Riding the waves of the sky

Pilots flock to the remote northern reaches of Australia to brave one of nature's wonders.

by

    The mysterious Morning Glory appears over the Gulf of Carpentaria every year in September and October [Nasa]

    Late winter and early spring is the time of year when pilots of gliders and ultralight aircraft descend on the remote and sleepy town of Burketown, Queensland. What these enthusiasts are here for is to ‘ride’ the rare Morning Glory cloud that is particular to this spot on earth.

    The Morning Glory clouds are another name that meteorologists use for roll clouds. These cloud types have the unique characteristic of rolling on a horizontal axis and completely detached from other cloud features.

    What make these clouds special over northern Australia is that they can be reliably predicted to occur every year in September and October.

    So the question is, why have pilots been coming all this way for the past decade for these clouds? It’s almost the same reason a surfer would go to the world’s best beaches to catch a great wave. Glider and ultralight pilots consider it the ultimate gliding experience. The Morning Glory clouds provide strong lift which allow the small aircrafts to stay in the sky for hours.

    Some pilots have experienced the ultimate rush of reaching heights of 2200km from a 1100km wave cloud, and speeds of 250kph. What these enthusiasts like the most is the dependability of the lift at the front of the cloud making for perfect conditions to perform the most adventurous gliding maneuvers.

    There are also many dangers associated with these clouds. If a pilot falls behind it, then he could get caught in the turbulence and be pushed to the ground

    While less predictable types of these clouds can be seen in other parts of the world, it is the unique way that the sea breezes develop at this type of year over the Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf of Carpentaria that triggers this natural wonder.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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