Mammatus, Anyone?

mammatus cloud Long Island, NY
Mammatus clouds in sunset light, Long Island, NY
I don't like name-dropping but I'll make an exception since this particular name meant absolutely nothing to me until two days ago! Ironic how a "scientifically challenged" person keeps running into photographic situations that require understanding physical phenomena.

Moody weather—definitely a nonscientific term—provides ample opportunity to view and capture some stunning images.

mammatus clouds NY
Air and moisture puffs, naturally illuminated

More art than science

Intimidating cloud formations, stormy seas, wind-swept trees, or rain and snow are tons more photogenic than wimpy white puffs on blue skies, calm waters, or perfectly-aligned rows of still branches.

Even sunsets are boring without clouds to reflect the diminishing light and give the sun the latitude of a celestial playground for its hide-and-seek games of color and light.

The peculiarities of the seasons add a special twist, a distinctive note, to the intensity and aesthetics of this imagery.  The fascinating kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and shapes produced by weather  has led me more than once to stretch out of my comfort zone, get my hair undone, and my feet wet—literally. Anything short of storm chasing, that is.

Aside from some enlightening tips from an amazing old man of the sea*, I posses no weather-guessing or comprehension skills—none! In my mind, the science of upward and downward movements of air, crosswinds, sea swells, and cold and warm fronts ranks right up there with the mystery of the pyramids and black holes in space.

These are events to be observed in awe, admired for their fury as well as beauty, and captured to make images with interesting contrasts, right?
Does the how or why matter?
Does it matter if winds and clouds have names?

mammatus clouds
Changing shapes, colors, and textures

Search and you shall find

Honestly, I really don't care whether the southern wind is called this or that as long as it makes those waves roll in and crash on land. It is the splash and drama that results when that fury is absorbed and neutralized by the rocks along the shore that intrigues me and I want to record in pixels.

But sharing these images on the web has brought about an unforeseen necessity.
It is hard to get around grouping images and stories in a rational and orderly manner without naming them. I admit resorting to googling terminology and photos to compensate for this lack of knowledge.

The joy of submitting a .jpg file to Google image search and discovering that the formation depicted is an altocumulus cloud is surpassed only by the discovery of its relatives: cirrocumulus, altostratus, nimbostratus, and their crossbreeds!

storm clouds northeast USA
Silhouetted poles and wires in dwindling light

Cloud, I know your name!

Then, on a hot and humid New York evening, a yellow cast of light I've never seen before seems to swallow and recolor everything in sight. The first order of business is to capture this overwhelming atmosphere before darkness takes over.

There is no time to question the reason for the yellows and browns recorded by the camera or their gradual metamorphosis into purples, pinks, oranges, and reds. There is also shape and texture; the sky is filled with clouds bearing sagging pouches in repeating patterns. These eerie formations look like they could be a stairway to heaven or hell, each having equal probability.

What are these pouches of colored air and moisture?
Do they have a name?
They certainly do; they are mammatus clouds!

Mammatocumulus or "mammary" clouds are associated with severe storms and some kind of interaction between warm and cold air moving up and down, but I will not wander into the realm of pyramids and black holes again. All I need to know is that when illuminated by the dwindling light of the day turning to dusk, these cloud puffs become an amazing sight of color, shape, and texture.

Bring on the biggest weather villain of all—100% humidity—if the day's showstopper is a mammatus light extravaganza!

sunset clouds, Long Island NY
Rosy red, a final celestial show before darkness takes over

*My "old man of the sea" is a traditional Greek fisherman who shared with me some of his wisdom about the sea and the sky, the winds, the stars, and the sun and moon when I was living on the island of Kefalonia, Greece. He never told me his name and never seemed interested in learning mine. He probably had little or no formal education but that didn't matter. How could it matter when all he had to do is look over the mountain, close his eyes, and reliably predict the condition of the sea over the next couple of days?