Wild Ideas: Storms bring drama to spring skies   

I admit it — I’m a cloud lover, a believer in “fighting the banality of ‘blue-sky thinking,’” as the Cloud Appreciation Society puts it.

While sunny days and bright-blue skies are lovely, there’s nothing like the drama of a few cumulonimbus clouds butting heads during a thunderstorm, a dark, thick shelf cloud ominously heading our way, or mammatus clouds filling the skies with their fluffy teats. This time of year, the mostly high, thin, wispy clouds of winter are replaced with these more-dynamic ones.

Where I live, on a forested mountain, I don’t see much of the sky, so I often grab my camera and head to Skyline Drive when I see stormy weather approaching, as I did on Mar. 28. From the drive, I watched whole storms working their way through. Although I didn’t see any lightning, the mid-afternoon sky, as clouds cleared out, was a deep blue, with enough drama to warrant a few shots from the overlooks on the west side as I headed to Big Meadows Wayside. My second goal of the day was to have my first taste of blackberry ice cream there since the park’s eating facilities closed last fall.

As I got out of the car at the Wayside, a mass of dark clouds hung over the meadows, slowly moving off to the east and trailing the sound of thunder behind it. On the way back home, I checked out the overlooks on the east side, seeing rain and mist that turned the view east monochromatic and, further north, a mass of clouds with a few gaps, allowing golden late-afternoon light to poke through.

I wasn’t the only admirer of dramatic skies who has been taking photos of the stormy skies. A few days after my trip to the park, Flint Hill resident Viva Vierling woke up to gorgeous dawn light, made more dramatic by the dark clouds above it. The light, shining under and off of the clouds, spread an array of hues, from gold to pink, across the hills. Vi captured the light-and-cloud show and was nice enough to share them here.

© 2017 Pam Owen

Learning about clouds

To learn more about the wonderful world of clouds, and enjoy a ripping good read about them from a wildly enthusiastic fan, try Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s “Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds,” available in the Rappahannock County Library’s Conservation Collection. Pretor-Pinney started the Cloud Appreciation Society, open to all who love clouds and can pay the membership fee. (The price has gone up since I paid five bucks to get a lovely certificate for the fridge five years ago.)

Also on the website is a spectacular gallery of cloud photos, and a lovely rendition by seminal hot-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt of a French song honoring them — “Nuages,” And check out a column I wrote on Dec. 1, 2012, about some of my own favorite cloud experiences. As I quoted Pretor-Pinney’s guide in the column, “Clouds are Nature’s poetry spoken in a whisper in the rarefied air between crest and crag. . . . Nothing in nature rivals their variety and drama; nothing matches their sublime, ephemeral beauty.”

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Pam Owen
About Pam Owen 269 Articles
Writer, editor, photographer, and passionate nature conservationist living in Rappahannock County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Two favorite quotes: By E.O. Wilson, who coined the term "biodiversity," "Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”; by Douglas Adams, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.”

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for using some of my photos. I never tire of taking pictures of our beautiful mountrains and skies.

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