Grand Canyon National Park visitors at Mather Point were greeted with a rare total cloud inversion on Friday. Cloud inversions are formed through the interaction of warm and cold air masses. (Photo by Erin Whittaker/National Park Service)
A group of fortunate Grand Canyon visitors and employees were treated to a rare sight this weekend — twice. On Friday and Sunday, the park’s redrock cliffs could be seen rising out of a sea of fog that occupied the inner reaches of the Canyon. The sky above was blue at times, amplifying the effect. Photos posted to the park’s Facebook page quickly went viral on the web.
The phenomenon is called a total cloud inversion.
And the National Weather Service says it’s a textbook example of how the atmosphere behaves like a liquid. At night, the cold front of clouds falls into the lowest terrain around, the Grand Canyon. As the temperature warms through the day, the clouds push out east, up the Grand Staircase and across the Navajo Nation.
“We get areas of fog, but to have something this widespread and prolonged is pretty rare,” said Megan Schwitzer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bellemont. “It’s not something that happens every year or even every other year.”
But not everyone was happy at the South Rim. According to National Park Service Ranger Erin Whittaker, some visitors actually complained about the clouds. Others rushed to the rim when they heard about the inversion.
“Word spread like wildfire and most ran to the rim to photograph it. What a fantastic treat for all,” she said.
Whittaker said she had waited five years herself to spot the phenomenon. And it was just in the nick of time. Whittaker started her three-month annual furlough on Monday — the day that her photos for the Park Service appeared on worldwide media sites.