Located southeast of Seattle, Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano in the Cascade Range and the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States. Its summit is at an elevation of 4,392 meters and it has a topographic prominence of 4,027 meters. Because of this, many people from the Pacific Northwest are treated to the spectacular beauty of this snow-capped peak which dominates the landscape. But if you are really lucky, your view of Mount Ranier could be enhanced in some very unusual ways.
|A cloud shadow being cast from Mount Rainier. Photo by Nick Lippert.|
Another strange yet beautiful cloud phenomenon that you can see near Mount Ranier is lenticular clouds. These are lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitude. Because of their smooth, saucer-like shape, lenticular clouds have been mistaken for UFOs. Lenticular clouds are formed when moist air travels vertically over the mountain and creates a standing wave pattern on the downwind side. Moisture condenses at the crest of the wave and evaporates at the wave trough, creating the characteristics lens shape. Even though the wind continues to move down the mountain, the lenticular cloud will remain stationary. Lenticular clouds can appear singly, or in clusters or stacks. Pilots will avoid lenticular clouds because of the dangerous wind shears that accompany them, but thrill-seeking hang gliders will use them to ride the wave for several kilometers.
|A stacked lenticular cloud formation near Mount Ranier.|