Cloud Timelapses

I’m a skywatcher at heart, not only at night but by day. It seems to me that those who walk with their heads down, focusing only on earthly concerns, are missing out on half of everything there is to look at! Watching a powerful cumulonimbus cloud develop into a threatening thunderhead in real time can be exhilarating in a way that’s difficult to find an analogy to in astronomy. While astronomy is a patient pursuit, rarely are the things we observe unpredictable or rushed for time. Cloudwatching is a fast-paced, volatile experience. You can predict all you want, fairly accurately in some cases, but you never truly know what will happen next!

On this page you’ll find a gallery of timelapses which I’ve taken of the daytime sky. All timelapses were recorded with my iPad mini. I don’t do any kind of post processing on the timelapses, except for occasionally speeding them up if they were recorded over a short period of time, or stitching multiple clips together. (The timelapse record mode tries to keep the finished video clip in between 20-40 seconds by discarding half of the frames every time it hits 40 seconds, so when you only record for a few minutes the action can be much too slow.) I do the stitching/speeding up in iMovie.

This is one of my most favorite ever. The lighting is just perfect, with all those evolving crepuscular rays, and you can see perfectly how the cloud spires just dissipate when they lose the heat of the sun. This one was shot in two takes.

These three were taken of the same storm system, and were some of the first (as well as some of the best) I’ve ever taken of cumulonimbus. There were three distinct cells, hence the three timelapses. (You’ll probably notice a few frames of my brother on his bike in the first video. He came along with me that day and enjoyed slow-motion photobombing the timelapse. 🙂 )

I learned the hard way to apply autoexposure/autofocus lock before starting the timelapse. This would have been one of the best timelapses I’ve ever taken, but it was taken at sunset, and the autoexposure kept adjusting until it was a washed out, grainy mess. Ah well. It’s still one of the better ones, thanks to that majestic storm system.

This one isn’t cumulonimbus, but it is very cool. I turned the camera to point straight up for as long as I dared (not wanting to burn out the sensor or overheat it- it was very hot that day). You can see the disk of the sun because of the thin cloud acting as a filter, and the orange ring of a corona. (Not the solar corona, just a corona; the terrestrial optical effect.)

This is one of my very favorites. It’s an example of what can go right when you remember to lock the exposure settings! This storm approaching really was just like a dark wall of clouds- very formidable. I would have let the timelapse go longer, until full dark (I was finally learning that lesson), but I decided the best place to be with a gigantic wall of black stormcloud bearing down on you was not an open field standing next to a lone tree.

This storm reminded me really strongly of a shelf mushroom. It even has gills!

As I’m sure you can tell by now, I really love clouds (except on moonless nights). So when I first saw this storm coming on my way to the park, I got so excited that I pedaled back home as fast as I could to tell Mom (who usually also appreciates these things). I burst in the door, out of breath, telling her to “GO OUTSIDE NOW there’s a giant freaking massive cumulonimbus coming right for us!!!!” My entry attracted the attention of my brother and my iDad, who came out as well, and everyone else just sort of looked at it and said “!” As I was elaborating on how cool it is that there are giant mountains of suspended water in the air above our heads all the time, constantly in motion and evolving into fractal patterns, and can you believe that we hardly ever notice them or even look up? My brother gave me the side eye, and asked: “Are you high?”

Well, I just happen to think clouds are incredibly cool. My answer for him was no, I won’t ever need to get high, I can just look at clouds.

Anyhow, here’s that storm. 🙂

This one was really cool! Not cumulonimbus, but really interesting dynamic of light. If you watch closely, you can see that at the beginning, the cloud is casting its shadow on a thin layer of cirrus clouds. Then towards the end of the video, as the cloud moves out of frame, you can see how really it was casting a shadow on the whole sky- watch for the crepuscular rays sweeping across the field of view and brightening the entire sky as the shadow passes out of the field of view.

This is one storm, done in two cuts. I tried to stitch them together, but the position changed so much, and so much time passed in between them, that they really are better separate. What I really love about this one was that you can see the anvil stretching out, and then the cumulus towers building underneath actually punching through the underside of the anvil.

This one was just supposed to focus on the beautiful color of the clouds, rather than any particular formation. The dark cloud silhouetted in front reminded me strongly of a bird in flight.

I left this one outside recording and went inside for a while. The clouds didn’t turn out all that interesting, but I caught a rainbow by accident! I had no idea that it was there until I watched the video after the fact.

And one more of swirly, whirly, cloudy goodness. This one has so much going on! In the first few seconds, the backside of a thunderstorm is seen as it’s pulled out of frame, then the motion of the extremely unstable atmosphere becomes apparent. The winds change direction several times as cumulus fragments form and dissipate; changing quickly enough that any one patch of cloud goes through three bends in the “atmospheric river” before exiting the frame! About three-quarters of the way though, look for the new cumulus spires shooting up as they’re sucked out of view.

Normally, at the end of an article I wish my readers “Clear Skies”- but I think that in this case, I’ll wish you “Cloudy Days and Clear Nights”. Here’s to beautiful nebulae, no matter the hour or sky surface brightness! May you all have the opportunity to watch a cumulonimbus develop in the late afternoon, bloom with sharp-edge cauliflower spires beyond description, then shoot out an anvil to catch the fiery rays of sunset (and then promptly move in the direction away from any starparties).

Cloudy Days and Clear Nights,
Lauren Herrington
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