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The Science Behind Spring's Stunning Clouds on Oregon Coast

Published 02/24/2012

The Science Behind Spring's Stunning Clouds on Oregon Coast

(Oregon Coast) – Sometime in late March, and then well into April, May and even chunks of June, spring can present the most stunning of cloud action along the coast. Much like Oregon's inland residents are used to, spring brings those squalls and then bouts of sun, switching back and forth as if Mother Nature suddenly lost her mind and can't decide on the day's weather pattern (above: a typical wild spring sunset at Cannon Beach).

On the Oregon coast, however, that is exaggerated, and squalls can intersperse with sunny breaks every half hour, and then at times you get everything in between.

Spring in Garibaldi

But photographically, these conditions present some awe-inspiring opportunities. That mix of dark, moisture-laden clouds ready to burst at any moment, when lit up through the breaks in the clouds, make for incredible photo moments.

This is all part of a little known secret regarding spring along the Oregon coast: sunsets at this time of year are probably the most spectacular. Exactly when this will happen on any given spring day on the coast is impossible to predict, but that mix of clouds, moisture and other factors make for some wild scenic surprises.

This may sound a bit kooky. After all, summer's sunsets are vivid and full of color – plus that's when you're most likely to encounter clear skies. Right?

Oceanside in some curious spring cloud and light effects

Sure. But spring probably has more striking effects.

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Because of that mix of fat, bulging clouds and sun, more dramatic skylines are going to happen. At sunset, these big clouds then create a lot of things for the sunset's rays to bounce off of, bending and twisting the last light of the day, but also painting them in stunning ways.

Steve Pierce, head of the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, said there is some real science behind this.

“These 'puffy' clouds are referred to as cumulus clouds and are typically associated with springtime heating and convection caused when the atmosphere destabilizes,” Pierce said. “Some of the most exciting weather is usually in the spring when the different layers of the atmosphere contain buoyancy. In simple terms, a wintertime layer of air is rather constant, lacking any lifting mechanism. In the springtime the air becomes more unstable, associated with daytime heating and how it interacts with the surface of the earth.”

Unusual cloud colors at Yachats in the spring

Indeed, winter sunsets are less dynamic and not full of as many different layers of colors. They tend to be more one dominant color. Summer as well, although pollution can create a lot of particulates that paint some unforgettable colors, however.

It's during spring when the dynamic changing weather creates these clouds, which in turn can create more vibrant and vivid sunsets.

“When the air is more unstable, it tends to bubble up and create these types of clouds,” Pierce said. “These types of clouds are most typical in the air mass just after a frontal passage.”

The cleaner air of spring seems to allow purer colors to fire up the sky as well. But Pierce said sunsets are also effected by yet another aspect of atmosphere, one that will scatter the rays of light and do some interesting things at any time of the year.

“There is also a greater amount of refraction near the horizon, due to the curve of the earth,” Pierce said.

Spring's squalls also increase the chance of seeing rainbows and even lightning storms. More interesting facts about spring on the Oregon coast - Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

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