June 27, 2017

The Truth about Northwest UFOs

Recently, the Seattle Times featured a story about a famous 1947 UFO (unidentified flying object) sighting in Washington.... the incident that started the UFO craze around the world.

And this UFO sighting is not the only one in our area.  For example, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich admitted during the Democratic presidential debate on October 30, 2007 that had seen a UFO while visiting our state.  And even Seattle's most recognizable landmark, the Space Needle, is clearly a stylized form of a flying saucer.

What is the truth about this UFO mania in our region?  Is there something about our area that is attractive to visiting aliens?  Or could there be another explanation?  Something more "scientific"?  Perhaps a meteorological explanation?

The original June 24, 1947 incident involved Kenneth Arnold, a businessman from Boise, Idaho who was flying a small plane near Mount Rainier when he spotted a chain of nine "saucer-lie" objects above and east of the mountain.  Brilliant in the sun, these objects darted towards Mt. Adams an "an incredible speed', which he estimated to be at least 1200 mph.  His account went viral across the world and thus started the UFO/flying saucer craze.
 An investigation by the U.S. government revealed little, although some folks suggest that our military knows a lot more about it, including flying a captured saucer in Area 51 in Nevada.

But there is another possible, if not probable explanation.  One suggested by one of my most distinguished colleagues, UW Professor Richard J. Reed:   lenticular clouds associated with atmospheric mountain waves.

As air is pushed up by a mountain range, the air can go into an oscillation over and downstream of the mountain crest (see illustration).   When the air rises, the air can become saturated, producing lens-shaped (lenticular) clouds.

 The lenticular clouds are quite striking, often looking like flying saucers.

Professor Reed, studying the atmospheric conditions during Arnold's 1947 flight, found that they were just those expected during mountain wave cloud periods.

You can read the details in his paper "Flying Saucers over Mt. Rainier" in the April 1958 of Weatherwise Magazine.   And what about the movement of the "flying saucers"?   Dr. Reed noted that if atmospheric conditions approaching Rainier were changing, the location of the lenticular clouds could rapidly shift, give the impression of rapid movement.

But what about Congressman Kucinch?  What did he see?   One might note that Presidential candidates have a tendency to imagine things, but lets put that aside for a moment.

Where was the Congressman when he saw the flying saucers?   Staying at Shirley McLane's home in Graham, Washington (red color in map)--a location very close to Mt. Rainier!

Mount Rainier, the region's most massive volcano is the most prolific producers of lenticular clouds.  No wonder its a focus of UFO sightings.

When I was an undergraduate at Cornell, I worked with Professor Carl Sagan, who had a lot to say about UFOs.   He told me that that although he was convinced that intelligent life was prolific around the Universe, traveling interstellar distances would verge on the impossible.  He was very skeptical that any of the UFO sightings were real...and that they said more about folks psychological state than aliens visiting our planet.


  1. I flew drones for a few years, I had 3 seperate drone sightings caught on cam, one at the deceptions pass bridge,
    And some other REALLY good once, That followed the craft down to the landing point. I consider the event sacred and have no intention of sharing them with the public. Being a spiritual person they just confirm what I already know. There are parallel dimensions, The scientific world affirms that, at least some of them

  2. My favorite explanation for the UFO craze was given in an episode of ST-TNG. The Federation was observing a relatively primitive society, but made a few errors and got caught. The primitive society media went crazy, there were even reports of sexual encounters with aliens (which turned out to be Riker and some babe, of course).

    Piccard meets with the leader of the society and the leader says, "we're not ready for this yet, go away for a while and try again when we're more mature". So the Federation agrees to leave them alone for some time and marks the planet off-limits.

    Not the most rational of explanations, but is a fun way to imagine it happening. :-)

  3. I never know which hypothesis to go with - either "Fermi's Paradox," or "Drake's Equation." Perhaps it's somewhere in the middle.

  4. This one is beautiful:


  5. My favorite "theory" is that aliens did visit in the middle of the last century (when sightings became very frequent) and saw what the sentient man-apes were doing to each other, and quickly posted a warning in large red letters on the Galactic charts:

    "Danger: Dominant life-form is a xenophobic marginally sentient man-ape in a phase of uncontrolled population growth and continuous warfare. Nuclear weapon capable with primitive space-flight technology. Remain outside the orbit of the fifth planet at all times."

    I suspect that subsequent observations might have added, based on long-range sensing: "Now in the midst of destroying their environment and climate. Population growth out-of-control. Global collapse and/or war inevitable."

    That oughta keep the tourists away. Nobody wants to be around when that happens.

  6. Ever notice that all the photos/films/videos of supposed UFOs are blurry or grainy? The objects are always at a distance. Assuming people with cameras are distributed randomly, there ought to be an equal number of people *right under* or otherwise close to the alien craft. But never a clear picture. Obviously, what people may believe is a UFO at a distance is clearly something familiar when viewed up close -- a plane, a balloon, or lenticular cloud.

  7. Mt. Rainier may be higher, but in terms of mass, Mt. Adams is largest in the region.

  8. Interesting!
    I never connected lenticular clouds with the flying saucers phenomenon!

    It seems Rainier produces particularly saucer shaped clouds. (The ones I see off the Olympics look more like giant floating hamburgers....LOL. When I see them I know to batten down the hatches, because a big blow is coming.)

  9. John Marshall - this link's just for you -


    Just three years to Armageddon, no scaremongering there. Note that the scientific expert's leader on this study has a Master's degree in social anthropology. Science!

  10. Actually the only known UFO to ultimately be identified as FACT was in October 1984 in Eugene, Oregon. Washington State's Rueben Mayes ran through the Oregon Secondary for 357 yards. He reappeared in physical form for post game interviews and the rest is history.

  11. To Eric Blair...

    I was thinking more of the next century or two, but I understand the sentiment of that article, just not the timing.

    If there are space aliens watching (a wild bit of speculation with no real evidence) from their lofty and disinterested perspective, perhaps they can more easily consider what out-of-control population growth combined with an environmental and climate crisis (without effective countermeasures) will lead to.

    Of course, so can we.

    Given all the dystopian science fiction that's been written or filmed about the future, much of which deals with overpopulation and resource depletion, you'd think we would be smart enough to do things today that will save immense suffering in the future.

    But that's just fiction, and God will surely sort this out for us.

  12. Kucinich may be crazy, but for the most part it seems to be working well for him.


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