brand new category, but stranger things have happened haven’t they?