Solar pillar and contrails . . . Oh My!

From the Institute for Climate Education at A-B Tech:  Last week: Western North Carolina enjoyed some beautiful weather since the rain moved out on Wednesday, May 9. Those mostly clear skies set the stage for a beautiful sunset on Thursday, evening, May 10 — with some atmospheric optics to boot!

The image above was shot about 4 minutes after the sun dipped below the mountain May 10. The high, thin, wispy clouds painted gold by the setting sun are called cirrus clouds and are made of ice crystals (as opposed to liquid droplets that makes up most other clouds, including the darker clouds to the right). Also visible are at least 10 contrails (short for condensation trails) produced by condensation of water vapor in the exhaust of aircraft jet engines.

The six-sided, plate-like ice crystals that form the cirrus clouds can create some very interesting optical phenomena, depending on how they are aligned within the clouds. In this case — the crystals are aligned horizontally, so that the light from the sun reflects off of the bottom side of the crystal, creating a vertical solar pillar. When the crystals are aligned vertically — we can see sun dogs (see the October 27, 2011, account here).

Weatherlore says that the appearance of solar pillars, sundogs and halos may herald the coming of stormy weather in a few days. In this case — it was true. But first came more cirrus clouds, ahead of the storm system that is expected to bring rain into the region over Mothers Day weekend.

Are you interested in learning about severe weather?  Join us on Saturday, June 2, for a FREE Severe Weather Workshop. The Institute is hosting Basic and Advanced Skywarn severe weather spotter training by the National Weather Service from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm on the A-B Tech Asheville campus. Who should attend?  Anyone interested in learning more about the weather!  While the event is offered free of charge, we are asking participants to pre-register by May 31.  For more information on the event and how to register, visit the Institute’s website here. I do hope you’ll join us for this great opportunity!

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