Cloud variety gets its shot

‘Undulatus asperatus’ first new species to be discovered since 1951

Jane Wiggins/Associated Press
After this June 20, 2006, photo by Jane Wiggins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, went viral on the Internet, cloudspotters have been searching for other such “undulatus asperatus” clouds. Enlarge photo

Jane Wiggins/Associated Press After this June 20, 2006, photo by Jane Wiggins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, went viral on the Internet, cloudspotters have been searching for other such “undulatus asperatus” clouds.

It may have taken a few billion years, but one type of cloud is finally getting noticed.

Meteorologists and “cloudspotters” around the world are seeking to formally recognize the first new cloud variety discovered since 1951.

Like all cloud species, this one’s named using the Latin classification system. So it’s been dubbed “undulatus asperatus” – aka “agitated waves” – and looks like a surreal undulating blanket that covers part or all of the sky.

Keen cloudspotters have been taking photos of the cloud for the last few years, spurred in part by a 2006 photo by Jane Wiggins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that went viral on the Internet, says Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the Cloud Appreciation Society, a group of 30,000 weather enthusiasts based in England.

Who can officially recognize the cloud? The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization in Geneva has the final say in cloud classification. Luke Howard, an English pharmacist, first proposed the Latin naming system for clouds in the early 19th century.

“It will only become an official classification if it is included in the World Meteorological Organization’s reference book, the International Cloud Atlas,” Pretor-Pinney says.

In this day and age of instant communication, the organization still moves at a rather slow pace, and a new book may still be a few years away. “The last time they did a new edition of the book was in 1975,” he says. The atlas has not been put online.

Pretor-Pinney says that Graeme Anderson, a meteorology student at Reading University in the U.K., recently did his doctoral dissertation about what causes undulatus asperatus to form.

By studying weather records and using a computer model to simulate the cloud, Anderson found that asperatus are similar to mammatus clouds. But winds at the cloud level cause it to be sheared into wavelike forms known as undulatus. Anderson’s conclusion was that there was a case for this being accepted as a new classification.

What’s new in this age of social media is a new iPhone app coming soon from the Cloud Appreciation Society that it says will “gather geo-tagged sitings of the formation from cloudspotters around the world, which we will feed to Reading University to help them study the causes for the formation.”

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