Clouds Before Storms


I look through the rocks and bush to find a way through, look up to check my position against the mountain ahead, and look behind to the clouds filling the sky… looking back is what scares me, even with the sun bright in the sky.

We’re all on edge. The morning weather was nice enough but we could see the tell-tale signs of foul weather approaching. Our first clouds before the storm are high, wispy clouds pulled in the wind; the shofar players of what is to come.

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These are cirrus clouds, high in the sky. They are a good indicator of deteriorating weather and are made of falling ice crystals that evaporate before they come close to land. Sometimes you can see them a day ahead of changing weather, but today their speed told us the change would come much sooner.

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Next, the flat altostratus clouds started to heap into altocumulus clouds (alto means medium-high in the sky), and cumulus clouds creeped over the mountain tops. These clouds gave us the definite sign of wet weather approaching.

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As the cumulus clouds grew larger and amassed over more of the mountain range, even higher cirrocumulus clouds formed (cirro means high in the sky), indicating a temperature drop. These clouds mean business, and when traveling in mountains you can be certain of cold temperatures and a possibility of lightning.

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By the time we were completely covered by low cumulus and nimbus (rain producing) clouds, we were unable to gain more information on the storm except by the dark colors brooding over us. The darkest patch of cloud and rain shadow visible in this photo was directly where we were to be walking. We never made it, we backed down after using our better judgement from readings of the clouds.

Walking obsessively checking the weather was tense and stressful, but watching this huge storm brew was amazing. It was a drama played in the sky as dark moody hues dance in rain shadows.

We made the right choice. It probably was hailing where we were crossing over the mountain to De Doorns, and nobody needs to walk into a dark, uphill battle with boulders and weather obscuring the way forward. Instead we retreated back to our farm campsite and watched the sky saturate and cover the rich farm fields with blankets of rain.

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