Mesmerizing wave-like clouds spotted over mountain in Virginia

Posted at 8:06 AM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 10:06:58-04

When Amy Hunter looked up at the overcast sky over Virginia’s picturesque Smith Mountain, what she saw looked like a surreal painting.

Rolling waves tumbled across the sky. The clouds mysteriously formed perfect crests, as if the sea had floated up to the atmosphere.

Hunter snapped a photo of the peculiar cloud formation and shared it in a Facebook group for pictures of Smith Mountain. Most group members said they had never seen such an incredible phenomenon before, but there was a reason the rare waves had formed in the clouds.

They’re Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, which usually form on windy days when there is a velocity difference across the interface between two fluids, such as wind blowing over water, according to

When there is a difference of air densities, and the upper air is moving at a higher speed, the clouds will whip up into wave-like shapes.

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The waves are named after Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz, who studied the physics behind this cloud formation. The presence of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves could mean there is an atmospheric instability, which could mean turbulence for aircraft.

These odd clouds have been stopping people in their tracks for centuries – they are even believed to have inspired Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” according to EarthSky.

Vincent Van Gogh’s phantasmagorical “The Starry Night” (1889). Many believe Kelvin-Helmholtz waves were the inspiration behind the swirling clouds. MUSEUM OF MODERN ART