Weird Clouds

Panama City Florida, Courtesy: http://www.panhandlehelicoper.com

by Dave Hennen
CNN Senior Meteorologist

At first glance this looks ominous, but this is not a scene from the latest Hollywood thriller.  These clouds were shot from a helicopter tour along the Florida Panhandle.

What we see though is Meteorology 101.  The air around us contains water.  This water is normally invisible in the form of water vapor.  As air lifts through various processes it cools, and since cool air does not hold as much water it condenses to form clouds at various levels in the atmosphere.

In this case the air is completely saturated (humidity at 100%) near the ground, so a cloud forms at the surface.  We call it fog.   When you add a slight on-shore wind, the fog or cloud is pushed towards the buildings.  The buildings actually become barriers that help lift the air, so the entire front facing part of the buildings become shrouded in clouds.

As the air moves over the top of the building and moves away it loses the lift that was provided by the building so it begins to sink.  The sinking air heats up slightly and the humidity drops, and since the air is no longer completely saturated the visible cloud dissipates, and again turns into the invisible water vapor.

Many times this happens over a much larger scale as mountain ranges, or other topography help lift the air.  In this case it happened at the micro level.

Either way cool pictures, and thankfully not harmful.

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