April 19, 2011

Adult Theme Blog --Mammatus Clouds

This blog contains material that may be inappropriate for preteen audiences, so if you are underage, please click here.

For the rest of you, lets continue. A number of readers of this blog have sent me emails the past few days about some strange looking clouds. Here is an example provided by Pam Keeley of Columbia City:


And our favorite high-definition time-lapse video provider, Dale Ireland of Silverdale, sent out this video yesterday showing the rapid formation of a similar phenomenon:

If you go to the second video, you will see another example of mammatus.

Both the still pictures and videos show evidence of sack-like protuberances extending below the cloud base---generally from base of the anvils of cumulonimbus clouds. Since they appear similar to female breasts (or udders if you know your way around cows), they are known as mammatus clouds. (that is about as racy as this blog is going to get).

Mammatus clouds can really look quite extraordinary....he is a particularly dramatic example:
So what is the origin of these other-worldly clouds?

As noted earlier, mammatus clouds tend to form under the anvils of cumulonimbus clouds. Here are some schematics of cumulonimbus clouds (thunderstorms) that show the positions of the mammatus.


There is some debate about the origin of these clouds, but the most frequently quoted explanation starts with the updraft sending lots of liquid water droplets or ice crystals in the anvil. The weight of all these particles results in negatively buoyant air (air denser that air around it) and this forces descent into the drier air below. This is just the opposite of normal convection you are used to, where warmer air rises to produce the turrets of convection. In this case, denser air descends producing downward-directed turrets. There are more details, of course, but you get the idea.

Just an amusing note to end. Some of use an IPHONE App by PointAbout, Inc. to view this blog. These folks produce all kinds of great weather apps (like IRADAR) and they did mine for free. For some reason, Apple gave this blog a rating of 9+ "Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes." I just can't imagine why!
Perhaps my talk about math education.....


  1. I love the humor! Very nice. Informative too!! Good stuff Professor Mass.

  2. I was wondering what you called those! Yay! I grew up in the Midwest and saw tons of thunderstorms, finally saw that here last week.

    Did I catch it on my camera?


  3. Eek! Glad we didn't get a tornado!

  4. Here's a stunning photo of Mammatus Clouds over Manhattan in June 2009: https://picasaweb.google.com/spamhappy/NewYork2009#5351886855567166082

    It's nice to now know what we were looking at.

  5. I will admit it... sometimes i find this site mildly arousing. Depending on the weather of course.

  6. I live in the midwest (near KC, MO), where we see these fairly often, whether associated with storms or not. Sometimes they're called SLC's -- Scary Looking Clouds.

  7. Cliff, this is off topic, but check out this excellent article on math teaching:


    What do you think of jumpmath.org? Doomed to be snowballed by the terrible federal Common Core standards, "discovery math", etc., etc.? Or can we get some local momentum going around this, even if it's not well supported by the schools?

  8. I will admit it... sometimes i find this site mildly arousing. Depending on the weather of course.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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