Published: May 25,2017
Skywatchers were treated to clouds that resembled jellyfish in Southern California during fair weather Wednesday afternoon.
The "jellyfish cloud" is not an official cloud type, but it's a perfect description of its appearance. The more solid part at the top of the cloud resembles the jellyfish's body, while the wispy portion extending vertically toward the ground represents the tentacles.
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Jellyfish clouds May 24, 2017, in Anaheim, California.The jellyfish clouds in this series of photos shared on our Facebook page by Wayne Willett and Eric Von Haden appear to be altocumulus clouds, though cumulus and cirrostratus clouds can also form these types of clouds.
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Making up the tentacles that extend toward the ground from the altocumulus clouds is virga, a meteorological term that refers to precipitation that evaporates in drier air before reaching the ground. This creates the wispy cloud trail that extends from the main cloud before ceasing at the level in the atmosphere where the evaporation is complete.
Jellyfish clouds May 24, 2017, in Anaheim, California.Altocumulus clouds typically form in the middle part of the atmosphere, roughly 6,500 to 23,000 feet above the ground in temperate climate areas like much of the United States. They are usually made up of water droplets, but also sometimes ice crystals in very cold temperatures.
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Jellyfish clouds May 24, 2017, in Palm Desert, California.Other jellyfish clouds develop when limited amounts of moisture are available in colder portions of the atmosphere – cold enough for moisture to condense and freeze into ice crystals.
(Eric Von Haden/Facebook)
(Eric Von Haden/Facebook)
Clouds that consist of ice crystals are cirrus clouds – also known as wispy "mares' tails" – and cirrostratus clouds, which are slightly thicker and gauzier than cirrus clouds. Changes in wind direction at various heights in the atmosphere can "stretch" the ice crystal formations and cause the jellyfish-like appearance.
Jellyfish clouds develop during fair weather days when there is enough moisture in the air to produce clouds, but not enough for them to grow large or to produce rain.
Brian Donegan is a digital meteorologist at weather.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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