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If you look out over Smith Mountain in Virginia, you can spot some incredible cloud formations. Amy Hunter was gazing in this area on June 18 when she was able to snap a photo of a unique cloud formation that looked like beautiful rolling waves.
There’s actually a name for the distinct-looking clouds that Hunter spotted: Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds. They form on windy days when there is a difference in densities between adjacent layers of the atmosphere. They’re named after scientists Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz, who studied the physics behind this type of phenomenon.
Check out the stunning photo of the clouds Hunter posted to Facebook:
“Very cool clouds rolling over the mountain tops at Smith Mountain Lake this evening,” she wrote beside the photo. “They are called Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds. I sent the photo to our local news station and the meteorologist replied to me saying they are very rare and usually not this defined.”
Hunter feels very lucky that she happened to catch the rare formation. Her photo went viral, picking up more than 700 likes and shares in just three days, and was soon being shared by local news stations across the country.
“I wasn’t chasing any weather, it just appeared right before my eyes,” she told Fox News. “It was a once in a lifetime moment for sure!”
According to the National Weather Service, Kelvin-Helmholtz waves are “associated with wind shear across statically stable regions” and “can appear as breaking waves and as braided patterns in radar images and cloud photos.”
The NWS shared its own photo of wispier wave clouds, spotted over Colorado, in 2014. Here’s the tweet from @NWSBoulder:
— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) October 23, 2014
Here’s another look at the extremely rare type of cloud formation from @Biznoff:
I just saw an article that this cloud formation is very rare and only lasts for 10 minutes. So here’s a pic of the time I saw wave clouds! The earth is incredible! pic.twitter.com/w15bXenjVg
— Bailey (@Biznoff) June 22, 2019
And a different sunset view from @JimManning9:
— Jim Manning (@JimManning9) June 18, 2019
The waves are associated with airplane turbulence, so if you’re headed out on a flight and spot them in the sky, be prepared for a bumpy ride!
It’s been claimed that these clouds were the inspiration behind Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting, “The Starry Night,” from 1889. He painted the masterpiece in southern France.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo: “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” There’s no mention of Kelvin-Heimholtz clouds, but who knows what else the artist could have seen in the sky?
The painting certainly could be depicting the phenomenon:
Have you ever spotted any Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds in the sky?