It may have taken a few billion years, but one type of cloud is finally getting noticed.
Meteorologists and "cloudspotters" around the world are seeking to formally recognize the first new cloud variety discovered since 1951.
Like all cloud species, it's named using the Latin classification system. It's been dubbed "undulatus asperatus" -- aka "agitated waves" -- and looks like a surreal undulating blanket that covers part or all of the sky.
Keen cloudspotters have been taking photos of the cloud for the past few years, spurred on in part by a 2006 photo by Jane Wiggins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that went viral on the Internet, says Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the Cloud Appreciation Society, a group of 30,000 weather enthusiasts based in England.
So who can officially recognize the cloud? The folks at the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva have the final say in cloud classification. This includes such well-known species as cirrus, cumulus, stratus, etc. Luke Howard, an English pharmacist, first proposed the Latin naming system for clouds in the early 19th century.
"It will only become an official classification if it is included in the World Meteorological Organization's reference book, the International Cloud Atlas," Pretor-Pinney says.
The WMO still moves at a rather slow pace, and a new book may still be a few years away. "The last time they did a new edition of the book was in 1975," he says. The atlas has not been put online.
Pretor-Pinney says that Graeme Anderson, a meteorology student at Reading University in the U.K., recently did his doctoral dissertation on what causes undulatus asperatus to form.
Anderson found that asperatus are similar to mammatus clouds, but that winds up at the cloud level cause it to be sheared into wavelike forms. Anderson's conclusion was that there was a case for this being accepted as a new classification -- one that is called a cloud "supplementary" feature.
Doyle Rice, USA Today