Weather Report: UFO Clouds

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There's supposed to be a type of cloud that is often confused with being a UFO. What kind of cloud is it?

Saucer cloud over Campbell Mesa, Arizona. Courtesy of USDA Forest ServiceQ: There’s supposed to be a type of cloud that is often confused with being a UFO. What kind of cloud is it?

A:  It’s most likely the lenticular cloud, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “One reason they may be mistaken for UFOs is their odd shape,” McRoberts explains. “Lenticular clouds are so-called because they often look like a camera lens, many times looking like huge pancakes stacked on top of each other. Also, lenticular clouds don’t move like other clouds and tend to linger in one spot for a long time. They are often seen in the western U.S. but have been photographed all over the world, including Spain, Australia and France.”

Q: What causes their strange shape?

A: “Lenticular clouds are often formed by waves of air moving over high mountains,” McRoberts adds. “At the crests of the waves, moisture condenses into clouds that appear to be standing, even though winds may be quite strong. Lenticular clouds have a wave-like appearance with edges that are smooth, giving them the appearance of a flying saucer. Their appearance can signal that a change in the weather is coming, often meaning a snowstorm is imminent. Pilots often avoid flying near these clouds because the air around them can be very turbulent. If you can find photos of lenticular clouds in weather books, you’ll agree that they are some of the strangest looking clouds produced by nature.”

Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.