Kelvin Helmholtz Instability in the Bighorns: Cloud making waves on social media

A series of spectacular "KH Wave Clouds" graced themselves over the Bighorn Mountains Tuesday, leaving many to ask "is that photoshop?".... it's real.
Kh Waves Rachel Gordon 2

KH waves over the Bighorn Mountains near Sheridan, Wyoming December 6th, 2022 – Rachel Gordon

H waves over the Bighorn Mountains near Sheridan, Wyoming December 6th, 2022 - Rachel Gordon

Have you ever looked at a group of clouds and wonder if they’re even real? – They exude such a strange unearthly perception that you start doubting that you’re actually seeing properly.

Rachel Gordon of Sheridan, WY had one of those moments as she stepped off her back porch and looked toward the Bighorn Mountains.

Giant, mountain-scaling waves greeted Rachel – riding the top of the Bighorns like the ocean at the beach.

She snapped this photo and others, capturing this rare display.

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability clouds are a distinct, fascinating cloud phenomena that heavily involves the concept of wind shear.

Wind shear is the concept of winds moving at different speed and direction, based on altitude. So maybe winds are moving slow at lower altitudes, but moving much faster at a higher altitude… and from a different direction.

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“KH waves” are generally formed by high winds near the surface, and lighter winds traveling in the opposite direction just above the surface.

In this case, the higher winds were zipping across the peaks of the Bighorn Mountains, flushed with moisture.

The drier air mass just above had light southerly winds, just enough to “whip” the some of the moist air backwards, curling over itself.

The result is a slow-motion wave… much the same as you would see at the beach with waves crashing on the beach.

A special shoutout to Rachel Gordon for letting Newscenter1 use her pictures!

Categories: Weather Daily, Wyoming News