Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013
(Photo by Renny Vandewege)
As a meteorologist, I'm always looking up at clouds, and over the years, I've seen almost every variety: shelf, lenticular, mammatus. But one particular cloud had always eluded me.
Until this week.
As I walked out my back door here in Mississippi Tuesday afternoon, the air thick with humidity, I looked up and saw a big white cloud with a giant hole and blue sky in the middle. But this wasn't just any old gap in the clouds. Evaporating rain was falling from the hole.
I couldn't believe it. I knew exactly what it was: a hole punch cloud. I'd seen photos of the clouds for years but never thought I'd see one in person.
Hole punch clouds so rare and random that many veteran cloud spotters never see one. Unlike other clouds, hole punch are not tied to a particular weather pattern or type of storm system, which makes them almost impossible to seek out. Spotting one is pure luck.
They're believed to form when cloud droplets are cold enough to freeze but are still in a liquid form known as supercooled droplets. Once the water vapor around these droplets evaporates, it causes a hole to form. Because of this evaporation process, these holes are also known as fallstreak holes. Hole punch clouds have been mistaken for UFOs because of their shape and rarity.
As soon as I knew what I was seeing, I pulled my phone from my pocket, snapped a photo and posted it to Twitter, writing, "My first hole punch cloud!"
I was outside with my dogs, but I continued to look up at the cloud, watching it expand over the next several minutes. Then, five minutes after I first spotted the cloud, the hole filled in, and just like that, the hole punch cloud was gone.
There's something kind of miraculous about spotting a rare cloud. I imagine it's the way birders feel when they finally spot a rare species, or astronomers feel when they first see a faraway nebula.
I hit the cloud-spotting lottery this week, and I couldn't be more thrilled.
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