Rare cloud formation over Smith Mountain Lake goes viral Tuesday: Here's how it formed

Published: Jun. 19, 2019 at 4:20 PM EDT
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On any given day if you pay close enough attention you may spot a fascinating cloud in the sky.

On a stormy Tuesday afternoon at Smith Mountain Lake, Amy Christie Hunter didn't have to look that hard to spot a rare type of cloud called a Kelvin-Helmholtz cloud.

Hunter described the clouds as looking like something out of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" than an actual skyline in her post on the Smith Mountain Lake Picture Group on Facebook.

Her picture has now been picked up by national news publications and has been shared thousands of times on social media pages.

So just how do you get these clouds and how rare are they?

These ocean-wave-like clouds typically form when there are unstable conditions in the atmosphere. They usually occur when there is a difference in wind speed between two layers of air. The upper layer of air is moving at higher speeds and will create recognizable waves at the top of the clouds.

It is likely that on Tuesday afternoon, the winds near the surface over the lake were calmer than the more turbulent air at a higher altitude which is what led to these clouds forming yesterday.

Whenever K-H clouds form, they don't last long so be sure to appreciate their beauty when you can!