What’s the story with Australia’s ‘morning glory’ clouds?

9 Oct 2014

Morning Glory cloud formation captured from a plane near Burketown, Queensland, Australia. Image via Mick Petroff/Wikimedia Commons

Queensland, Australia, is expecting to see Morning Glory cloud formations in the sky this weekend, but what is this meteorological phenomenon and how does it occur?

Morning Glory clouds are incredibly long, cigar-shaped, low-lying cloud formations that can stretch up to 2km high.

Though this rare meteorological event can happen in various locations around the world, the formations are remarkably reliable and predictable above the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia.

In fact, the isolated town of Burketown in northwestern Queensland is so confident of the Morning Glory’s occurrence that the Burke Shire Council plays host to a Morning Glory Festival.

Gulf of Carpentaria map
Image via NormanEinstein/Wikimedia Commons

Australian weather presenter Garry Youngberry has predicted a Morning Glory occurrence for this region, which will attract tourists and hang-gliders. For the latter, the Morning Glory provides ideal conditions for non-motorised hang-gliders to surf thermals like waves.

How do Morning Glory clouds form?

Morning Glory cloud formations occur when a series of low-level atmospheric solitary waves form bands of roll clouds that can be up to 1,000km long and 1km to 2km high. They are often formed just 100m to 200m off the ground, creating a stunning vista whether on the ground or in the air.

These clouds can travel at a pace of 10m to 20m per second, with cloud continuously forming at the front and dissipating at the rear.

In front of a Morning Glory roll cloud, strong vertical motion transports air upwards, creating the rolling appearance.

While the exact cause of the Morning Glory cloud is not known, locals have noticed they tend to follow a period of high humidity with strong sea breezes the day before.

Morning Glory cloud

Image via Ulliver/Wikimedia Commons

Morning Glory cloud

Image via Kent Wien/Flickr

Don’t miss our Innovation Ireland Forum on 24 October in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.