March 08, 2012

Lenticular Clouds

Spectacular Lenticular Cloud Downstream of Mt. Rainer taken by John Caldwell
A close up by John Caldwell:
My discussion of the weekend weather and lenticular clouds is found at KPLU:

Today there were wonderful displays of lenticular clouds (a.k.a. mountain wave clouds) downstream of both the Olympics and Mt. Rainier.    In addition to the stunning picture by John Caldwell shown above, I have included a few others for your viewing pleasure.   First one from the cam on top of my building, facing towards the Olympics:

Or one downstream of Mt. Rainier, again from my building:

A far better picture taken by Kevin Freitas in Tacoma was found online at this website:

You could see these lenticular clouds from space as viewed in the high-resolution visible satellite photo right before sunset.

And here is one from Dale Ireland's famous cam in Silverdale:

Why do we get such features?  They occur when air, often near saturation, approaches a mountain barrier.  Pushed up by the mountains, the air goes into an oscillation, with the waves propagating both downstream and upward.  Here is a schematic of the process:

The clouds are often lens shaped because that reflected the vertical velocity patterns produced by the mountains.  And there are often multiple plates or disks when there is structure to the moisture profile.

To see what the air approaching our region looked like today, here is a vertical sounding at Quillayute, near the Washington coast at 4 PM today.  Red is temperature and blue indicates dewpoint.  The closer they are the near to saturation the air.  The numbers of the left indicate  pressure (500 is roughly 18K feet, 700 around 10K feet, etc).  The air is close to saturation above 18K feet, with winds from southwest.   Good situation for lenticular clouds.

Did the super-hi resolution WRF model (4/3 km resolution) simulate these clouds?  You know the answer!  Here is the simulated cloud field at 4 PM.  You see a veil of high clouds with the mountain wave clouds embedded in them.   Pretty impressive forecast (12 h ahead).

Finally, if some of you are VERY lucky you might sneak a peek of the aurora tonight...but its a race against the approaching clouds.


  1. One of these days I wanna the Mt. Rainer lenticular cloud on the otherside. Its always in the same ole location.

    Will you post your radio segment tomorrow? Im curious to hear what you say about next weeks active weather pattern.

  2. See for potos of an unusual "anti-lenticular" cloud over Rainier briefly yesterday.

  3. If you want another lenticular cloud, you can grap this photo of mine. It's less distinct, but has some interesting layering.

    If you don't, that's ok, too. If you want a higher res shot, I have that around. Somewhere.

  4. Great blog post Cliff! We have a home in Edgewood and love to watch the mountain. I wish there was a forecast for lenticular cloud conditions.

  5. Cliff, we were flying our sailplanes in the Pilchuck Mountain-3 Fingers area yesterday in wave. Here is a video I took of some of the flight.


  6. The TERRA satellite captured a nice image of the lenticular clouds at 12:40pm 8 March. I have noticed that lenticular formations over Mt Rainier always form a "V" shape in the satellite images.
    Image at


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