Sunrise and virga.

2009-05-23 17:07:37.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

Ooh, piece of (eye) candy.

There are times when writing a comment takes a bit of thought especially during days there really isn’t anything that I find interesting to write about. Being the night observer, my world usually consists of darkness and fog and one can only write about darkness and fog so many times before it begins to all sound the same. So, I look at the notepad of ideas I have in my email account and try hopefully to find something that inspires me to construct something of interest to not only me the writer but you the reader. But, this is not the case today. Since summer is coming up, that means longer days caused by the sun rising and setting within my shift. And this morning’s sunrise was one that allowed me to find something comment worthy.

Yesterday, a pair of cold fronts swept through from the north which unexpectedly put us in the fog during the day which was disappointing because it blew my forecast. But these things happen and I hoped that things would clear for the overnight hours so my forecast wasn’t a total wash. As the front became stationary to our south near Long Island, an area of Canadian high pressure built in from the north. This brought drier air in which allowed for clearing to the north while the south continued to remain mostly cloudy. Our vista expanded from a mere 1/16 of a mile to 130 miles in the matter of an hour as we cleared. Winds also died down as sunrise approached as the high crested in which would mean taking a picture would be easy and comfortable. As I looked at satellite images during the early morning hours, I saw that the cloud shield above us didn’t extend too far east which meant we were going to have a clear sunrise with a lot of color.

So, a half hour before sunrise, I woke our first Edutrip group of the season, a group from Harvard, and ran back upstairs. I quickly did the hourly weather observation then grabbed my camera for the 0404 EST sunrise. I proceeded to snap a bunch of photos capturing sunrise as it came up. I have discussed that I rate all my sunrises and sunsets and this was a solid 8 out of 10 in my book. While shooting, I thought a time-lapse movie of the sunrise would be cool for our Obscast (our weekly video blog) or at the very least, a cool youtube video. So I set up my camera for the time-lapse and set the camera down to start shooting. While it was doing its thing, I started to look around because at times, the more interesting vistas with sunrise occur on the horizons opposite of sunrise. And this was certainly the case this morning.

As I explained earlier, we had a front stalled to our south. This front was causing a few convective showers to sprout to our south but because of the high to our north, that was dry air in place at the surface. As a result, this was causing the showers to evaporate as they fell creating what is called virga. These alone are neat to watch because they create these partial veils underneath clouds that give a ghostly wispy look to the clouds they are falling from. As I sat their watching them, I could see a hint of color which kept getting brighter and was expanding to the entire row of virga showers from southeast to southwest. So after only about a minute of time-lapse (this quick video can be seen below), I stopped my video and started to shoot these streaks instead. Sunrises are a dime-a-dozen but colored virga streaks, well this is only one of a handful I have seen up here.

I was at first snapping from the top of the parapet where I went to capture sunrise. Although this was a great place for sunrise as there was nothing inhibiting my view, for the virga streaks, there was all sorts of clutter in my way. I sat there debating what to do; I could go to the south and position myself for a better picture but run the risk of missing them completely as the sun continued to rise or remain where I am and have the clutter in my pics. In a snap decision, I quickly descended the stairs then ran to the south. I ran past our guests and must have looked like a dog chasing a squirrel as all I could muster was “Virga!”

I arrived at the southern perch of the summit at 6247 feet and started to snap pictures of the virga as our guests eventually met up with me and started to shoot as well. I pointed out to our guests that Mt. Washington’s shadow was also being cast onto the virga (in this picture, it is the tall, triangle shaped, “false summit” just slightly left of center). The colors grew and then, just as suddenly as the color had graced them; it dissipated as the sun rose ever higher and eventually got blocked by the clouds in the distant horizon. It was awe inspiring to think that we were maybe only a handful of people to have seen this view this morning. A scene that will last me a lifetime in the span of 30 minutes.


Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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