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'Morning glory' cloud phenomenon rolls into the Gulf of Carpentaria three months early

By Blythe Moore and Rob Mailer, Thursday May 21, 2015 - 19:58 EST
ABC image
Photographer Sarah Martin captured this image of the morning glory cloud at Sweers Island on Wednesday. - ABC

The meteorological phenomenon known as the 'morning glory' has appeared in Queensland's Gulf of Carpentaria three months earlier than usual.

The spectacular long rolling clouds are usually seen in the spring months in northern Australia, when the ocean temperature is generally cool but the land temperature is warm.

However several people on Sweers Island were treated to an early show this week.

Photographer Sarah Martin has worked on Sweers Island for the last three years and said she was stunned to see a morning glory cloud so early in the year.

"We were very surprised, we were speaking ... around the dinner table about how it was the right kind of weather for the morning glory but we said the only thing that was missing was the time of year," she said.

"We got up [on Wednesday morning] and there was a lot of dew on the ground which is always a good sign of the cloud coming but we weren't expecting to see anything until we looked over and there was a big band of white cloud on the horizon.

"All of our jaws just dropped to the floor and I said 'oh my god I can't believe it's May and there's a morning glory cloud coming'."

Ms Martin said before she moved to Sweers Island she had never heard of the morning glory phenomenon.

She said it is like "a big white sausage rolling towards you".

"It gets dark and wet and really, really windy as it passes over your head and then once it starts moving off behind you it's back to being a bright sunny still day again," she said.

"When it's passed you on the other side of the horizon the cloud looks completely different because the sun's usually behind it then so it's just a bright white cloud and it just rolls away off to the other horizon and it's gone again.

"You can't predict it at all, and a lot of people do come up here at the end of the year hoping to see it.

"Sometimes people have missed out by a day or two, but I guess it's being in the right place at the right time."

Riding the morning glory

Tex Battle, who has lived at Sweers Island for more than 30 years, said he was also surprised to see the morning glory so early in the year.

"It broke up before it actually crossed over us but it was clearly a morning glory — you could see the very clear outline of it," he said.

Mr Battle said he still remembers the first time he saw the phenomenon three decades ago.

"I was camped on Sweers Island at the time and I saw one and I didn't really know what it was," he said.

"I'd heard of them but I didn't really know what to expect.

"They are very impressive. I've actually glided on the front of them in a Cessna 210 and also in a Cessna 182, the lift is that strong that you can glide in a fixed-wing aircraft.

"I've been watching them for 30 years but I still go out there and look at them."

The morning glory will be back

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Michelle Berry said cool ocean temperatures combined with warm land temperatures are among the factors that help to bring about a morning glory.

Ms Berry said "sea breeze interaction" was also a factor.

"It is quite a unique feature for the Gulf and a very well-known feature for people living around the Gulf country," she said.

"It's still not that well understood, it is believed it is due to a sea breeze interaction and that is why it's quite unique to the Gulf of Carpentaria because of the coastal orientation there and a huge expanse of water just off the coast."

She said even though the cloud formation has appeared early this year, it will most likely still return at its regular time.

"It certainly doesn't mean that it won't occur later in the year, we might just see more of them," she said.

Each year many gliders and pilots head to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the spring months in the hope of riding the morning glory.

The town of Burketown also hosts the Morning Glory Festival each September to celebrate the magic of the cloud.


© ABC 2015

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