What are these clouds called?

Storm Team 10's David Siple explains what Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds are and how they are formed.

Posted: Jan 28, 2021 6:02 PM
Updated: Jan 28, 2021 6:35 PM

The Storm Team always enjoys getting photos of different types of weather, especially from viewers. 

The photo below was taken by Sherrie Zwilling in Sumner, Illinois. She sent this to our WTHI-TV Facebook page.

Sherri Pierce in Olney, Illinois, took this photo in Olney, Illinois of the same cloud feature on the same day. Sherri sent this photo through our Report It page. 

This rare cloud formation is called a "Kelvin-Helmholtz Wave Formation". The name comes from Hermann von Helmholtz and William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, who were physicists who studied turbulent airflow in the atmosphere.

So, how are these clouds formed?

On a normal January day, we can expect a west-northwest wind through the entire atmosphere.

Storm Team 10's David Siple looked at actual upper-air data from the National Weather Service in Lincoln, Illinois of the day when those photos were taken. It clearly showed a south wind speed at 46 mph about 2,500 feet up in the sky. Then right above that, we had a west wind speed at 66 mph at about 4,000 feet up.

With the data in mind, there were different wind speeds at different levels. This caused wind shear between 2,500 ft and 4,000 ft. This is where the wind is going slower at a lower level and faster at an upper level.

In the pictures, you can clearly see the faster wind speeds at the top of clouds forming these wave-like features. Just like a wave in the ocean.

If you want to submit your own weather photos for the Storm Team to investigate, you can send them on our Report It website at www.wthitv.com/report-it/ or you can post them to any of the Storm Team's Facebook or Twitter pages or at our main WTHI-TV Facebook or Twitter pages.

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