Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 10, 2013

Collision course with an anvil

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:03 pm
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A towering cumulonimbus cloud denotes atmospheric instability in western Nebraska.

A towering cumulonimbus cloud denotes atmospheric instability in western Nebraska.

You can see it coming for a hundred miles or so out there in Nebraska, freeway bearing northeast and quickly-mushrooming anvil cloud bearing southeast, aiming to meet in another hour right where you have a motel reservation. It’s hard to imagine anything could sneak up on anyone on the plains, where you can see forever because the corn doesn’t obstruct a single sight line. No surprises. Just enormous storm clouds that seem to stalk you, perhaps menacingly, but that’s anthropomorphizing, as anyone can tell you that storms just barrel in without stalking.

Bright, they are. Cumulonimbus (Cb) cloud tops are full of ice crystals reflecting the brilliant sunlight, tricking you into thinking it is a Safe Thing when its Latin derivation suggests otherwise: cumulus “heap,” nimbus “storm/rain.” One look at these monstrous upwellings of air and water vapor and you sense that its unsettled nature will likely bring precipitation.

Dangly clouds are not my favorite.

Dangly clouds are not my favorite.

Just to the north, the lowest layers seemed to be dragging heavily from the cloud bottom. Seeing no rotation, I didn’t get the sense of a tornado; it was nonetheless disconcerting. The cloud was dangling. Dangling clouds, to midwesterners, are often unsafe. These photos taken at 70 mph with my iPhone don’t do justice to the mysterious nature of  the pannus variety of cumulonimbus, but at least now Wiki has given me a name for it:

Fractus clouds (scuds) are small, ragged cloud fragments that are usually found under an ambient cloud base. They form or have broken off from a larger cloud, and are generally sheared by strong winds , giving them a jagged, shredded appearance. Fractus have irregular patterns, appearing much like torn pieces of cotton candy. They change constantly, often forming and dissipating rapidly. They do not have clearly defined bases.

Sunset illuminates a cloud-shred.

Sunset illuminates a cloud-shred.

Thirty minutes later, this towering giant was so electrically charged that I counted 28 flashes of strobe-like lightning in 60 seconds. It felt alive, some sci-fi monster rumbling in its innards, ions and updrafts and unstable air converging on North Platte just outside my motel room. I stood alone at the  west-facing window and trembled involuntarily, several hundred megawatts of electrical power staring me in the face; until it weakened, there would be no sleep.

March 20, 2012

What does winter’s last day look like?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:26 am
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During a break in the storm, mid-morning clouds dapple the desert near Buck Canyon.

Monday was the last day of winter, and a lingering Pacific storm brought meteorological extravagance to our park. I happened to be out in it, happened to have my camera, and happen to believe that Canyonlands’ beauty peaks during wild weather. See what you think.

Candlestick Tower (L) and Baby Half Dome (R) under a falling sky

Mists sweep into -- and out of -- the canyon depths. This phenomenon happens only infrequently and it is remarkable to watch.

November 10, 2011

Cataract Canyon 3: Doll House

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:12 am
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The Doll House before an oncoming storm. Maze District, Canyonlands NP, Utah.

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 2: Flatwater Beauty)

After a productive day tracking radio-collared bighorn sheep and successfully collecting pellets for DNA study, the clouds began assembling to the west and a chill wind picked up. My boat-mates conferred about the most protected campsite downriver and we motored to Spanish Bottom, a couple of miles south of the Confluence. As we rounded a bend in the river, a jagged row of delicate rock pillars high on a cliff poked into the graying sky. I looked questioningly at Bill. “The Doll House,” he informed. Indeed, one could imagine a young giant in the Maze District of Canyonlands playing with these dolls of stone. I was entranced.

My appetite is whetted for tomorrow's adventures.

Our campsite was thick with invasive tamarisk trees which I don’t ordinarily enjoy; at this hour the pesky plants took on the benevolent appearance of a protective shield against the oncoming weather. Anchoring and putting up tents as quickly as possible, we got our rain gear on and suppers heated just in the nick of time. Miso soup never tasted so good. A cup of blueberry tea doubled the inner warmth. Dark — and sleep — came quickly, with only intermittent spurts of rain through the night. The peculiar squeak of branch rubbing against branch, rare in a desert, intruded on my dreams.

— Continued at this link

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