Kelvin-Helmholtz Wave Clouds Over the Wasatch Mountains

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Wasatch Mountains and Kelvin Helmholtz cloudsWasatch Mountains and Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds – Nikon D300, f10, 1/400, ISO 400, +1.7 EV, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 65mm, natural light

On April 5th I was on Antelope Island State Park photographing birds and bison in variable lighting conditions plus there was a weather front coming in and the air aloft was unstable. People who live near mountains have a saying that goes “mountains make their own weather” and typically here in northern Utah that means that the clouds gather over the mountain tops and they did that day. While traveling to the south end of the island I noticed the beginnings of a wave cloud formation over the snow-capped Wasatch Mountain Range to the east.

Wave Cloud Formation over snow-capped Wasatch RangeWave Cloud Formation over snow-capped Wasatch Range – Nikon D300, f10, 1/320, ISO 400, +1.7 EV, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 112mm, natural light

When I reached the Garr Ranch area at the south end of the island I simply had to jump out and take images of the wave clouds or as they are also known, Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability Clouds.

About these clouds from

You’ll often see the characteristic wave structure in this type of cloud when two different layers of air in our atmosphere are moving at different speeds. The upper layers of air are moving at higher speeds and will often scoop the top of the cloud layer into these wave-like rolling structures.

The clouds often form on windy days, when there’s a difference in densities of the air, for example, during a temperature inversion. They’re often good indicators of atmospheric instability and the presence of turbulence for aircraft.

It’s widely believed that these waves in the sky inspired the swirls in van Gogh’s masterpiece Starry Night.

The clouds I saw on April 5th didn’t have as much of a pronounced wave top as the wave cloud formations I had seen on November 26th of 2015. That isn’t unusual because the clouds and conditions were different.

This particular wave cloud formation didn’t last long and a few minutes later when I stopped to photograph them again further north on the island the waves were breaking up and by the time I got half way to the north end of the island the cloud waves were completely gone.

When I am out photographing birds I always look for other animals, flowers, insects and I also keep an eye on the sky. Seeing the Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds over the Wasatch Mountains as viewed from the south end of Antelope Island State Park made my day.

I hope that one day I will be able to photograph these wave cloud formations at sunrise or sunset when the clouds are kissed with gorgeous colors. Until then…

Life is good.


P.S; There are plenty of clouds here this morning and a mixture of snow and rain may fall throughout the day. That is April along the Wasatch Front.


  1. Elephant's Child April 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    How absolutely beautiful. What a privilege to see.

  2. Patty Chadwick April 15, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    Sometimes when I’m painting a sky, I have to careful NOT to paint what I’m seeing, knowing that others would find the truth unbelievable and unsettlingly unreal!…

  3. Patty Chadwick April 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    I am a dedicated cloud watcher, but have never seen cloud formations Ike these except in this posting and your other one last year…They are AMAZING! I can only imagine your excitement the first time you saw them!!!!

  4. April Olson April 15, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Beautiful! The best part of living in Utah is it’s beauty and natural diversity.

  5. Larry Muench April 15, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Amazing! Glad you keep a wide perspective for interesting phenomenon in your travels. It’s great to see and learn about the things you post. Keep up the good work!

  6. Cindy April 15, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Love!! Glad you were there to photograph them Mia. Thank you for always sharing your gifts and knowledge.

  7. Bob mcpherson April 15, 2016 at 6:44 am

    Wonderful photos and commentary, Mia
    Love your blog.

Comments are closed.