Clouds are the essence of balance. They are created from the heating of air and the condensing of water vapor in the air as it rises. As air rises it cools, decreasing the water vapor it can hold. As air descends, it warms and evaporates. Up and down go the countless billions tiny water droplets and ice crystals that make up clouds. Forming and deforming. The chemical process of changing moisture from a gas to liquid is a poetry of motion.
Seething Clouds on Turnagain Arm/h2>
Nowhere is this more spectacular than within mountain ranges. Air blowing over a mountain is forced upward and can develop swaths of clouds quickly, especially where air masses collide. Different air swarming in a valley masses can’t coalesce unless they share similarities in temperature and moisture content. Live Science tells us that “if a cold, dry air mass pushes into an air mass that is warm and moist, the warmer air is forced upward, rapidly producing clouds that bubble up, perhaps ultimately leading to lightning, thunder and showery-type rains. If the cold air retreats, warm air pushing over it can bring a much slower process of lowering and thickening clouds and finally light precipitation in the form of light rain, mist or drizzle.”
In the case of Turnagain Arm just southeast of Anchorage we often see air masses of warm, moist winter air off the ocean meeting the Chugach mountains where it cools, and creates some of the fiercest and fastest cloud formations in Alaska. Formations that, due to their microscopic crystalline composition of billions of tiny water droplets, are reflective as glass beads, scattering sunlight, and most often producing a white color. However they often take on the characteristics of the sun as well, making sheaths of clouds appear pink, orange, yellow, blue and so on.
The road to Kenai is a beautiful yet dangerous scenic byway. You never know what you may run into: a moose, a cloud or even a glacier (or all three). Enjoy the ride.