What the Commuter Saw : 21st and 27th June 2016

This is the Chinese Year of the Monkey, which apparently brings turmoil and change to everyone. Given the political events, and the nature of the weather, since the start of the year I am forced to consider that there may be something in this… The last week alone has seen the shock Brexit vote, flash floods (during which James Knowles commuted past a flood-stranded London bus on a lilo), David Cameron’s resignation and even talk of a snap General Election. The sky has mirrored this chaos by flipping wildly from fair-weather cumulus to threatening banks of cirrostratus to huge cumulonimbus calvus and back again, all seemingly within half an hour of each other. It has, however, made for some fabulous sunsets (see, for example, earlier posts) and some interesting cloudscapes while journeying between Colchester and Stratford London courtesy of Abellio Greater Anglia.
 
On the 21st June there was not much to photograph on the journey into London because it was largely clear blue skies with few clouds, although a distant band of fair-weather cumulus added some interest to the fields just west of Witham:
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The cumulus had built up somewhat by the return journey, and was catching the pink of the sun as it slid down towards the north-western horizon, giving some fine views towards Billericay and Galleywood:
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By the time we were leaving Chelmsford the sky was taking on a wilder look, dominated by high banks of cirrus and cirrostratus forming a great cauldron over New Hall School, the Hanson Aggregates tower, and the fields just west of Witham:
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By Marks Tey, however, the cauldron had turned into a rippling lake of milk made up of cirrocumulus stratiformis and floccus:
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There then followed several more days of rain and sun, and momentous political upheavals, but the morning of 27th June brought banks of cumulus humilis in what looked like a day of calms and summer sunshine:
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Incredibly, given the strength of the rain that we have had recently, the wheat in the fields between the ‘White House’ and the railway line shows no sign of having been flattened by the rain, and is growing vigorously:
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Larger banks of cumulus over the fields west of Witham threatened to begin building up into rain-bearing cumulonimbus calvus:
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…but over the Hanson Aggregates tower and New Hall School to the east of Chelmsford these faded back into a cross between cumulus humilis and altocumulus stratiformis – an interesting combination which could subsequently develop in a variety of ways:
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Walking from Galleon’s Reach DLR Station to the UEL Docklands Campus, it was good to see the full range of wildflower meadow species at last in flower. The mallows in particular are now out, adding their pinks to the purples of the common knapweed, the yellow of the bird’s-foot trefoil and the white of the ox-eye daisies. The musk mallow (Malva moschata) is pale, and attracts moths at night:
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…while the common mallow (Malva sylvestris) is a darker pink/purple with dramatic guidelines directing nectar-feeders to the nectaries:
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Later, waiting on Platform 10 at Stratford Station, I realised that we had a mini-rainbow (actually a ‘circumzenithal arc’) directly above us in the high cirriform ice crystals. In his wonderful ‘The Cloudspotter’s Guide’, Gavin Pretor-Pinney calls this ‘the cloud smile’ and (as Richard Hamblyn in ‘The Cloud Book’ notes) it means that the sun must have already sunk to within 32 degrees of the horizon:
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These high ice crystals coalesced rapidly during the journey, and by Chelmsford were creating a wild cirrostratus fibratus sky which steadily thickened towards Colchester. Rain is on the way – and indeed although today began bright enough, by mid-afternoon we have had yet more heavy showers:
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Still at least the rain is now warm… so summer must finally have arrived – which explains why wife and daughter each bought a pair of wellingtons at the weekend…
 

Author: Richard Lindsay

Having worked for 20 years in the UK statutory nature conservation agencies as Peatland Specialist in the Chief Scientist Team, I then moved to the University of East London where I ran the nature conservation degrees for several years. Now I mainly undertake research and support peatland conservation activities, including the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, within UEL's Sustainability Research Institute. I also paint.

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