A New Cloud Variety: Undulatus asperatus, or Agitated Waves

October 20, 2012

Cloud watchers are like artists, keen observers of the colors, shapes, and movement of nature. It is not surprising then that cloud watchers were the ones to discover a new variety of cloud, a type of cloud that conceivably has been around for billions of years, but did not have an official name.

According to an article in USA Today (Nation: 9/12/12) photographer Jane Wiggins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa photographed a cloud formation in 2006 and her photo went viral on the Internet. Since that time, many cloud spotters have eagerly anticipated the appearance of the cloud formation, eventually drawing the attention of the Cloud Appreciation Society, a British based group of 30,000 weather fans (myself included) who study cloud formations. Now, there are many photographs of the previously un-named cloud formation online. It was the members of the Cloud Appreciation Society who first realized that the clouds in Wiggins’ photograph lacked a name. The question then became “Who is responsible for naming a new cloud formation?”

Luke Howard, an English pharmacist and part-time cloud watcher first proposed naming cloud formations back in the 19th century. Obviously, Howard is no longer around, so who is in charge of naming the clouds? The answer is the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva, Switzerland. In fact, the name of a cloud formation does not become official until it is included in the World Meteorological Organization’s reference book, the International Cloud Atlas, which is occasionally available on the internet, but sells out fast. The reason could be because meteorologists tend to hang onto their copies–the last time it was updated was in 1975.

According to the USA Today article, the new cloud formation will be named Undulatus asperatus, which means agitated waves, and the name is an apt description. The clouds are sheared by the wind into wavelike formations. Look closely at the pictures below to gain a better understanding of why this particular cloud formation is named after “agitated waves.” After reviewing the many photos online, I feel certain I have seen this formation over the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, but that is not surprising considering the winds that whip around the Sandia Mountains!

Image by Agathman, available on Wikimedia Commons Image by Adeline

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