August 23, 2020

Fog UFO Spotted in the Strait of Juan De Fuca!

Folks frequently send me photos of clouds and other features for explanation.  But yesterday, I was sent the absolutely strangest picture ever.  A picture so weird that normally I would have passed it off as a Photoshop confection.

But I had to take this one seriously, since it came from one of the most well-known scientists in our state, Dr. Ronald Thom, the President of the Washington State Academy of Sciences, of which I am a member.  He had never seen anything like it...and jokingly suggested it might be some kind of UFO.

Here is one of the pictures he sent, near a beach in Sequim, looking towards the northeast in the direction of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (see map of location in the map below, which also shows the direction of the picture).  The picture was taken around 6 PM Friday.  It looks like a phantom fog ship, and in fact it was moving to right.

Dr. Thom took a video of the apparition, which you can view below.

So the question, is this real or some other-worldly vaporous ship, something reminiscent of one of the scary scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean?

Well, Matey, this is nothing better than solving a weather mystery!

Looking at the fog ship picture (repeated below), you will notice a thin veneer of fog over the Strait. Sea fog.  That probably resulted from very moist air that day passing over the cool waters of the Strait.

This is a very small scale feature, but the high-resolution satellite image taken at 5:46 PM, does suggest something (oval around it).  If you look closely, there is faint suggestion of the low clouds, with the "ship" being a bit brighter.

 Something was causing the fog layer to thicken or pile up, producing this unusual feature.

Extraterrestrial influence?  Since I am a student of Carl Sagan's, I must try to find a more scientific explanation!

As you can see on the photo and map, the Dungeness spit is nearby, with a lighthouse at the end of it.  There are weather observations there!   Let's check them out, perhaps they can offer a clue!  The game is afoot!

Below is a listing of the observations at the lighthouse that day.  Eureka!  There is a big clue in that data!  Just when that feature was moving past, there was a rapid increase in the wind speed (5.8 to 9.6 knots) and a wind shift from south to southwest.

That is a big hint.  If wind suddenly picked up, this could produce an area of low-level convergence of air that could cause a lifting of the fog layer.   A picture will help here (below).   If the wind is faster on the left (west side) than on the right (east side), that means more air is coming in than going out.  So air is accumulating where the wind speed is changing, result in upward motion that pushes the fog layer upwards.  I think that is what is happening here.

The "fog ship" is moving along at the same speed as the wind surge from the southwest/west.

Of course, there are alternative explanations possible (see below), but I doubt if Carl Sagan would have approved.


  1. That makes sense, Cliff! other words, we are seeing a mild "wind shear" event, delineated for us because of that fog layer existing...Very cool stuff!...another spooky thing, explained..I wonder how long this effect held sway? I once saw a perfect lenticular cloud, drifting all alone across the evening sky, near Lake could have easily passed for a disk/ufo thing...much later, I read about lenticular clouds--i had never heard of such clouds before!

  2. Might it be a ship creating a pressure wave that condenses the fog in the on the edge conditions. Think the condensation created by airplane wings that temporarily appear and disappear. Might be interesting to check for ship traffic at that time.

    1. The condensation cloud sometimes seen over an aircraft wing is caused by a massive reduction of pressure. For this to be seen, the reduction has to be instantaneous, and large. A ship plodding along at 10 or 20 knots is nothing.

  3. What you are talking about: adiabatic cooling from passage of air around the wings would not be significant because the boat is moving much slower than a boat. So probably not that....cliff

  4. Blimey! Cliff Mass! You just laid the legend of The Flying Dutchman to rest!

  5. you say: " Just when that feature was moving past, there was a rapid increase in the wind speed.

    but when did the feature form? an hour before? that would undercut your wind theory.
    are there any other photos.? something this odd should have folk pulling our their cell phones.

  6. Please tell us it is not due to global warming. Cliff, we are counting on you!

    1. Nah, Nil desperandum, it's not caused by global warming !

  7. Perhaps it was an alien space craft. With the power to create a strong wind that the aliens aboard knew would create a slowly moving cloud which they could use to secretly fly down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Just something to consider.


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