Sierra Wave Over Half Dome

Sierra Wave Over Half Dome (Shad Stites)Cloud-watching ranks as one of my favorite pastimes. Much like birding has its "life-list" species, cloud gazing also boast some premiere sightings. In my opinion, one of the most spectacular clouds is the Sierra Wave, an enormous lenticular cloud that stretches over the Sierra Nevada Range; it's formed by a complex pattern of the wind interacting with the surrounding terrain.

My partner Shad took a recent photograph of a Sierra Wave over Half Dome in Yosemite. Over seven years ago, Shad and I were hiking on the Kuna Crest in Yosemite when we saw our first wave--although at the time I had no idea what the monster cloud above us represented. Aside from its striking appearance, the cloud possesses a fascinating history that involves the famed explorer Clarence King, the first cooperative international meteorological study, and a record setting ascent in a sailplane. 

Sierra Wave Over Tenaya Lake in 2006Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote about the Sierra Wave:

The sky expresses itself in a poetry of clouds. That poetry resounds with a nautical flavor, for the sky is an ocean of air, an ocean we tend to forget for its invisibility. This sea of air does reveal itself in the clouds at times, its complexities and motions made perceptible. In a sense, clouds are the waves of the air, the visible manifestations of the atmospheric tide.

The Sierra Nevada adds its own special verse to the poetry of the sky. Known as the Sierra Wave, this cloud formation perfectly illustrates the sea above our heads. Imagine staring up at the sky on a clear day and being confronted by a white cloud that challenges the reach of the mountain range before you. Or suppose that you are standing beneath a giant crest of surf on the verge of breaking. Such is the Sierra Wave. "

Clouds always tell a true story, but one which is difficult to read," said meteorologist Ralph Abercromby. The story of the Sierra Wave not only reveals the truth of the weather behind a cloud, but it also discloses a landmark tale of scientific discovery.

Want to read the full story? Visit Sierra Nature Notes. You can also check out some of my old blog entries on the Sierra Wave. Visit the website of the very talented photographer Bob Kolbrener for a spectacular black and white photograph of the cloud.