Mammatus clouds are ominous and beautiful

Cloud bank overhead with orange bubbles and darker blue behind.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Lina Tomlin in Texarkana, Texas, caught these mammatus clouds on April 29, 2024. Lina wrote: “Stepped outside and my jaw dropped. I loved watching this massive storm cell roll by. I saw more ‘bubble’ clouds appear, and as the sun went down they lit up. I’ve never been this close to clouds like that. Thrilling!” Thank you, Lina!

Mammatus clouds: Ominous and beautiful

Mammatus clouds are pouch-like protrusions hanging from the undersides of clouds. You’ll usually find them under thunderstorm anvil clouds. But you might see them under other types of clouds as well. They’re composed primarily of ices, and groups of them can extend hundreds of miles in any direction. But they’re fleeting, remaining visible in your local sky for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

People associate these cloud pouches with severe weather. And it’s true; they typically appear around, before or after a storm.

In fact, most clouds are formed by rising air. But mammatus clouds are interesting in part because they’re formed by sinking air.

They appear ominous. And they do signify storms. But, in a way that’s so common in nature, their dangerous aspect goes hand-in-hand with a magnificent beauty.

Beautiful, bubbling clouds from 2023

Apartment-like buildings in foreground with clouds with many roundish downward protrusions.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Filipp Romanov in Yuzhno-Morskoy, Russia, captured these mammatus clouds on June 4, 2023. Thank you, Filipp!
Pine trees below with bubbling mammatus clouds above.
EarthSky’s Kelly Kizer Whitt shared this photo of mammatus clouds from Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park on May 30, 2023.

Mammatus clouds from 2022

Bulbous clouds as seen from below, partly sunlit yellow.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Peg Yates in Woodbridge, Virginia, took this image on August 22, 2022. Peg wrote: “Mammatus clouds in the western sky when the sun was setting.” Thank you, Peg!
Mammatus clouds: Low-hanging clouds with large rounded bumps hanging down.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Michael Geib caught these mammatus clouds from Akron, Ohio, on July 20, 2022. Thank you, Michael!
Spreading sheet of white clouds with bumpy spots on underside low and far away, train in foreground.
Mammatus clouds from Kelly Kizer Whitt at the Amtrak station in Whitefish, Montana, on July 7, 2022. See the mammatus clouds on the far underside of the storm? Image via Kelly Kizer Whitt.

Mammatus clouds from 2021

Large, menacing gray clouds with many downward bulges
Steve Schultz in Ashville, North Carolina, sent this photograph of mammatus clouds on June 20, 2021. Thank you, Steve!

Images from 2020

Young woman in long white dress on white horse under sky with many small, sunlit downward bulges from a dark cloud.
View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | Christy Turner caught this photo of graduate Cheyann on June 13, 2020, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Christy wrote: “Incredible mammatus clouds and a rainbow help complete a graduation photo shoot. Since Cheyann didn’t get a proper occasion to wear her beautiful graduation gown, we scheduled a photo shoot at her grandparent’s farm. What we didn’t count on was nature delivering up an incredible backdrop post-storm.” Thanks, Christy!
Rows on rows of downward bulging clouds extending nearly to the horizon.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Marlane Burns captured this image on May 15, 2020, near Robert Lee, Texas. She said: “Mammatus clouds preceding a northern thunderstorm that came out of nowhere! The wind blew the flies away and the rain settled the dust!”
Three images of gray clouds with many downward bulges.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Adelina Bathorja in Tirane, Albania, captured these clouds on May 14, 2020. Adelina wrote: “For the first time ever I saw mammatus clouds. Just, wow! It was a spectacular view of cellular and jellyfish patterns.”
Four images of clouds with multiple rounded downward bulges in orange dawn light.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Peter Lowenstein captured these spectacular mammatus clouds in Mutare, Zimbabwe, on March 23, 2020. He wrote: “I took an early morning walk in the hope of catching a glimpse of the old moon rising. Instead there was a surprise appearance of mammatus clouds on the underside of a sunrise-illuminated band of altostratus cloud above.”

Bottom line: Mammatus clouds look like bubbling, low-hanging clouds. They’re often associated with thunderstorms. Learn more about them here and see photos.

May 3, 2024

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Deborah Byrd

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