November 9, 2015
Cape Town Confused By Mysterious UFO-Shaped Lenticular Clouds

Cape Town residents feared they were being invaded by visitors from another planet yesterday, after UFO-shaped clouds hovered in Cape Town skies. Many residents saw the clouds and posted photos to social media.

Though Cape Town residents were baffled by the cloud sightings, scientists have already begun posting explanations of how such clouds form. They said the clouds are a product of a strange combination of atmospheric phenomena.

Scientists tell people these are lenticular clouds. National Geographic reports that lenticular clouds occur when "Strong, moist winds blow over rough terrain, such as mountains or valleys." The report says Cape Town is ripe with features to give birth to the bizarre cloud phenomenon, one feature being Cape Town's wondrous Table Mountain, one of South Africa's most famous landmarks. Table Mountain stands at 3,500 feet and is a national park rich in flora and fauna.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam explained the cloud phenomenon to his Facebook followers.

"Have you seen the alien space craft hovering over the mother city today? Fear not! You are NOT about to be abducted. These are fairly common clouds known as stratocumulus standing lenticularis (or commonly known as Lenticular Clouds). They form when conditions are just right. Air flows along the surface of the earth and reaches some sort of obstruction like a mountain or valley. Probably in this case, Table Mountain, Signal Hill or even the Overberg Mountains upstream from Cape Town. The obstruction diverts the flow of the moving air which creates wind 'eddies.' When this disrupted air flow has stable moist air within it, a series of large-scale standing waves can develop on the downwind side. Eventually the temperature at the peak of the wave drops to the dew point allowing for condensation and eventually your star-ship enterprise forms (i.e.-lenticular clouds) Once the moist air flows back down into the back side of the wave, the cloud will evaporate and disappear."
"Lenticular" refers to the round, curved shape of a lens, which these cloud masses resemble. When winds blow over large, prominent features of Cape Town's natural landscape, it can condense as it cools into the type of floating tornadoes seen in these photos.Other reported UFO sightings have been explained by the appearance of such clouds. In addition to lenticular clouds, hole-punch clouds are also often seen as alien invaders. Hole-punch clouds look like a circular hole has ruptured a cloud, with particles of cloud displaced by a huge, heavenly hole puncher. Scientists have explained these types of clouds as snowstorms that never reach earth, occurring only at a limited layer of the atmosphere, as if suspended in air. Some are also explained as the result of an airplane passing over an area of clouds in a certain atmospheric state.The UFO clouds come just after a sighting on Saturday night in California. Locals saw a number of flashing lights in the sky, flying up the southern California coastline, and feared it was alien spacecraft. The U.S. Navy explained after the fact that they were conducting a test on a missile. It seems strange that they would send a missile streaking through the night sky, knowing the fears it might cause, but the Navy told The San Diego Union-Tribune that it was a scheduled test flight of the Trident II missile.

The mysterious sighting could be viewed as far away as Arizona and Nevada. The Navy launched the missile off the coast of Los Angeles from a submarine. The missile launch was followed by flight restriction at Los Angeles International Airport. It is not clear if this is connected with the missile test or other Navy activities. The Navy also has a policy of not announcing such tests ahead of time.

So have no fear, Cape Town still stands. And there has been no sign of extraterrestrials on Table Mountain.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]