Strange and beautiful cloud pattern

Nature never ceases to surprise us. Dennis Mersereau published this photo that was supposedly taken in the skies over Tunisia. It had been circulated widely in social media and Mersereau was rightly skeptical of photographs that go viral because they are often doctored.

cloud pattern

But in this case, he found a video of that cloud formation that seems to support the photo. Of course, with CGI techniques becoming more freely available, there is the possibility that even the video is also doctored but it seems unlikely that someone would have gone to all that trouble.


  1. lorn says

    I suspect that what you are seeing there is the contrail of a circling aircraft as it slowly descends through a light but steady wind. It looks to me like the contrail looks very tight and dense for the track nearest the ground but as it spirals up it looses density and starts to break up as the wind blows it away from the camera.

    Although I’ve never seen them quite so well defined and so neatly unstacked by the wind, not to mention the excellent lighting, I have seen stacked spiral contrails before.

  2. DonDueed says

    I agree with lorn. I don’t know of any natural atmospheric process that could produce that pattern, but a contrail from an aircraft in a descending spiral could account for it.

    Perhaps the plane was placed in a holding pattern by the local traffic controllers before being allowed to land.

    In any case, whatever the explanation, it’s beautiful.

  3. says

    I’m not sure about the contrail story. The spiral thing looks way too thick to be a jet trail, and it looks too closely connected to the surrounding clouds. Also, it’s highly improbable that a wind would move a contrail without breaking it up or distorting it. (Also, is there an airport near there?)

    This is the kind of weather pattern that whole new religions are based on. The only question left in my mind is, what specific message will the people (or at least one loony cult leader) read into it? If it’s in Tunisia, maybe it’s God saying the new democratic regime is okay…or maybe God is trying to tell the people (in his usual roundabout way) that they’re going around in circles…

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