Rain clouds drop more rain on Catalina; 0.24 inches logged as of 7 AM

But what kind of rain clouds?

That’s why you come here, to answer important questions like that.  After all, those precipitating clouds could have been Nimbostratus, Stratocumulus opacus praecipitatio, Cumulonimbus capillatus incus flammagenitus,  or even just “plain” Cumulonimbus capillatus (no anvil),  and possibly, Stratus opacus nebulosos praecipitatio.

Of course, with no large fires around, we can at once rule out Cumulonimbus capillatus incus flammagenitus….(the new name for clouds on top of fires, formerly referred to by the more accessible terms,  “pyrocumulus” or “pyrocumulonimbus.”

For the curious, and since I broke my camera and don’t have the dozens upon dozens of photos to regale or bore you with, I will reach into the archives for a shot of “flammagenitus” and show you one from the pyromaniacs’ paradise,  Brazil!:

Brazil, 1995: Cumulonimbus calvus flammagenitus. Shot taken by Arthur In flight shot, Porto Velho to Maraba.
Brazil, 1995: Cumulonimbus capillatus flammagenitus. Shot taken by Arthur on flight from, Porto Velho to Maraba.  The black at the bottom is mostly smoke.  Where it starts to turn a little white is where cloud droplets are forming.  Smoky ice is just above the aircraft’s wing and a little behind it.  You probably didn’t expect to see a “flammagenitus” here today, but, here it is.


Now, on to more recently viewed clouds, like yesterday’s:

9:16 AM. Stratocumulus praecipitatio line the tops of the Catalina Mountains. What's
9:16 AM. Stratocumulus praecipitatio line the tops of the Catalina Mountains. What’s “wrong” with this scene?  Very shallow clouds are precipitating, ones likely exhibiting, yep, the rare phenomenon in Arizona of “ice multiplication” wherein ice forms in clouds with tops warmer than around -15° C or so in great concentrations (often 10s to 100s per liter.)  Here, probably not that high, maybe several per liter of unaccounted for ice.  Happens when the cloud droplets are larger than usual–so when you see shallow clouds precipitating, but ones with tops still below freezing, -5° C, say, you can report in your cloud diary that you saw some “ice multiplciation on that day.  You would definitely get some accolades for such a report if cloud maven club members were to read  it, perhaps, an “Observer of the Week” award.  Of course, you get a mountain of extra credit for stating that those crystals falling on side of our mountains (Sam Ridge here), “look like needles and hollow columns” those ice crystals that form at temperatures higher than -10° C (14° F).
10:52 AM. The actual cloud that produced this mist-like precipitation has literally “rained itself out.” What’s interesting here for you is that there seems to be no demarcation of the melting level. Hmmmm. Was this all drizzle then that fell out of that cloud, starting at cloud tops noticeably below freezing? It happens, though usually that phase is short lived as ice takes over.
10:52 AM. A wider view of this intriguing scene. You can see all the glinting rocks, too, due to a little water on them. So pretty, the highlighting and all.
11:08 AM. This shot, not taken out the window whilst driving since that would be crazy, gives a nice profile to those shallow, precipitating clouds. Sure would have liked to fly through them, see what the precip actually was. However, we do know that it was snowing on Ms. Mt. Lemmon, so that implicates the ice phase. If you were up there, you may have seen those needles and hollow columns, of course, mostly in aggregates (snowflakes). And, to trigger the “ice multiplication” process, you may have seen some tiny snowballs falling, too, ones we call graupel or soft hail.
The U of AZ balloon sounding for 5 AM AST yesterday morning. May have been valid for those shallower preciping clouds.
The U of AZ balloon sounding for 5 AM AST yesterday morning. May have been valid for those shallower preciping clouds.

Later these scenes were overtaken by a slab of Nimbostratus and steady light rain for a few hours.

A note on the recent southern Cal rain blast

As you know, up ten inches fell in some mountain locations in southern California as a monster low pressure system smashed into the coast near San Francisco1.  You might recall, too,  that the shift of the jet stream (and thus storm track) into the southern portions of California was well predicted two weeks in advance in those crazy spaghetti plots.   You can’t always get much out of those plots except maybe the degree of uncertainty in  weather patterns a couple of weeks out, but that was a rare case in which the signal far upstream for something strong barging into southern Cal also strong.  And, of course, we are experiencing the residual of that storm, also as was indicated in those plots (“…the weather change around the 18th.”

Presently, a another sequence of extremely heavy rain is in the pipeline for central and northern California starting today, which will take a few days for it to come to an end.

Following a  break, what was intriguing in the model outputs, and a little scary was that it appeared that yet another scoop of tropical air was going to jet across the Pacific under another blocking high in the Arctic  and Gulf of Alaska  into California. Take a look at this prog:

Valid Sunday, March 4th, at 5 PM AST.
Valid Sunday, March 4th, at 5 PM AST.

Here’s where spaghetti can shed some real light:

From last night's global data, this output for March 4th at 5 PM with writing on it.
From last night’s global data, this output for March 4th at 5 PM with writing on it.

So while it is still possible that some model runs will indicate a blast from the sub-tropics affecting Cal, they can be pretty much waived off as outliers (not impossible “solutions” but rather unlikely ones.  Breath easier Califs!  At least after the current onslaught ends.

BTW, can you see what kind of weather is indicated in this plot for the SW and old Arizony?

Cold; temperatures below normal, precip likely at times.

The End.

1The low pressure center that passed over San Francisco yesterday was not  as deep (988 millibars) as the notorious “Frankenstormmaggedon” of 2010 which barged into Frisco with a 979 millibar center.   You may recall, too, that spaghetti had strongly suggested a “Frankenstormaggedon”, as it was later called, also more than ten days in advance.  Recall, too, if you can recall, that 2009-10 was an El Niño winter with this kind of thing pretty much anticipated.

For history buffs, I reprise that January 2010 storm as seen on our national weather map.  You may recall that, if there’s anything left in that noggin up there, that Catalina experience no less than THREE inches of rain as this system went by, taking a couple of days:

11 AM AST, January 21st, 2010.
11 AM AST, January 21st, 2010.
Valid at 2 PM AST, February 17th.  Junior.
Valid at 2 PM AST, February 17th. Junior.

By Art Rangno

Retiree from a group specializing in airborne measurements of clouds and aerosols at the University of Washington (Cloud and Aerosol Research Group). The projects in which I participated were in many countries; from the Arctic to Brazil, from the Marshall Islands to South Africa.


  1. Art; That “cumulus Capillatus Flammagenitus” reminds me of one I saw here in Vancouver last summer. A fire was burning up a mattress factory and I saw a cloud about the same size then. Problem was, it didn’t last long enough for me to get a really good picture of it. I didn’t have my camera on me at the time I first noticed it.(I wasn’t at home).

    1. Hi, Roland,

      Thanks for stopping by and relaying your own experience with a “pyrocu.”

      We (the U of WA Cloud and Aerosol Research Group) flew into one in Canada (Timmons, Ontario) that produced lightning, hail, and half an inch of black rain at one of the ob sites site up for the prescribed burn. I was not on that flight, rather on the the ground, but in going through that “pyro-Cb” the Convair 240 that we were flying back then hit a tremendous downdraft at one point and a heavy tool box that wasn’t tied down hit the ceiling and the tools just exploded out of it.

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