Omnious looking mammatus clouds over Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Omnious looking mammatus clouds engulfed the sky over Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 9, 2016.

But, in a way that’s so common in nature, their dangerous aspect goes hand in hand with a magnificent beauty.

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Mammatus clouds are an intriguing enigma of atmospheric fluid dynamics and cloud physics.

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Most commonly observed on the underside of cumulonimbus anvils, mammatus also occur on the underside of cirrus, cirrocumulus, altocumulus, altostratus, and stratocumulus.

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They also form in contrails from jet aircraft and pyrocumulus ash clouds from volcanic eruptions.

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Despite their aesthetic appearance, mammatus have been the subject of few quantitative research studies.

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Observations of mammatus have been obtained largely through serendipitous opportunities with a single observing system (e.g., aircraft penetrations, visual observations, lidar, radar) or tangential observations from field programs with other objectives.

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Theories describing mammatus remain untested, as adequate measurements for validation do not exist because of the small distance scales and short time scales of mammatus.

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Modeling studies of mammatus are virtually nonexistent. As a result, relatively little is known about the environment, formation mechanisms, properties, microphysics, and dynamics of mammatus.

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Proposed formation mechanisms are anvil subsidence, subcloud evaporation/sublimation, melting, hydrometeor fallout, cloud-base detrainment instability, radiative effects, gravity waves, Kelvin–Helmholtz instability, Rayleigh–Taylor instability, and Rayleigh–Bénard-like
convection.

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But in mammatus reasearch much still remains to be learned. Can these clouds be used as a window into the microphysical, turbulent, and dynamical processes occurring on the underside of clouds.

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