"Hole Punch" Clouds Over Mobile, AL on December 11, 2003

These images were sent to us by Dan Cates, News Director of WKRG-TV in Mobile. Dan was with us at ABC 33/40 for several years before moving south.

They were taken on December 11, 2003, and are not a fake. One of our viewers, Jeff Miller, was in Mobile and also took pictures of this. Here is his description:

"I was in Mobile this morning and around 11-11:30 there was the most unusual cloud formation I have ever seen pass right over our head. I grabbed my camera and took a dozen or so photos of it. I can email them to you, if I had an email address. I am wondering what this was. It looks like an oval "opening" was made in the clouds and there is a center cloud that looks like a wispy looking something in the center. It reminds me of what the sky may look like at the second coming... I am not trying to go overboard here, but this is really the strangest cloud formation I have ever seen, and it was huge. Take a look and see if you can tell me what it is, I am dying to know."

So, what causes this? Here is a possible explanation from a meteorologist at the central Florida NWS office (where this has been seen before):  

"The atmosphere was very dry from about 5,000 to 28,000 feet. There was a rather extensive deck of cirrocumulus (mixture of 'super cooled' water droplets and ice crystals) invading the sky associated with strong westerly jet stream winds. However, the 'hole-punch' features were aligned north/south. This suggests that there was some sort of 'wave' in the atmosphere that was causing rising/sinking air couplets.

This would cause ice crystals in the descending portion of the wave to fall into the super cooled (liquid) cloud layer. When this occurs, the ice crystals grow (at the expense of the liquid droplets). Therefore, a hole opened in the deck of cirrocumulus.

This process is similar to the principle used in cloud seeding to make cloud particles larger and produce precipitation. In this case, the precipitation aloft (meteorological term is 'virga') descended into the dry air below 28,000 feet and evaporated (actually, the proper term for this process is 'sublimated'). The virga is evident in a few of the pictures descending from the center of the hole in the clouds. This resulted in a cone-shaped cloud high in the atmosphere"

Below is one of the pictures sent to us by Jeff Miller:

Amazing stuff!...

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