(Wikimedia Commons)

No, These Strange Cloud Formations Are Not a Government Conspiracy, Says Atmospheric Scientist

author logo
15 AUGUST 2018

In a world where scientific facts are up for personal debate, it seems like every field of science has its own unique mob of conspiracy theorists just waiting to stir up doubt and controversy online.


Anyone who has heard of chemtrails or weather manipulation knows that atmospheric science and climatology are no exception to this rule.

In a recent Twitter thread, Canadian atmospheric scientist Katherine Hayhoe explains why strange cloud formations are not actually a secret government conspiracy. They're just beautiful structures that occur naturally within the laws of physics.

"Physicians have anti-vaxxers, astrophysicists have Planet Niribu, and atmospheric scientists? We have chemtrail conspiracy theorists whose argument basically boils down to, "I saw something funny in the sky and it is a secret government experiment, that's what youtube says."," Hayhoe tweeted.

A quick search on YouTube confirms what Hayhoe is talking about. There are dozens and dozens of videos about chemtrails and weather manipulation that are supposedly being used for world dominance or mass mind manipulation.

But as far-fetched as these theories are, they are also convincing a scary number of people. A Harvard study from last year found that about 10 percent of Americans believe chemtrails are "completely" true, and about 20 to 30 percent believe they are "somewhat" true, according to data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES).


When confronted with something that appears inexplicable and out of place, we all have a tendency to come up with our own explanation. But not all explanations are made equal.

Instead of debunking unscientific theories on cloud formation - an exhausting task that Hayhoe has already done - her Twitter thread is all about familiarity. In it, she shares some of her favorite cloud formations with her audience, along with a brief scientific explanation, in order to place the incredible phenomena firmly within reality.

Because even though some of these cloud formations are rare, most of them are also completely normal.

Among the cloud formations posted were Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, which are unusual wave-shaped clouds that are formed when two different streams of air are flowing alongside each other at different speeds.

Another was the bizarre Morning Glory stripes, a rare meteorological phenomenon seen in Australia, which are currently thought to occur because of a difference in air density as two sea breezes merge over a peninsula.


"Then there are all the optical phenomena, caused by light refracting through clouds and ice and water droplets and more: rainbows, sun dogs, halos, etc!" Hayhoe continues.

The photos picked for this segment are just incredible. They feature Cirrostratus clouds, which form a "halo" around the sun or moon from light passing through ice crystals, and sun dogs, which are glowing spots around the sun created by sunlight refracting off plate-shaped ice crystals in cirrus clouds.

And then, of course, there are the atmospheric phenomena that are not natural and are caused by humans.

"Of course humans are affecting what we see in the atmosphere, too," wrote Hayhoe.

"There's plain old boring air pollution, which is responsible for some spectacular smog as well as millions of deaths each year, 200k in the US alone."

Below the text is a shocking photograph of Kazakhstan, smothered in smog.

While it's true that these events are impacted by humans, it is not for the sake of some insidious government conspiracy. In fact, sometimes it's for the sake of scientific discovery - like the cool NASA clouds below.

"Then there are the legit scientific experiments, like the super-high elevation clouds that these NASA rockets generated to track winds in the upper atmosphere," tweeted Hayhoe.

Finishing off the thread, Hayhoe explains the truth behind geoengineering and tries to dispel much of the fear-mongering associated with this field. She does this by linking to several articles and videos that explain what these programs are truly trying to achieve.

If you want to know more about the incredible world of atmospheric science, you can follow Katherine Hayhoe on Twitter here.

Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.