NY mammatus formations
Like portents of doom, mammatus clouds loom overhead, a globular blanket that might seem suffocating if we didn’t know of genuinely noxious gases released into the ether by human activity. Yet mammatus clouds are as exquisite as they ominous. As their name implies, they are a thing of feminine beauty, and with sunlight percolating down through them, it could seem as if heaven itself is unlocking its gates.
Image: Steve took it
South Dakota/Nebraska mammatus clouds
The name mammatus comes from the Latin mamma, meaning udder or breast, in reference to the clouds’ shape and the female physiological features they can be seen to resemble. Their texture also recalls hot wax dripping or thick smoke on the ceiling of a burning room – but in reality they are a cellular pattern of pouches hanging beneath the base of a cloud composed of ice or a mixture of ice and water. (And for some similarly stupendous meteorological phenomena, check out our article on lenticular clouds.)
San Diego, CA
When occurring in tall, dense cumulonimbus clouds – or the anvil cloud stretching from them – mammatus often signal the onset of fierce storms and may warn of tornadoes. Tending to form in warmer months over the Midwest and eastern areas of the US, mammatus are nonetheless found elsewhere, as our chase across the States to track this singular meteorological phenomenon will reveal.
Image: Mila Zinkova
First stop, California, and while the Golden State isn’t renowned for mammatus clouds, the photo above shows that when they do occur – here complete with crepuscular rays over San Francisco Bay – they can make for an impressive sight.
This threatening looking shot of mammatus clouds above the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado is actually the aftermath of nature’s own air strike – a nasty storm that took place in October 2004.
Image: Jeff Wignal
The peach coloured mammatus above were snapped after a storm on June 26, 2009 in Stratford, Connecticut. The clouds were quite an event in the region, where crowds gathered in the streets to spy the unusual formations in the sky.
Georgia is the location for this almost terrifying mammatus sunrise. The deep red and yellow was likened to the inside of a volcano, and the fast moving clouds swept along a giant flock of buzzards on their thermals. Apocalyptic indeed.
Next, another softer face of the cloud formation. This mammatus sunset was photographed in McLean County, Illinois in July 2007, and what heavenly summer tones to feast the eyes upon.
Image: Steve took it
If the weather vane doesn’t warn that there’s a storm a brewing’ then the mammatus clouds certainly do – and it sure as heck hailed shortly after this beautifully composed shot was taken somewhere in Iowa.
Image: Cat Sidh
Like so many of their kind, these mammatus clouds – with their characteristic lobes – in the skies overlooking Bloomington, Indiana told of extremely strong thunderstorms in the offing.
Image: 3D King
Almost jellyfish like in appearance, these semi-translucent mammatus clouds were photographed in that most famous of storm ridden states, Kansas, before another night of storms and tornado activity in 2008.
Image: Will Montague
As the child in this photo watches for the incoming storm over Scott County, Kentucky, the clouds in the background begin to take on a familiar and menacing mammatus shape.
Although in this next shot it might seem as if we’re taking a rest from signs of impending doom, the mammatus clouds high in the sky over Portland Head Light in Maine were indeed snapped ahead of a severe thunderstorm.
These mammatus formations were captured as a storm was rolling in over Lake Michigan. Interestingly, there are numerous competing theories for the mechanisms through which these unique clouds are formed.
Yet the differing theories agree that between the mammatus clouds – like these, pictured before a tornadic storm in Missouri – and the anvil cloud overhead, there are sharp differences in temperature, moisture, and momentum or wind shear.
Image: Zachary Hauri
The softly toned mammatus clouds shown here lying over Minnesota in 2005 show a seemingly more serene side to this still poorly understood meteorological phenomenon, into which further research needed.
These mammatus clouds were shot from 10,500′ up in an airplane flying over Montana. Even though they were about 3,000′ overhead, the ride was bumpy, so it’s no wonder pilots are strongly advised to avoid cumulonimbus with mammatus.
This shot of wave after wave of mammatus clouds rolling in was taken over Kearmy, Nebraska, and it’s no surprise they were the sign of a huge storm brewing. A severe wind shear in the cloud formation tend to mean severe weather on the horizon.
These incredible snapshots of mammatus clouds gathering show the skies over Reno, Nevada, another location where the phenomenon is less commonly seen. Mammatus truly are at once pretty and portentous.
Image: Sterne Slaven
This next photo of mammatus clouds as seen from Hoboken, New Jersey is another taken during the spectacular sunset following the summer storm of June 26, 2009. Replete with red hues, the cotton clouds call to mind abstract art.
There’s perhaps a little Photoshop trickery at play in this next snap, but the mammatus clouds rolling in through the thunderstorm bitten New Mexico sky get the last word.
Image: Digiart2001 jason.kuffer
Here we see Manhattan resplendent under the mammatus cloud that graced the Big Apple and its environs at sunset, again on June 26, 2009. Some might think a UFO was coming; we say Ghostbusters and watch out for Marshmallow Man.
Image: NOAA Photo Library
It’s back in time with this next pic, a famous photo that depicts mammatus clouds in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, 1973. The blue, billowing mass seems the epitome of beautiful menace.
South Carolina is the stage for this next show by mammatus, with the yellowish-orange cast provided by the light of sunrise adding a tranquil feel to these so often tumultuous clouds.
Finally, as so often threatened, the flash of lightning illuminates the scene. Severe thunderstorms and lightning ripped through Rapid City, South Dakota, the latter showing up the accompanying mammatus clouds in for us a new light.
More beautifully bulging mammatus clouds in this next shot, taken during a thunderstorm in Texas. One observer even likened this particularly foreboding looking formation to a brain.
Even by mammatus standards, these cloud formations look strange, due in part no doubt because of the light. They appeared in sky after a thunderstorm that drenched Utah Arts Festival. Perhaps they wanted to be part of the show.
Image: Darlisa Black
No, aliens weren’t landing in Washington State; it was simply the arrival of an exceptionally rare cloud formation for the area – mammatus, which briefly paid a visit to the little town of White Salmon.
Despite being boosted a little by HDR, this photo is nevertheless a great capture of the looming mammatus clouds mixed up with a thunderstorm that took place somewhere over Wisconsin.
Our final image shows the clouds passing behind a passing storm cell encountered on a drive back from Canyon Village in Wyoming. Ominous beauty pervades the air.