As I was just leaving Castlederg this morning on the way to work, I noticed an unusual cloud formation, and struck by the almost iridescent colours, I stopped the car at the roadside to get a photo. At the time, I didn’t know what exactly I was looking at or what caused the phenomenon, but I knew it was something special as I’d never seen clouds like it before. My best guess was that it was something similar to a rainbow, but as the clouds were between me and the not yet risen sun, I assumed the cloud must somehow be diffusing the light and reflecting it internally – but it was just a guess, and it was only this evening when it was mentioned on the local weather on BBC NI that I learned what I had seen.
I had been extremely lucky in having the privilege of seeing nacreous clouds, rarely seen this far south of the polar region. They have been making an appearance over Ireland and the UK over the last day or two, and I have since read on-line comments from keen cloud watchers who have been hoping for years to see such a thing, and were completely thrilled to do so today. The clouds form in the stratosphere, at about 70 000ft, and small ice crystals inside refract the rays of the sun while it is still below the horizon, causing the striking colours. The conditions needed to form them are usually only found at the poles as there normally isn’t enough moisture at the required height. They are named after the similar iridescence found in nacre in oyster shells, hence their other name – mother of pearl clouds.
On a side note, as I said, I was extremely lucky to witness these clouds, and even more lucky to get a photo. I quite often bring my DSLR camera with me, especially if I’m travelling somewhere new or scenic. But I don’t always take it with me if I’m just going to work, or going somewhere where a large camera bag would be impossible to take. Not long ago, a sparrowhawk killed a pigeon just outside the window at work, and sat feeding on it, ignoring us just feet away. Unfortunately, I had no camera, and the only photos I could get on my phone were so bad that I didn’t even post them here. It was a great experience to see the hawk so close, but it was disappointing not to get a good photo. It made me take the plunge and buy a smaller compact camera, not as good as a DSLR, but better than a phone, that I could take anywhere in my pocket. It was due to that decision that I had a decent camera on me this morning and was able to get the photo of the nacreous cloud. Several lucky elements coming together at once!