One of the first cloud bands of Hurricane Irene stretches across the sky over Washington, August 24, 2011. This cloud band brought light showers to the area while Irene was still off the coast of North Carolina.

For photographers and weather watchers, the outer cloud bands of tropical storms and hurricanes can provide unique and interesting cloud patterns that swirl across the sky, often accompanied by vivid colors at sunrise or sunset. The tropical air which proceeds these storms is free from of our area’s common summertime haze and provides good visibility for cloud watching and photography.

Last year, I had the opportunity to photograph Hurricane Earl’s sunset at the Manassas Battlefield Park. The sunset colors were spectacular. This past Friday, I decided to do a another tropical sunset shoot of Hurricane Irene’s cloud bands as they approached Washington, a day before the storm was forecast to impact our area. The weather setup for Irene’s photo shoot was very similar to a photo shoot that I did of Hurricane Isabel, back in September of 2003.

Keep reading to see a photo comparison of the outer cloud bands of Irene and Isabel, including a time lapse video of Irene’s first cloud bands moving over Washington.

The weather setup for Friday’s photo shoot of Irene reminded me of my sunset photo shoot Isabel in 2003. Both storms were off the coast of North Carolina at the time of the shoots, moving northwest toward our area. At the time of both photo shoots, the storms were about a day away from impacting our area.

While the weather setup was similar, the cloud bands of the two storms could not have been more different. Isabel had long, well-defined bands of cirrus clouds while Irene had less-defined bands of cirrus, altocumulus, and cumulus clouds. Light, scattered showers accompanied Irene’s outer cloud bands while Isabel’s outer outer cloud bands were dry. The photo comparison below shows the difference in the outer cloud bands of Irene and Isabel, both photographed a day before the storms spun through our area.

A time lapse video of Irene’s first cloud bands moving over Washington.

Hurricane Isabel’s cirrus cloud bands over Washington, September 17, 2003. Isabel was off the coast of North Carolina at the time of this photograph.

An outer cloud band of Hurricane Irene moves over the Netherlands Carillon in Rossyln, August 26, 2011.

Outer cloud bands of Isabel moving over the Washington Monument, September 17, 2003. Construction is visible at the WWII Memorial.

A distant cloud band of Irene, visible on the southeastern horizon, shows convective cloud tops. The Jefferson Memorial is in the foreground.

Irene’s sunset at the Netherlands Carillon, August 26, 2011. Light rain showers accompanied this band of clouds.