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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 6:33 am | Mostly Cloudy 43º


Captain’s Log: Enjoyable and Ominous Cloud Formations

Cloud watching season has arrived, hopefully bringing rain-filled wedge clouds with it. Click to view larger
Cloud watching season has arrived, hopefully bringing rain-filled wedge clouds with it. (David Bacon / Noozhawk photo)

It’s great when the time of year comes when we have big-sky cloud formations to enjoy, ponder and maybe hide from. This is exciting stuff!

There are the standard cloud types, which as a sea captain I have studied, such as cumulonimbus, nimbostratus, cirrus and many others.

Those are kinda classic because you can do a Google search, print out a page, go outside and compare to what is up in the sky. Some of those can help you understand what is coming next, like rain or another type of cloud formation.

Even more exciting are cloud formations that mean something locally and perhaps imminently. For example, we have our local cloud cap over the mountains behind Goleta and Santa Barbara that seafaring people call the “fingers of death.” 

We know from experience at sea that those particular cloud formations develop when there are strong northwest winds in the western part of the Santa Barbara Channel, so the fingers of death serve as a warning of what parts of the ocean we should steer clear of.

I’ve been out on the ocean and watched stratus clouds swirl, bulge, twist and form a 5-mile long horizontal twister on the underside of the stratus directly above us.

I told everyone aboard to hang on while I turned the boat and skedaddled as fast as those 500 horses on the back of my boat would go before that horizontal twister detached, dropped one end and became a waterspout.

Wedge shapes of dark, water-filled clouds look ominous, and towering thunderheads with their anvil-shaped tops can pack a serious wallop.

Out on the water, we blast away from those pretty quick because when the lightning starts flying those of us on boats naturally think, “Yup, guess we’re the tallest thing around out here.” Not a comforting feeling!

Cloud watching is fun and informative, and I’m glad the cloud season is finally here. Let’s hope for lots and lots of clouds (and wet ones) this season.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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