Crimson Saucers: Lenticular clouds at sunset.

Out of pure luck and timing during last night’s errands, I saw this amazing view of lenticular clouds over the San Gabriel Mountains, lit up red from the side by the sunset. I knew the phone couldn’t capture it, and ran back to the car for my camera. Even that came out awfully grainy, but the colors and shapes are intact.

I wasn’t expecting to see more after my last post on lenticular clouds. As I said, they’re (usually) rare in this area. But as I left the office Friday evening, I pulled onto the freeway and nearly freaked out at what I saw: A line of three smooth, layered clouds running above the ridge of the mountains to the north of Saddleback, and two more less-defined clouds picking up south of the peaks. I took the first exit and headed for a spot where I knew I could get an unobstructed view: a park in the Quail Hill area. (Knollcrest, I think.)

Lenticular clouds framed by trees
Click for a larger image

It was near sunset, and I was in a hurry to get some photos (not to mention a better chance to look at them!) before the light faded. You can see that the sun had already dropped behind the hill on which I was standing.

Lenticular Line
Click for a larger image

If you look at the horizon in the wide view, near the left at what looks like the base of the hills, you can see the orange balloon at the Great Park. I’m fairly sure they’d stopped taking people up by then, though I did see it airborne during my walk at lunch.

I’ve enhanced the contrast on these next few images, all cropped from the same photo to show close-ups (relatively speaking) of the three clouds:

Lenticular Cloud 1

Lenticular Cloud 2

Lenticular Cloud 3

I’m going to do something unusual here, and post an original-resolution copy of that contrast-enhanced photo, just ’cause it’s so cool. It compressed really well, to 170K, but beware—it’s still a 2,567 pixel–wide image.

One of the problems with photographing clouds is that you can’t run and grab a better camera. You have to shoot with what you have, or they’ll change configuration and quite possibly look completely different by the time you get back.

As I left for a late lunch today, I saw a set of half-discs stacked together, with a long trail stretching off to the left. We don’t see lenticular clouds that often in this area, so I stopped the car, grabbed my cell phone and aimed it out the window.

Lenticular cloud, stretched out

The Santa Ana Mountains are hidden behind the office buildings, and are probably the cause of the cloud formation.

Unfortunately, the detail isn’t that great. I tried to enhance the image a bit, but it looks like the brightest parts of the cloud overwhelmed the sensor. This is at the camera’s native resolution:

Close-up of cloud

Update: Spotted some more interesting cloud formations later in the afternoon. Continue reading