Iowa woman's photo sparks push for new cloud type

Iowa woman's photo sparks push for new cloud type (AP)
This June 20, 2006 photo provided on Monday, June 8, 2009 and taken by Jane Wiggins from a downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa office building shows what may become the first new cloud type to be recognized by scientists since 1951. (AP Photo/Jane Wiggins)
(AP) -- Looking out the 11th floor window of her law office, Jane Wiggins did a double take and grabbed her camera. The dark, undulating clouds hovering outside were unlike anything she'd seen before.

"It looked like Armageddon," said Wiggins, a paralegal and amateur photographer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "The shadows of the , the lights and the darks, and the greenish-yellow backdrop. They seemed to change."

They dissipated within 15 minutes, but the photo Wiggins captured in June 2006 intrigued - and stumped - a group of dedicated weather watchers who now are pushing weather authorities to create a new cloud category, something that hasn't been done since 1951.

Breaking into the cloud family would require surviving layers of skeptical international review. Still, Gavin Pretor-Pinney and his England-based Cloud Appreciation Society are determined to establish a new variety. They've given Wiggins' photo and similar pictures taken in different parts of the world to experts in England, and are discussing the subject fervently online.

"They (the clouds) were the first ones that I noted of this type and I was unsure which category to put them under," said Pretor-Pinney, author of "The Cloudspotter's Guide." "When we put pictures up online we list the category, and I wasn't sure how to categorize it."

Some scientists are skeptical. They argue that researchers who have long watched the sky haven't seen anything distinctly new for decades.

There are three main groups of clouds: cumulous, cirrus and stratus. Each has various sub-classifications built on other details of the formation.

Brant Foote, a longtime scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said the clouds photographed by Wiggins already fit into the existing cumulous classification.

But Pretor-Pinney, who never studied meteorology, believes the clouds merit their own cumulus sub-classification. He proposes they be called altocumulus undulatus asperatus. The last word - Latin for roughen or agitate - is a reference to the clouds' undulating surface.

"Not necessarily gentle or steady, but quite violent-looking, turbulent, almost twisted in its appearance," he said.

The group has compiled several photographs documenting the formations from the billowy, rolling clouds shot by Wiggins in Iowa to ones from New Zealand that were much more menacing, hanging lava-like in the sky.

Foote said it would be "very unusual" for such a formation to be recognized as a new variety of cloud.

"People have been looking at clouds for hundreds of years and the general cloud classification is well defined," Foote said. "It's not as if someone discovered a new plant in the Amazon. It's what you've seen every day. There was no atmospheric condition that caused a new kind of cloud to form."

Pretor-Pinney is working with the Royal Meteorological Society in Reading, England, to prepare his case. If that group signs off, the proposal will go to the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

Society executive director Paul Hardaker said a small panel within the society is gathering evidence to review. Their efforts include talking with those who took the submitted photos to determinine when, where and amid what weather they were taken. Hardaker said meteorologists tend to be skeptical of such proposals.

"We like to believe that just about everything that can be seen has been, but you do get caught once in a while with the odd, new, interesting thing," Hardaker said. "By this stage we think it's sufficiently interesting to explore it further and we're optimistic about the information we've got."

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User comments

Jun 12, 2009
I have seen similar cloud bases on a number of occasions and do not consider them particularly unusual.
I think present classifications are adequate.
As for Pinney we could refer to him as Pretentious Pretor Pinney, because I fear he may be motivated more by a desire to have his name immortalised as the definer/discoverer of a new cloud variety than anything else.

Jun 14, 2009
Very strange indeed. How about this one. I would call it camouflage, these clouds cover the hardware behind.


Jun 15, 2009
Sound and looks like what my WWII Pilot husband would call a 'roll cloud' and we'd better head for cover as the 'rain was coming'. Saw one like this over Long Beach, WA one summer. As it 'rolled, undulated, turned black and then green, we hurried from the beach, reaching the car just as the DOWN POUR started..

Jun 15, 2009
Judging by the picture and the "camouflaged"
colour pattern described by the witness, and coined by Observant(see above)-this cloud formation seems to be an effect of electropollution.

Dr. Roger Coghill or Dr. Nick Begich should be looking into this matter, they're electropollution experts.

Jun 16, 2009
Looks like "mammatus" clouds: http://en.wikiped...Mammatus

"The name "mammatus" is derived from the Latin mamma (udder), due to the resemblance between the shape of these clouds and the breast of a woman."

Jun 16, 2009
My wife and I saw the exact same type of cloud cover over Temecula, CA about a week ago. It was really breathtaking. The smooth but wildly rolling bottom reminded me more of what clouds look like when you are flying over them and looking down. The inward/upward funnels were massive - each one looked about a mile across. It did not look natural. Looked like something was above the cloud, pulling and shaping its structure. Very weird indeed.

Jun 27, 2009
This cloud appears when the atmosphere is unstable and the sky is chaotic and changing. In other words, they're short-lived. We have more photographs of them now because photographs are easier to take--often as simple as pointing a cell phone at the sky. That's why people think they're new--they're now being recorded more regularly.


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