‘Glowing tornado’ spotted over Northern Ireland

In recent nights, noctilucent clouds (NLCs) have rippled across Europe from Scandinavia to the south of France. “We have been observing NLCs every night here in N. Ireland,” reports Martin McKenna of Maghera in Co. Derry. “Their brightness and complexity have been getting more advanced since the solstice, with whirls and knots glowing electric blue above a yellow midnight sunset horizon.” He observed this ‘noctilucent tornado’ on June 25th:

Taken by Martin McKenna on June 25, 2018 @ Maghera, Co. Derry, N. Ireland

“It was amazing to watch,” he says. “This area then morphed into an succession of dynamic shapes–a wedge, a funnel, angel wings, an electrified smoke ring, then a long rope tornado which reached towards the horizon.”

What creates these forms? The answer is “gravity waves.”

Gravity waves are, essentially, waves of pressure and temperature spawned by powerful storm systems. Gravity does not vary inside the waves; they get their name from the fact that gravity acts as a restoring force that tries to restore equilibrium to up-and-down moving air.  Gravity waves can propagate all the way from Earth’s surface up to the mesosphere, where they imprint themselves on the the forms of noctilucent clouds. When a sufficient number of gravity waves meet, they can interfere to produce all of the structures McKenna saw–plus many more.

Summer is the season for NLCs. Summertime wisps of water vapor rise to the top of Earth’s atmosphere where they wrap themselves around specks of meteor smoke. Mesospheric winds gather the resulting ice crystals into noctilucent clouds.

Via NASA Spaceweather.com

38 thoughts on “‘Glowing tornado’ spotted over Northern Ireland

  1. NLC’s are formed by wisps of water vapor thrust high in the sky by … Global Warming!

    In the coming years so much water vapor ( vapour) will be thrown up there our children will never experience nighttime in the summer. Well maybe our children’s children.

  2. How much sunlight do NLC’s reflect and are NLC’s increasing, do they have a cooling effect on earth.

    • I have studied this phenomenon in great detail.
      The sunlight reflected by NLCs has precisely the same cooling effect on the planet as CO2 has on heating the planet.
      Zilt, zilch, zero, nix, nothing, imaginary, etc, etc, etc.

  3. I’m sure this does not need to be said to the well-informed WUWT crowd, but the use of the term “tornado” is very misleading. What he is seeing is a winding tendril of cloud stretching off toward the horizon. It is only perspective that makes it seem to be vertical and drooping toward the Earth.
    Never-the-less, some pretty clouds.

      • A contrail was my first thought, but this would be very high up. Too high for a commercial jet. Probably 60,000 feet or higher.

        • It doesn’t look that high to me and is well below the cloud deck above. It looks like the jet is heading west and the foreground component of the trail is older and more dispersed by the wind.

        • You can’t determine the height from a photo or video. Even low clouds can reflect sunlight just after sunset.

          • In this instance, the bright cloud hides the pinkish one. In my experience that makes the foreground cloud lower than the background, 100% of the time.

          • If you look carefully just above the tree line where the bright cloud is very thin bright line approximately parallel to the horizon, the bright thin line seems to be somewhat brighter both above and below where the red cloud-bank crosses it, suggesting that the red cloud is blocking some of the bright cloud’s light. This makes the red cloud lower in the sky. The same thing happens in the biggest “lump” of the bright cloud which is a little to the left of the picture’s center.

  4. I would love to know what a gravity wave is. I gather they are very difficult to detect.

    • Ocean waves are gravity waves. Any wave that is pulled down (restored) by gravity is called a gravity wave. Gravitational waves are different, they’re invisible ripples in space and they are difficult to detect.

      • Here’s a link to a paper dealing with gravity waves in the ocean.

        If you google gravity waves, you will get mostly links about gravitational waves. In a couple of cases, the title references ‘gravity waves’ but the body talks about gravitational waves.

        Back in the 1970s, one of my oceanographer buddies explained to me that we had to start calling these things gravity waves. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we used to call them. On the other hand, maybe I’m just confused. It could have been a discussion about why we couldn’t refer to tidal waves any more and had to start calling them tsunamis.

        I tried to google the origin of the term ‘gravity wave’ with no luck.

    • In principle, gravity waves are propagating ripples in the curvature of space-time.

      The theory is that a moving mass drags it’s gravity with it and that this change in gravity can be detected at a distance, much like a moving charge. The speed of propagating gravity, like light, is the speed of light (the ‘c’ in Einstein’s General Relativity equation), hence their characterization as waves. Gravity waves themselves are not all that controversial, however, their exact nature is far from settled and there are many open questions. One is whether or not this wave exhibits the dual nature of a particle as the photon is to light and another is the existence of the orthogonal field required for EM like propagation, as B-fields are to E-fields.

      They are difficult to detect because gravity is so much weaker than any of the other forces.

      What I find most interesting is that photons can be modeled as a propagating ripple in space-time curvature as equal and opposite amounts of curved and un-curved space-time where the scalar metric of this ‘local’ curvature is given by the fine structure constant and the size of the local region of curved space-time is proportional to the wavelength. This result is easily obtained by considering the photon a resonant LC system whose energy is constrained by E = hv = q^2/2C. The resulting L is 1/a times larger and the resulting C is 1/a times smaller relative to the L and C of the free=space occupied by the photon. Since L and C are properties of u0, e0 and geometry, the only way to get the required L and C is by perturbing the space-time geometry in the vicinity of the photon by factors related to the fine structure constant (a).

      • I had thought that this is the definition of “gravitational wave”. I was unaware of the other misapplication of the nomenclature.
        Gravity waves are …waves in gravity, not periodic motion effected by gravity. A pendulum’s motion is NOT a gravity wave. Surface waves (on the interface between air and water) are effected by more forces than gravity alone.

        • A pair of super massive black holes orbiting each other that arose as the result of a galactic collision would generate a periodic gravitational wave and in fact, efforts are underway to measure just this kind of effect. To the extent that orbits are periodic, I propose that most gravitational waves are also periodic as all of the moving mass in the Universe is in orbit around something, i.e. the Universe has an infinite escape velocity.

          The annihilation of matter and anti-matter might create a step function to reveal the impulse response of the Universe, but for this to happen on a large enough scale to be detected would seem to be impossible.

          Actually, a pendulum will generate a gravitational wave, it’s just far too small to ever be detected, at least here on Earth where the planets gravity dominates the local space-time curvature field.

          • FYI, this is a small part of something much bigger, which is an attempt to demonstrate my hypothesis that space-time curvature is the fundamental unit of existence and that Einstein’s General Relativity is the Universal Field Theory he was seeking, it just hasn’t been recognized as such.

            From a high level view, GR has space-time curvature on one side of the equation and the stress energy tensor on the other. To the extent that all matter and energy can be represented by a stress energy tensor, it can be similarly represented as a space-time curvature tensor, thus space-time curvature is the more fundamental constituent of everything.

            My understanding of the relationship between photons and space-time curvature connects Mawell’s Equations to General Relativity and leads the way towards realizing electromagnetic propulsion. Singularities become a point in time stretched across a region in space which is analogous to the way String Theory models them and is the underlying property manifesting the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Using EM to stretch/squeeze a point in time around a region of space enclosing a craft can create a local curvature gradient that the craft ‘falls’ in to as it drags this gradient along with itself.

            More about the theory behind this project can be found here:


    • That naming convention is a bit of as trashcan amalgamation, because with it any periodic motion of particles with mass, in a gravitational field can be called a gravity wave. That covers almost all the natural phenomena in fluid dynamics.
      What other sort of waves are there in physical media? Compression?…effected by gravity (density).

  5. There are few things more enjoyable than losing oneself in night time eyeball stargazing, satellite spotting, seeing a meteor streak across the the sky, aurora, and other emergent phenomena. With the drone of crickets and peeping frogs as an aural backdrop, our minds drift into ancestral meditative states that are more efficacious than any prescribed medicines. I highly recommend it to all….

    • Such stimuli have a physiological effect called ASMR on some people. It results in lowered heart rate and reduced stress. As you say, it’s better than medicine, it’s cheaper than medicine, and it doesn’t have adverse side effects.

  6. I believe if you look closer, you’ll notice it’s actually Al Gore’s carbon footprint, which has always been in the stratosphere.

  7. Is this “settled science” as they say. We weren’t certain gravity waves existed until we detected them from a collision event in another galaxy – reported here in Wuwt a year or two ago.

  8. Since this is an article on Ireland it’s a good place to bring up a presentation I have prepared. I thought it would be useful to prepare an accessible document outlining in colourful graphs the climate change that has occurred specifically in Ireland since 1800 and compare the period 1800-1950 to 1950-2017 as it will pique the interest of a lot of Irish. I spent many weeks searching for, collating, formatting and updating climate info (temps, rainfall, wind etc.) and preparing the presentation (30 slides). I have run it by friends who say it is very interesting and understandable (I’ve avoided complex stats). I’d be interested in the comments of the readership here on the document and how it could be improved and circulated.




    • Joe this is a brilliant take-down of global warming. It doesn’t knock the opposition or insult the intelligence of any who have been conned into believing that we’re all gonna fry, drown, etc. because of CO2. All it does is present hard facts in a way that won’t get their backs up and might make them think. With a bit of luck it might leave them questioning their beliefs.

    • Very well researched and presented. The presentation is concise, understandable and enjoyable.

    • Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately it is a bit hidden here in the comments so I’ll try to get it in a more prominent article. I believe approaches like this can help as people are more interested in what CC means to them rather than globally.

  9. There seem to be more NLCs when solar activity is low which suggests changes in chemical reactions in the mesosphere. There were fewer such reports during the late 20th century period of more active sun.

    I have suggested that a less active sun affects the mesosphere so as to change the ozone creation/destruction process there so that more ozone descends from mesosphere to stratosphere within the stratospheric polar vortex at each pole (NOT the tropospheric circumpolar vortex) so that the polar tropopause is pushed down which encourages outward surface flows of cold air, shows up as a more meridional Jetstream, increases global cloudiness and reduces solar energy into the oceans for a cooling world.


    • See also this honest quote
      “However, GCM simulations that include changes in cloud water content and optical thickness suggest that changes in cloud optical properties may result in a negative feedback comparable in size to the positive feedback associated with changes in cloud cover. None of the GCM simulations to date include corresponding changes in cloud microphysical properties (e.g., particle size), which could easily modify conclusions thus far obtained”

  10. ” From this region near the mesopause at about 85–90 km at high latitudes, strong radar returns known as polar mesosphere summer echoes (PMSE) can be detected, as observed with radars from near 50 to 933 MHz [Ecklund and Balsley, 1981; Röttger et al., 1990; Rapp and Lübken, 2004]. PMSE are sometimes related to polar mesospheric clouds and noctilucent clouds, which are the highest clouds in the atmosphere. The PMSE are due to smaller particles which can keep more electrons and therefore give stronger radar scatter than noctilucent clouds. The PMSE, polar mesospheric clouds, and noctilucent clouds may be indicators of global change. For example, it is known that volcanic eruptions are followed by an increase in the noctilucent clouds [Thomas et al., 1989; Gadsden, 1990].”

  11. For anyone who hasn’t seen atmospheric gravity waves propagating, the GOES-16 Loop of the Day archive has a nice examples:
    (cntrl+F on gravity waves)

    2017-11-15 – Interesting series of gravity waves in the clouds off the southeast coast

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