2006 - part 4: On the theme of Cloudspotting....
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Autumn continued with the full fury
of an active Atlantic unabated and at the time of writing
(December 5th) it is around 14C at 0800 with a SW-erly
gale blowing. Some winter so far! It's supposed to begin
in December after all!
During the last 7 days the UK has seen straight-line wind
gusts to over 100mph, torrential rain, a vigorous
line-squall and a significant tornado which, conveniently
in terms of accessibility, touched down less than 20
miles from here, but caused great distress to residents
of Bow Street, the village near Aberystwyth that it
struck. I was able to get there that morning and commence
a site-investigation on behalf of TORRO, the results of
which are in the process of being written up. All going
well, a detailed account will be posted on this site
within a week. I've been busy to put it mildly!
This page deals with a late Autumn storm-chase to SW
Wales - another one of my expeditions! But first, a
I am grateful to Katie Wasilewski of Perigree
Books (part of the Penguin Group) for sending me
a copy of the hardback edition of the
Cloudspotter's Guide, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
(published June 2006, ISBN: 0-399-53256-0).
Gavin is a man who likes clouds. In fact he loves
them, and the sheer enthusiasm that he has runs
like electricity through this book. In 2004, he
founded the Cloud Appreciation Society for a bit
of fun. They now have thousands of members! On
their website, http://www.cloudappreciationsociety.org/,
is a manifesto which includes the following:
"We pledge to fight
blue-sky thinking wherever we find
it. Life would be dull if we had to look up at
cloudless monotony day after day."
So to the book itself. It is divided into five
sections. The first one is introductory and is
followed by sections on low clouds (these in
terms of cloud-base); middle clouds (clouds whose
names begin with "alto") and the high
clouds (clouds whose names begin with
"cirro"). Finally there is a section on
all clouds that do not conveniently fit into the
Gavin freely admits that this is not an academic
meteorological text - but that shouldn't put
anybody off! The book is packed with facts about
each type of cloud and anybody with a passing
interest in the skies overhead, and who wonders
what all the various clouds are called, will find
their answers in here. They will also find all
sorts of stuff about clouds in history and
folklore, clouds and aviation, traditional
cloud-names (the account of his quest in
Billingsgate fish-market to find a fish that
actually looked like "mackerel-sky" is
sheer entertainment), optical effects and much
The only criticisms I can find are in the section
on cumulonimbus ot thunderstorm clouds. This
jumps about a bit and there are a few technical
points I would like to see addressed - but then
after all I'm a nerdy thunderstorm enthusiast and
TORRO staff member! This book isn't just written
for the hardcore follower of thunderstorms and
all of their manifestations. It's for everybody
who looks up (instead of down, which far too many
people do) and wants to know what's going on in
Wittily and enthusiastically written, it is a
great read for all ages. Recommended!
So, on to the November 23rd chase. Early morning
radar images suggested a concentration of
activity coming into the SW of Wales and, needing
little excuse to visit this beautiful area I
headed off. First decent thing I came across was
this cumulonimbus, seen to the S from the A487
Feeling this might generate more nice images I
tried heading across-country in the direction of
Newcastle Emlyn. This proved to be a bad move
with lots of good chances thwarted by overhead
cables along the roadside - I hope they put these
below ground soon - they'll be doing us
cloud-photographers such a huuuge favour!
This was about the only vantage point I managed
to find and by the time I had the mammatus
display had deteriorated a fair bit. You win
some, you lose some.....
Seeing as it was a blustery day with gale-force
winds, I called at Ceibwr Bay to catch a few
Big swell running. This place would be truly
spectacular in a full-on Atlantic storm, although
great care would be required as the waves can
break over the rocks where such photos are
Continuing onwards this was the last Cb I saw!
Another Pembrokeshire bust! This was just outside
Fishguard. I decided to continue on SW anyway for
the hell of it...
...and was rewarded with a few tidy images. Here,
high-level cloud (consisting of ice-crystals) is
displaying iridescence. This may occur when
clouds are a) thin and b) contain water droplets
or ice crystals of a fairly uniform size.
Diffraction of sunlight is what makes them shine
with these mother-of-pearl colours. The colours
are usually to be seen in patches or bands at
cloud edges, and they change as the relative
position of the cloud and the indiodent sunlight
changes. The sun is just behind the bank of
Onward and westward I arrived as St Justinian, to
the west of St Davids.
This is the launching station for the lifeboat,
which covers the waters around St Davids Head and
Ramsey Island, seen here across the sound.
These are dangerous waters for the inexperienced
or under-equipped. On a big Spring tide, the
tides at the narrowest part of the Sound may
exceed 10 knots!
It is a beautiful area though, and the whole of
the Sound may be explored by following the
excellent Pembrokeshire Coastal Footpath...
...this is looking out from the footpath just
around from the lifeboat station towards the
narrowest part of Ramsey Sound. Beautiful even on
a rough day!
These were taken by exposing for the bright
sunlight, thus underexposing exerything else to
silhouette the land. The rocky reefs made an
interesting foreground but conditions were
getting rougher with a buffeting gale ushering me
back and onwards with the trip....
This is at Newgale, looking across the sand
towards Wooltack Point. Moisture in the air is
scattering the sunlight, making it show up as
rays: the diveregence is simply down to
perspective (as railway tracks appear to move
closer together when you look down the line, when
one knows full-well that they are parallel). Good
day for optics, this!
It was shortly homeward-time, but I managed to
catch the starlings at Aberystwyth Pier at last
light to finish the day off. There are literally
thousands of them roosting there these days and
they've become quite an attraction. Just this
once, though, don't look up! The jeep was soon
I reckon some really weird effects could be got
here with long exposures.
This was taken at lunchtime on Monday 27th
November as a particularly messy-looking
thunderstorm cleared Craig-yr-Aderyn (Bird Rock).
Gave some good flashes and rumbles. The most
interesting thing though is the amount of trees
still in leaf. There is definately something
weird going on with our seasons. I am convinced
Only 12 hours later, the residents of Bow Street
found themselves in the middle of a night they
will never forget. Details coming soon....
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