Ice optics extravaganza; Cirrus uncinus fallstreifen going in different directions!

What a day, Mr. and Mrs. Catalina!

Not as good as a rain day with lightning, but yesterday did have its moments in the sky, enough to make the astrologers  on Mt. Lemmon jealous with displays of parhelia (“sun dogs”, or “mock suns”), faint haloes, a rare parhelic circle, something you don’t see but once every year or two,  and fallstreifen (fall streaks) from Cirrus uncinus clouds going in almost opposite directions, an extremely rare sight.

The rare “parhelic circle” is a local brightening often extending out from a parhelia (sun dog) at a sharp angle, which I just learned about here1.  Usually you don’t see a whole circle, just part of one.  

These optic displays are caused by ice crystals, of course, ones not too complex, but rather simple ones like prisms, short solid columns, bullets, and hexagonal plates.  Some examples of these can be seen here.

The bottom of yesterday’s moist layer was just above 30,000 feet at a temperature of -35° C and extended all the way up to about 40,000 feet above sea level where the temperature were around -65° C.

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The balloon sounding launched around 3:30 PM AST yesterday from the Banner University of Arizona.

Some photos documenting the excitement of yesterday

5:30 PM. Cirrus uncinus crystals heading in two very different directions. Wow. Notice the fibers from the contrail that are starting to fall out are going in the "correct" direction, back toward that west.
5:30 PM. Cirrus uncinus crystals heading in two very different directions. Wow. Notice the fibers from the contrail that are starting to fall out are going in the “correct” direction, back toward that west or southwest.
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3:04 PM. Parhelic circle erupts in mostly Cirrus uncinus clouds.
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3:06 PM. The astounding sight continues, but fades away just after this.
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3:33 PM. Local brightening at the position of a sun dog suggests these are tiny ice crystals or possibly even droplets that have just formed, the sizes too small to allow refraction into color normally seen in sun dogs.
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3:32 PM. A zoomed view of that little bright spot. Sure looks like it may have been droplets. Droplet clouds have been reliably reported to temperatures as low as -44° C. Of course, wouldn’t stay liquid long!  I thought this was a pretty exciting shot!  Hope you got it, too.

 

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3:42 PM. Amid all the optical excitement was this ghost-like halo. Can you make out the faint circle around the sun? In ascents through thick ice clouds having complicated ice crystals like bullet rosettes down below the tops, as you climb to the top of such clouds, amazing haloes can be seen where the crystals are newly formed and quite simple in structure, allowing the refraction required for a halo. So, this halo was likely at the top of these thicker Cirrus and Altostratus (dense portions) clouds, though no one would penalize you if you just said they were all Cirrus clouds.

 

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3:59 PM. Another spectacular bright spot at the sun dog location (which is also at the 22° halo location, faintly evident here).
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3:59 PM. Zoomed view of this sun dog/parhelia. Lots of fine structure evident, which is not usually the case with parhelia.
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4:25 PM. Another finely structured parhelia/sun dog suggesting the ice crystals were newly formed. Fine structure like this can’t last long with the usual turbulence, and so that’s a sure sign this feature has just formed.  I don’t recall seeing so many atypical sun dogs in one day!
5:09 PM. The normal, amorphous sun dog. No really fine detail can be seen here.
5:09 PM. The normal, amorphous sun dog. No really fine detail can be seen here.

Below, examples of cold Cirrocumulus, ones that quickly transition to Cirrus clouds.

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5:19 PM. This group of CIrrocumulus clouds appeared very quickly almost overhead. The tiniest elements are those that have just formed. These are composed of ice crystals in extremely high concentrations, perhaps 10,000 per lilter. Once that ice has formed, its gradually spreads out, much like a puff of smoke would, thinning, some crystals growing large enough to start fall steaks.
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5:19 PM. Some elements are still forming, but the spreading of the older ones is well underway, producing a “blurred” look as the elements merge and thin out.
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5:28 PM. Off to the southwest of Catalina, a promising intrusion of lower moisture indicated by these approaching Altocumulus clouds. Will there be enough today for a sprinkle somewhere?  Not looking so good now, clouds did not lower much overnight.   Well, maybe if it doesn’t sprinkle, maybe we’ll get to see some nice virga and dream about rain…

 

The End

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1I was going to call it something else.  Egad.  Let us remember the words of the B-52s:  “Before I talk, I should read the book.