This is a rare meteorological phenomenon called a skypunch. When people see these, they think it’s the end of the world. Ice crystals form above the high-altitude cirro-cumulo-stratus clouds, then fall downward, punching a hole in the cloud cover.
the earth is so fucking metal i swear
GROWN UP SKILLS: PREDICT THE WEATHER USING MAGIC WIZARD KNOWLEDGE
Any good adult is expected to be able to feed their friends, solve cohabitation issues genially, name several major political figures, and asses the sky for rain or instances of Weather. On the prairie, grown ups have a handy tool: you can use clouds to read approaching weather the way a fisherman uses the ocean’s mood. Not that any familiarity with clouds is very useful in a drought, except to watch lazy puffy clouds tease by, but in other summers cloudomancy will come in handy.
Nebraska spawns loads of volatile weather, so I learned early to pay attention to clouds. I first learned to keep an eye on the sky age 5, living in the sandhills, when I met my first Nebraska tornado warnings. Later I learned to predict rain before softball games, and watched my dad stand in the yard, prognosticating the day’s weather. He’s a hay farmer, and every few weeks he makes forecast-related decisions for his crop – should he go ahead and bale the latest cutting because it’s going to rain? Or will the rain miss, leaving him better off giving the cut hay more time to dry?
The changing sky is a super useful tool, and works on such simple mechanisms. Our weather is dictated by three forces: heat, cold, and moisture. Mostly, hot air and cool air float along in large masses, and when they meet, the cold air shifts up and looses some of its moisture as it cools. This increases the humidity of warmer air below.
That cycle of evaporation, condensation, heating, cooling, is the steam wheel to the atmospheric engine, powering weather patterns, droughts, squalls, and multi-state storm fronts. The clouds we see – and monitor – are visible evidence of the huge invisible air giants wrassling around the stratusphere, causing Weather.
USEFUL CLOUDS TO KNOW ABOUT
Cirrus: dry weather, more of the same
The best days in winter are the hard, cold, bright days with skies sprayed with cirrus clouds. They look like horse tails, and they mean a couple of days of clear and uneventful weather. Even though in the winter clouds often manifest as days-long bolts of gray felt slowly rolling overhead, they can also show up as cirrus clouds, promising bright days ahead.
Stratocumulous: makes for just plain cloudy days
These appear in spring and are, to me, the most difficult cloud to judge. Eventually the endless grays of winter turn into the often-gray-but-you-can-see-the-end-of-it feeling of March. But those flat clouds don’t give any indication of when the sun will be back. That is the stratocumulous.
Stratus: low, cover most of the sky, bring light rain
When I became a lifeguard I learned all about the low, cold clouds that bring miserable 60 degree June weeks, during which I will spend eight hours a day slouching in a swimsuit on an aluminum bench, wrapped in a towel, sipping hot cocoa, and watching the two fat Ortega brothers play with their diving toys in the shallow end for hours. And now I hold a grudge against them.
Stupid cumulous: useless without more moisture
Now I am learning the pathetic smears of cloud in a hot sky of a droughty summer, and bemoaning that I have to water everything outside again. Last week, hoping for rain, I spent an afternoon eagerly watching some puffs of clouds plump up. As hot air in the river valley rose into cold air miles into the sky, the clouds grew. I was looking for the clouds to start billowing, to start protruding up in great puffs until they eventually joined together and dropped rain on us.
Which they did, for all of seven minutes. Some summer rain.
Now that you have a better understand of the language of clouds, you can move on to Junior Meteorologist, Lvl II. To get to level three, you have to write a paper on predicting the weather using creaky joints, so study up!