The Mysterous V Cloud Explained
September 30, 2015

VCloud

Courtesy: Jim Walker

Did you look up at the sky on Sunday night? If you did, you were probably looking for the Blood Moon. But many residents in Orange County were treated to more than a Lunar Eclipse Supermoon — they got to witness this V cloud. Many of the people who saw it, took a picture and sent to the NBCLA Facebook page.  Lots of people were creeped out, but there is a scientific explanation.

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I’m sure all of us have seen clouds like the one pictured above. They are called contrails, short for condensation trails. These are artificial clouds that form behind aircraft. They are created by the water vapor in the exhaust of aircraft engines. At high altitudes this water vapor emerges into a cold environment, and the vapor then condenses into tiny water droplets which freeze. Depending on the temperature and humidity at the altitude in which the contrails form, they may be visible for only a few seconds or minutes, or they may persist for hours and spread to be several miles wide.

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Courtesy: @Dalemazing

Now check out this picture. We see the same V cloud or V contrail during the day eight weeks ago in Vancouver, Canada. An airport is on the other side of the mountain. Why the V? At this moment the airplane reaches the altitude where a contrail can form. You have two airplanes coming in for landing at different times, the base of the V is where both planes converge and begin their descent. The timing is perfect.

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Courtesy: @k2rick4

We checked the flight patterns from LAX Sunday night and planes were coming in for landing from the east.  Notice the top part of this picture. It’s the same type of cloud pattern but a different airplane approach. The reason the V in this picture is short is because once the plane reaches a certain altitude where the temperature and humidity will not support cloud formation, the contrail disappears.  The V is the point where the two airplanes at different times come together and begin their descent.

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Here is the flight pattern from Sunday night for LAX, you can clearly see the V pattern as the airplanes come in for landing in red.  The conditions for a contrail to form is between 12,000 and 13,000 feet.

Stealth fighters must be keenly aware of the altitude where a contrail can form. There would be nothing worse than a stealth bomber flying a mission and everyone on the ground sees the jet.  Special thanks to pilot and meteorologist David Biggar for the help.

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Of course, there is always this explanation. Too bad this show got canceled by NBC after one season.

A Sun Pillar
August 29, 2011

 

 When the atmosphere is cold, ice sometimes forms flat six-sided crystals as it falls from high-level clouds. Air resistance then causes these crystals to lie nearly flat much of the time as they flutter to the ground. If viewed toward a rising or setting Sun, these flat crystals will reflect sunlight and create an unusual column of light — a sun pillar as seen above.

To view other sun pillars click here:

Sun Pillars

To view past weather quiz answers click here:

Past Weather Quiz Answers