Earth Notes: Cloud Appreciators

Jun 27, 2018

The big skies of the Colorado Plateau show off extraordinary clouds, inspiring devotees and photographers across the region.

A lenticularis cloud
Credit Tom Bean

For devout skywatchers, there’s even a Cloud Appreciation Society. This UK-based nonprofit has participants in more than a hundred countries. Every day members receive a cloud by email—either an amazing photograph, a snippet of cloud science or beautiful cloud art.

Now northern Arizona has a cloud appreciation forum of its own. Founded by Flagstaff photographer Tom Bean, the new group holds meetings of local cloud hounds where they can share their interest, stories and photos. About 40 people have attended the first two of the group’s occasional gatherings.

Professional meteorologists and amateur cloud connoisseurs classify clouds according to characteristics like altitude, shape and color. Phone apps like CloudSpotter help with identification, and observers can even collect points based on the rarity of each cloud captured on their phone’s camera.

The San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff are well known for generating lenticular clouds. Snagging one of these flying saucer-shaped beauties will score a four out of a maximum five points on CloudSpotter. Though fairly common here, lenticular clouds are rare globally.

A five-point-worthy cloud has also been spotted in the region—and was officially recognized by the World Meteorological Organization only last year. The darkly undulating “asperitas” clouds form after thunderstorms. But despite looking ominous, they rarely produce rain.

Contact the Flagstaff Could Appreciation Society for information on the next local meeting, where people can share the joy found in nature’s most ephemeral creations.

For more information, e-mail Tom Bean at tom@tombean.com