Magnificent example of Kelvin-Helmholtz instability from Lake Tahoe region

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, which transforms fair weather clouds into the form of crashing ocean waves, is a rare and wondrous phenomenon.

One of the best examples I’ve ever seen is in a video making the rounds on Facebook.  The footage – embedded below – was taken at Diamond Peak ski resort in the Lake Tahoe region of Nevada, and posted by Darren Springer on March 11.

The wave-breaking action and structure are awesome.

How does this kind of instability happen?  We talked about it in our August 22 post on weird clouds:

These clouds are extremely short-lived, and break in the same fashion as a wave on a shore – the bottom layer of water moves slower than the top layer, and the top billows over and crashes.

This behavior is caused by wind shear, when two vertically adjacent layers of air are moving at different speeds.

“This type of atmospheric condition normally occurs on windy days where there is a difference in densities of the air, such as in a temperature inversion,” notes Rachelle Oblack of About.com in her article about Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds.

 

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · March 13, 2014