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The Stunning Beauty of Lenticular Clouds

One cloud formation that can astound and bewilder people are lenticular clouds. These are clouds that don’t seem to move and tend to have a pronounced lens shape. Because of their shape, it is doubtless that at least a few UFO sightings have been lenticular clouds. These clouds can be stunning and beautiful, though.

Cause of lenticular clouds

Lenticular clouds occur when a moisture-laden but fairly stable air mass flows up over the top of an obstruction, such as a mountain. This causes ripples in the air that are similar to those formed when a pebble is tossed into a pond. The clouds form when the tops of the ripples are at the dew point, causing the moisture to condense into water droplets.

As the condensing cloud flows down to the bottom of the ripple wave, where the air is above the dew point, moisture that has condensed does a reversal and starts evaporating. The result is the beautiful lenticular clouds that can be quite saucer shaped.

Where lenticular clouds form

Though lenticular clouds most often form over mountain tops, anything that can cause the ripple effect high in the atmosphere can cause a lenticular cloud. Sometimes the obstruction that causes a lenticular cloud isn’t even apparent.

Many aircraft pilots avoid lenticular clouds because of the air ripples and turbulence they can cause. Glider pilots often seek them out, though, because of the additional lift they can get from the updraft that leads to the top of a ripple. This is rather like riding the wave in surfing.

Some places are known for lenticular clouds, while other places seldom have them. Still, this is a cloud formation that many people find mysterious, though there is no mystery in how and why they form.


What do you think?

Written by Rex Trulove


  1. Ive shot them from my desert property where they form a lot. The mountains behind them release them and the glide over the desert. They are my favorite clouds of all time. So gorgeous. Great info Rex.

    • They are surprisingly common over the desert. I suspect that part of that is also that the air over the desert is so reactive of any obstacle on the desert floor. The air is exaggerated above even low buttes and mesas.

    • This kind of cloud is fairly common over Mount Shasta, in Northern California. I’ve seen lenticular clouds in Montana, too, though not as commonly.

      • Aah. Unfortunately I’ve never been to that part of California. Nothing north of a line between San Francisco and Yosemite. My wife and I were going to go to Montana a few years ago but we had to cancel because her father passed away and we haven’t had a chance to go since then.

        • I hope that you get to make the trip one day. There is a lot to see in Montana. A lot of people enjoy going to Glacier National park, then over to see the National Bison Range, then down through North Yellowstone and down through Yellowstone National Park and come out in Wyoming. Even then, they see only a portion of the state, usually just enough to see why it is called Big Sky Country.