Thursday, September 12, 2013

Silver Lining

Cumulus clouds are an inescapable fact of life for a glider pilot in this humid part of the world, and many of us have a love/hate relationship with them. We love it when they are sparse and high above us, marking lift. We hate it when they are thick and low, or blocking thermal formation, or when they are dangerously overdeveloped. But sometimes even low clouds can have silver linings. The clouds yesterday were quite low, though sparse enough that we could safely enjoy flights along the coastal foothills. But low as they were, the lack of our customary inversion yesterday allowed many of them to grow into immense and towering structures, bubbling high into the atmosphere and often bursting through the next layer of stratus clouds.

I feasted on those magical views for an early three hours before I had to run off and pick up the kids from school, putting in 18 miles on a course I once dubbed the Superchronic, a zigzag circuit from Kahana to Kualoa to Punaluu to Waiahole. I was joined for part of that trip by JK, and as I was driving away later I saw Joey and Ike and Maui Doug following suit. Thom kindly offered to pick me up if I flew his way while he was driving out to join us. He suggested Hygienics, but I didn't think I had time to get that kind of height, so I settled for MDKS, which put me a couple miles short of a nice round 20 miles! Next time I'll leave myself a bit more time!

But the miles weren't really the point of yesterday's flight. It was definitely the visuals! Those clouds put on a show I won't soon forget. Often when clouds are developing like that it's not even safe to be in the air, but fortunately yesterday's atmosphere wasn't quite that dynamic, and the biggest clouds stayed mostly inland. I could see clouds growing and shooting up into the stratus layer with pileus caps visible in almost all directions. I took a bunch of photos but they don't really do those clouds justice - I would need some serious sensors, lenses and filters for that.

As I was leaving, the late shift was just arriving: Rich, McStalker, Woody, Allegra, Sharky and Thom. But I was sad to hear later that the airflow turned too light and north for the late shift to get up. The forecast had suggested that trades would be waning but none of us expected it to start that early.

Thanks again to Thom for the retrieve and the cold refreshment. That last desperate charge across Kaneohe Bay really made my flight!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful pix Alex! Any chance for you to break through the inversion? (Other than a dangerous and illegal elevator ride.). That would seem to be another major achievement to seek in our bounded airspace.

Alex said...

Thanks Sandy. As I mentioned in the story, there was no inversion on this day, just as the forecast and soundings had predicted. That's why the clouds were free to grow so tall! But on a day when we have out usual inversion in place, my impression is that it's a pretty hard inversion, and not much of anything is getting through. I'm sure one day someone will prove me wrong - looks good, you go first! Or probably Doug did it all the time when he was here...