First, some instructional material: You should be looking for your camera now, as seen in the first shot! Those Cirrus clouds to the SW are moving at you rapidly (95 kts, 115 mph at 30-35 Kft ASL!), and so there’s not much time! In this first shot you can already detect some Cirrus uncinus, Cirrus clouds with hooked, or tufted tops in the center, with long icy strands trailing to the left. At this point perspective makes them bunch together so that they may not appear that “photogenic.” However, just wait! And, it was worth waiting just a few minutes for.
Take a lot at which they looked like passing overhead in the second and third shots, only about 7 minutes later. Just magnificent, some of the best Cirrus uncinus examples I have seen.
What is interesting about these clouds is that you are getting a glimpse of the structure of “stratiform”–that is, steady rain and snow storms that happen every day around the world, except that here in these photos, you are only seeing examples of the very tops of them. Those widespread rainy/snowy storms are usually packed with thousands of these kinds of clouds in a solid overcast up there, each “cell” shedding tiny ice crystals which then waft their way down, growing, perhaps merging into “aggregates” of ice crystals we call snowflakes, and, that most of the time except in Wisconsin in the winter, melt into raindrops as they fall below the melting level. Chances are, our little snowstorm of a few days ago had tops just like this.
Sometimes, clouds like these, and returns from vertically-pointed radars that can detect clouds like these, are referred to as “generating cells”, for obvious reasons. The trails you see here are clearly visible on very sensitive “cloud sensing” radars–they are not visible on “First Alert” Doppler style radars and such used by the NWS because the ice crystals are too small at this point to produce a return on “normal” radars. These cells form in a relatively shallow layer that usually lacks wind shear, likely mixed out by the little up and downdrafts in it. Its only after the crystals fallout that they encounter wind shear and end up being stretched out into “tails” as here.
Falling from heights of 30,000 feet takes a long time, for an ice crystal falling at only around 0.5 meters per second or around 1.5 ft a second or even less. It will take LONG time for anything to reach the ground, perhaps 2-3 hours to reach the melting level. So the little generating cell that produced a ice crystals at the top of major storms that grow and merge into snowflakes is likely over Alamosa, CO, and points northeastward by the time that flake landed on you at the ground with upper level winds such as we had yesterday.
I think its kind of interesting, but I may be the only one!