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An interesting tidbit for aviation enthusiasts is the way in which pilots of powered aircraft use lenticular clouds – namely, not at all! Aviators actively avoid straying too close to lenticular clouds because of the extreme turbulence the clouds can bring with their strong upward and downwards moving winds. Better safe than sorry (or airsick)!

Aladdin’s lamp, anyone? There actually are three different types of lenticular clouds, each named according to the level of the atmosphere at which they arise: stratocumulus standing lenticularis (SCSL) occur at lower altitudes, altocumulus standing lenticularis (ACSL) at mid-level altitudes, and cirrocumulus standing lenticular (CCSL) clouds at higher levels of the atmosphere.

Starship Enterprise on fire? Nope! Lenticular cloud near Pahala, Hawaii at dusk. From what we’ve learned, it seems like lenticular clouds are more or less at a loss without mountain ranges. So it’s probably safe to assume that if one witnesses one of these stunning cloud formations over flat terrain, the lenticular clouds will have traveled some distance from the mountainous region where they developed.

Southern California's Colorado Desert. It looks like the Mother Ship is preparing to land. Lenticular Clouds (Lennies) often look like UFO's hovering over the mountains where they form.

These are beautiful lenticular clouds over Mount Hotaka in Japan. The mountain barrier obstructs the upward-streaming winds, and this in turn produces a ‘gravity wave’ (also known as a standing wave) downwind from the mountain. Altocumulus standing lenticularis clouds will form when there is enough moisture in the air above the summit. This is the reason why lenticular clouds are often photographed enshrouding mountaintops .

Like a lid on a pot: Lenticular cloud caps this mountain in Oregon. But how do lenticular clouds like those of the altocumulus variety form? Well, it’s all about the wind – the direction in which it is blowing and what lies in its path. Basically, comparatively stable, fast-moving air is pushed upwards upon meeting a topographic barrier (like a mountain) that is positioned perpendicular to the movement of the upper-level winds.

Lenticular cloud. Usually found on the leeward side of a mountain range. They contain winds of 50kt. Or more, and appear stationary as the wind blows through them.

Awesome. Where is this?!?!

Lenticular clouds are formed downstream of mountain ranges. The air is pushed up over the mountain and when it comes back down it will go too far down. This causes the air to be negatively buoyant, which makes it go back up. The air will continue this cycle until it reaches an equilibrium.