Exploring New England
EXPLORING NEW ENGLAND Exploring New England Exploring New England Vol. I, No. 3

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PAST ISSUES







Journal

Strange Colored Clouds
And an Incredible Weather Warning

By James H. Hyde
Editor

7:00 AM

Morning ritual: Coffee. Email. Web: iGoogle, cnn.com and foxnews.com in that order. Together, they constitute my wake-up time, that period of the day when nothing is funny, you're trying to achieve full consciousness, and you're in a netherworld between that last great dream and a reality that emerges through foggy eyes.

I always check email first, cum coffee. I usually end my work day between 11:00 PM and Midnight, so most of what's come in since then are newsletters, SPAM that bypassed my Rules and other missives that don't require a great deal of brain power and almost none need a reply.

I was a quarter of the way through the queue when I saw the Weather Advisory.

Up here in North Central Vermont, we're on the cusp of the Northeast Kingdom. A Weather Advisory in June usually means one of three weather anomalies: 1. A late frost; 2. Severe thunderstorms on the way; 3. Heavy rain that could cause flooding.

Tornado WatchIt was June, but we were still getting frost warnings, and I thought that this was yet another pain-in-the-neck warning to throw bed sheets over our flowers, again, until...the headline registered.

Tornado Watch.

Tornado Watch? In Vermont? That's analogous to a forecast for a three-foot snow fall in the Bahamas.

From the northwestern foothills of the Green Mountains heading West to Burlington, there's plenty of flat space. It's conceivable that a twister could touch down there, but not in Lamoille County, through which two huge ranges pass, the Green Mountains and the Worcester Range. Nonetheless, the warning was for Lamoille, a highly mountainous county.

LAMOILLE COUNTY, VERMONT WAS A JEOPARDY ANSWER
Jeopardy Answer: This county has the shortest day of any other U.S. county.

Correct Question: What is Lamoille County, Vermont?

Because Lamoille County is sandwiched between the Green Mountains to the West, and the Worcester Range to the East, the sun rises later and goes down earlier.

I'm a real storm lover at heart. There's always something stirring about a good thunderstorm as long as it causes minimal to no damage and short power outages. I've even sailed in a hurricane. Granted, it was a 120-foot boat and a small hurricane, but dressed in my foul weather gear at age ten, I looked like a Munchkin Gloucester man ready for the Grand Banks. I sat on the bow and felt like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. But a twister isn't something one sails through.

I got up from my desk, slack-jawed and looked out the window. Lots of blue sky, but some odd clouds, too. Some cumulus and horse tails that looked as if they were about to be sucked into a cumulus (see Photo 1). We see plenty of cloud mixes almost daily, but there was something unusual about these formations.

I launched Firefox, and the red, weather-warning button appeared at the bottom of the browser window--never a good sign. I clicked and read about some serious thunderstorms headed our way; serious enough to bring golf-ball-sized hail and the possibility of a tornado "or two." I went to my other sources, Accuweather.com and a local site, weatheringheights, a site maintained by Roger Hill, a local meteorologist who is rarely wrong. He downgraded the likelihood of twisters, but pointed out they weren't impossible, even here in the mountains.

11:00 AM

Storm CloudAs the day wore on, I kept a close watch on the skies and listened to the weather radio periodically, which repeated the same warnings. The skies were changing, but the clouds had begun to take on some unusual shapes and textures.

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Stranger still, they were white in the background, but began to take on the colors of the rainbow in the foreground. When you've never seen the clouds that precede tornadic activity it makes sense that one would be a bit concerned about the multi-hued phenomenon.

The weather warnings (or watches to be technically correct) persisted, yet the sun still shone brightly and the phenomenon in the skies was getting richer in color. There were no lightning strikes, nor thunder nor rain. It seems as if the weather was playing some sort bizarre trick on us.

Lacking the tell-tale signs of some horrendous thunderstorm, I continued working, paying less and less attention to what was going on outside. I figured if I heard thunder, that would give me enough time to shut down my Mac and unplug it until the storm passed. (Experts tell me that even if your computer is plugged into a surge protector and turned off, if lightning hits your house it can wipe your hard drive. I may need a little cleaning up from Norton Utilities, but I was in no mood to put my drive at risk.)

12:00 Noon

Clouds
Photo2. The cumulus cloud had all but disappeared to be replaced by the striated, horsetail clouds that had begun to take on the colors of the rainbow. The blue splotch in the upper left-hand corner is the moon.
As morning turned the corner and headed for lunchtime, I had all but forgot about the sky, thunderstorms and tornadoes. I checked my browser again and the red dot was still there. I decided I'd get an update.

All of the warnings were still there, but I figured that folks at the Weather Service in Burlington were either mistaken or they'd been breathing something that required a large purchase of Twinkles.

It wasn't until I made my way upstairs for lunch that I noticed the colored cloud phenomenon had grown to cover the entire sky. It looked as if the earth was being blanketed by a massive, multi-colored cover. I got the camera again and stepped out onto the porch where I saw an aspect of Nature that had eluded me up until that point. It's not unusual for us to see the Aurora Borealis in the winter. The undulating colors can leave you transfixed as ions begin their bizarre dance in the form of a gift from the sun, but it was a bit past Noon in early June, and it's only on a winter's night that one can see the dancing colors.

Photo 3 is completely untouched. I snapped it with our digital camera and raced back to take a look at it in Photoshop. The photo matched the colors in the sky perfectly. I've been using Photoshop since version 2.1, but there was no way I could get the rainbow colors into the photo and make them look natural. This is the real thing.

Colored Sky
Photo 3. I've seen some strange cloud cover in my day, but nothing like this. It truly made me wonder if it was the precursor to something much more malicious.
Needless to say, while it was beautiful to behold, the sky was of no small concern. It lasted as can be seen in Photo 3 for quite some time, but nothing appeared to be following it, so I marveled at what I had seen and went back to work.

1:00 PM

By mid-afternoon, the colored sky had been replaced by true thunderheads, a gorgeous line of them against bright blue skies. They marched along growing higher by the minute and were quickly followed by dark, almost black clouds.

At about 3:30, I heard the first thunder clap. I started the shut down cycle after making one final visit to the Weather Bureau site, then saw a lightning flash to the West.

With nothing better to do, I took a short video of the storm we got, far less ferocious than forecast. There never was any hail, nor any sign of a tornado, but the winds picked up and the rain watered the garden a bit heavier than I would have liked. Nonetheless, the colored clouds I'd seen earlier left me with the same type of memory as did riding on the bow of that boat in the middle of a hurricane. While less exciting than that sail, I bore witness to colored clouds I can only hope to see again.

The video below gives a glimpse of a very weak thunderstorm, but it's indicative of how those of us who live in northern climes need to keep an eye on the weather. Anything goes, and as old timers up here will tell you, "If you don't like the weather, wait a while."



Epilog

SunsetAs the day ebbed and the skies cleared, there was no end of relief that we hadn't been visited by a funnel cloud.

Thankfully, the colorful sunset indicated clear sailing for the next day. As the old aage goes, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight [a fair-weather day the next morning]. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning."

Fortunately the adage was true. The next morning dawned sunny and bright, the temperatures cooler, but most importantly, there was no red dot in by browser meaasge bar. And my review of the morning's email was status quo again.

TAGS: Thunderstorms, clouds, colored clouds, Aurora Borealis, tornado, tornados, hail, heavy rain.

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Inside Issue
FEATURE ARTICLES
Baxter State Park is foremost a mountain park, a place of 46 peaks and ridges, and hikes that offer expansive views of remote areas. ...[Y]ouíll discover nooks and crannies on route to stir your wonder.
Those who had cars entered share a devotion that far outpaces hobby, passes way over the border of obsession, and finally settles near what satisfies the itch for perfection.
...[A]s the the moose obediently ran towards the battle, the sounds and sights of war made them bail; they spun around and took off into the wilderness with the hapless Hessian trying desperately to stop them...
Herreshoff is to sailboats what Brooks Brothers is to clothing or Ferrari is to cars. Every sailor worth his or her salt has heard the name, not once, but many times. The Nature Museum is a both a playful and educational experience for all age groups. Dioramas bring to life the story of the wildlife refuge and diverse habits of wetlands, old growth forests and upland hardwood forests.
COLUMNS

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