Wave-like clouds roll over Virginia skies in breathtaking viral photo

Come sail away in the skies with this rare cloud formation.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
2 min read

Waves, or clouds? Both!

Amy Christie Hunter

Let's look at clouds from both sides now. Amy Hunter snapped a remarkable photo of some unusual clouds over Smith Mountain near the town of Moneta,  Virginia , and posted it on Facebook late Tuesday. 

"When I saw the clouds rolling over the mountain, I grabbed my phone as quickly as I could to capture the moment," Hunter told me. "It only lasted a few seconds or so, it was literally like a wave crashing."

Hunter shared the picture on a Facebook Smith Mountain Lake picture group, and the image started making waves of its own. In a good way.  

"A local meteorologist saw it and asked if he could share it on the news," she said. "The next thing I know, all the major news outlets are asking my permission to use the photo."

The meteorologist told Hunter the clouds are called "tsunami clouds," but the more formal name for the wave-like clouds is "Kelvin-Helmholtz waves," CNET parent site CBS News reports. They usually form on windy days. 

"I knew it was an unusual cloud formation but I had no idea it is so rare," Hunter said. "I was very happy to share it with the world because it is such a phenomenon."

Hunter isn't a professional photographer, but enjoys taking pictures of nature and landscapes as a hobby, noting that she shares them on her Instagram page.

There's also an artsy accent to the cloud formation. According to EarthSky.org, this kind of cloud formation may have inspired Vincent van Gogh's famed painting The Starry Night, the iconic blue and yellow painting showing the swirling sky as the artist saw it from his asylum room in 1889. 

Originally published June 19, 2:13 p.m. PT. 
Update, 2:52 p.m. PT: Adds more comments from Hunter.