Plane Spotting

This post will be a bit different from my usual writing, but it represents the prevailing nerd in me and my ardent interest in three things: science of all kinds, the mystique of nature, and great, powerful machines. In addition, I’m posting photos but I am not professing myself to be a photographer. I just want to share what I experienced….

On Friday, much of Ontario and Quebec received some very active weather. There were tornado warnings, extreme thunderstorm alerts, fallen trees, power outages and floods. My husband and son and I were visiting family in Toronto and were at my dad’s house Friday afternoon and evening. We spent a few hours in the sun; it was a hot, humid and windy day. To me, the quality and scent of the wind declared that some active weather was developing. About five minutes before my dad went out to barbeque, black clouds began to rush in as quickly as I’ve ever seen, and huge drops of rain began to fall sporadically from the sky. Only a couple of minutes passed and we were observing a tremendous downpour as part of a powerful thunderstorm. My family found me on the covered front porch, intently observing the storm as I love to do when opportunity permits. I was fortunate enough to be literally shaken when the storm was so close, the interval between lightning bolt and thunder was a mere second or less, and it felt as if the earth might divide beneath me. (If interested, I wrote a poem about this storm and posted a photo of the ensuing rainbow here). Once the rain slowed, we left my father’s house en route to my mother’s.

Years ago, when I was living in the Toronto area, I discovered a location where airplanes can be observed landing at Pearson International Airport. Here, you can literally sit in your car or stand in the parking lot and airplanes fly so close overhead that you can hypothetically hit them with a pinecone. It is an incredible rush to watch the approach of a jumbo jet. We made a pit stop there on Friday. Unfortunately there were no jumbo jets landing on this runway at that time but it was an exciting experience nonetheless, despite relatively small aircraft. The best I can do to describe it is as follows:

I positioned myself directly under the flight path. Far in the distance I perceived the glimmer of a plane’s headlights. Soon my heart began to pound as it drew closer. With its final approach I held my breath, hoping the pilot and onboard computers were going to successfully guide the plane to the runway. Blood pumping through my arteries, I had to employ great self-control not to flee my position.

The sound of jet engines from such proximity is astonishing. In addition to the adrenaline rush I always experience, the passing of a jetliner so close overhead creates in me a deep appreciation of how incredible and powerful they are. If you’re lucky enough to be present on the rare occasion of the arrival of an Airbus A380 or even a 747, it almost becomes an extreme sport!

After the storm had disappeared, the weather in Toronto became quite calm, but we were left with very interesting cloud formations. As you can see in the photographs accompanying this post, they resemble cotton balls. These types of clouds are termed mammatus (they look like breasts, I guess). They are indicative of severe weather like thunderstorms and even tornadoes, but often appear subsequent to such extreme weather rather than beforehand. Mammatus clouds are formed when up-currents carry highly saturated moist air into previously formed clouds. As the air spreads horizontally through the cloud, the ice or water droplets that are heavier fall to the bottom and essentially sag beneath the original cloud.

The particular formations in the photographs are quite minor compared to some of the wonderful mammatus formations you can search out online, but they are cool nonetheless. Really incredible ones form on the bottom of anvil clouds; large cumulonimbus formations which usually occur after thunderstorms. Observed around 8pm, the beautiful cloud configurations here, lit by the setting sun, were a magnificent sight. Combined with the rush of landing jets overhead, this proved to be a very enjoyable pit stop.

For those photography buffs, these shots were taken with a Cannon EOS Rebel T3i and specific info is contained within the gallery, for each shot. Again, I am not a photographer!