Thursday, October 23, 2014


Graffiti Sunrise, Wrightsville Beach, NC

It’s always a magical experience to be present for a morning’s sunrise and seeing that sunrise over the ocean simply adds to the experience. The ideal condition for me is to have a scattering of low level clouds on the eastern horizon to refract the long rays of the morning sunbeams.

This morning’s sunrise began like many others with one major exception. As I stood on the edge of the beach, my eye caught the beginning contrail of a jet plane sweeping directly over my sunrise canvas. The atmospheric conditions must have been just perfect to diffuse the vaporous exhaust into perfectly drawn graffiti lines expanding across my line of sight. And unlike the previous windy morning where I saw no contrails, the winds were perfectly still on this new chilly day.

I’ve since learned that a condensation trail will form behind a jet as the exhaust gases cool and mix with the surrounding air if the humidity is high and the temperature is below minus forty degrees Fahrenheit. Under those conditions, water vapor from the jet’s engines and the atmosphere condenses into water droplets which then freeze into snowy particles that morph into a contrail. If the air is supersaturated, the ice particles remain for a much longer time before returning to water vapor and will actually feed off the surrounding water vapor to emulate those high flying wispy cirrus clouds. That was the phenomenon I was observing.

My initial reaction was disappointment in having such a perfect sunrise defaced right in front of my eyes. Then as more morning redeyes ascended into the heavens, a rather extraordinary image began to form with half a dozen brush strokes painted across the skies. Although every sunrise is a unique creation, this one developed into an image that I had never witnessed before this day. The origin of the wispy linear lines may have been man-made, but the final canvas was truly God breathed.

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