Summer 2021: Ten Weeks of North Alabama Cloud Magic

I have enjoyed a lifelong fascination with weather that has only deepened with retirement, when now I can devote more time to wandering about with eyes to the sky. My weather and cloud addiction began at the dawn of my recollection. Five years ago, I wrote in Nature Based Leadership, my first book, of a vivid sky-memory I still carry from 67 years ago when from my high chair perch I saw something astounding:

I have a vague recollection (from sixty years ago) of sitting in my high chair, watching the sliver of sky that I could see through the kitchen window, rapidly (dizzyingly) transition from blue to very dark as clouds raced across. Even then, I puzzled over what I had seen. Nothing else emerges from the memory. Did a storm follow, or did the blue return? Perhaps Mom placed food in front of me, and the window view—with its curiously rapid cloud covering—slipped into a lower priority. Regardless, the memory is clear. I still puzzle over how nearly-instantaneously the clouds advanced. Given how much more deeply I now understand weather, I suppose that the visual memory is flawed or far too blurry to interpret. I observed and interpreted then through the visual and intellectual lenses of a three-year old, and through those same lenses, stored the memory. How closely does what I recall seeing six decades later match the actual image visible through the parted curtain? The image I carry now is remarkable, like nothing I have seen since. I close my eyes, and the memory is vivid and real, yet it makes no sense through the perception of a sixty-five year old weather fanatic. What we see depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation. And time adjusts the memory of what we see.

At age 70 my weather fanaticism directs my eyes heavenward. I don’t miss much. Forty-nine years since our wedding day, Judy tolerates my nearly constant urging that she look at this or that cloud formation, approaching storm, or atmospheric nuance. Because it’s been a good cloud-summer to-date (August 15, 2021), allow me to hit the cloud and sky highlights from June 2 through August 14, roughly 10 weeks, a fifth of the year.

This is not my first Post focusing on the firmament. Here are three, a sampling…not an exhaustive list:


June 2021

I could have backed into May or even January, yet, the number of archive-worthy sky photos is already at 34 for just this ten-week-cloud Post. June through mid-August strikes me as a good arbitrary view and review window. The image below on June 2 at 5:06 pm is SSW from my patio. A thunderstorm cluster along an advancing cold front pushed these turbulent clouds rapidly from the northwest as heavy rains soon enveloped us, dropping 1.45″ that evening. I like the ominous darkness and the sliver of bright clear sky retreating to the lower left.


Two days later I visited Huntsville’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, enjoying the spring-like temperature and bright blue of the system ushered south by the cold front and rain. That’s Jobala Pond reflecting the cerulean sky below right. Experimenting with my iPhone camera when first acquired, I would lie flat on my back to capture the view directly overhead. By June of 2021, I had learned to reverse the camera to selfie setting, hold it horizontal, and away from me enough to keep the bill of my ball cap out of the image, and release the shutter. Voilà, a sky shot from the comfort of standing (below left)! The blue dot puzzles me — an anomaly associated with the direct view into the 1:24 PM overhead sun, I suppose.


It’s cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all. – Joni Mitchell

The secret to capturing memorable sky and cloud photos is simply being outside. June 8 I biked several loops on Madison, Alabama’s Bradford Creek Greenway, just ten minutes drive from my home. An extensive deck of altostratus had been drifting northward as I pedaled. At 9:30 AM I stopped to capture the thin band of blue retreating toward the northern horizon (below right). The deck was not threatening nor did it portend imminent rain. I often take a break on a trailside bench beneath a massive red oak (below left), which most days offers a branch-framed sky-view.






Eighty percent of success is showing up. Woody Allen

Half the battle is just showing up. Stephen Hawking

I make fifty cents for showing up…and the other fifty cents for my performance. Steve Jobs


June 21, a day after the summer solstice, I photographed cumulus building at 2:40 PM from my patio, the view directly south. I measured two-tenths of an inch from resultant showers. Some people delight in living in the nearly constant sunshine of the southwest US. I could not survive without vibrant moisture-rich weather. Blossoming cumulus, dark-bottomed, columns of rain reaching downward as first a shadow, then a spreading torrent, with lightning flashing and thunder resounding provide me with some of the best entertainment on the planet. A full dose of Nature-Inspired Life and Living, combined with my scientist’s zeal to observe, monitor, learn, and revel in Nature’s power.


There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds. – Gilbert K. Chesterton

A day later, June 22, I returned to the Bradford Creek Greenway, stopping at 9:58 AM to appreciate the much more tranquil sky above the same oak tree. Could the blue be any more intense?

Cloud and Sky


I biked the Hampton Cove Greenway June 24, pausing at 10:20 AM at the terminus five miles east of Owens Crossroads. Rich agricultural valleys, nestled between heavily forested ridges, are rapidly transitioning to housing developments as Huntsville expands. While the two images include both the corn and new homes crops, the sky is the central focus. I commend those who anticipated the suburban growth and paved the way with the lengthening greenway. When the corn yields its final acre to subdivision, the greenway will continue to provide a necessary conduit for sky-addict bikers to enjoy Nature’s gifts of overhead beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.


Showing up isn’t limited to just places. Time is also a variable to explore and exploit. June 25 at 4:22 AM (yes, I am always up before dawn), I photographed this translucent cloud layer backlit by the full moon. The iPhone employed a three-second exposure. At that moment the eastern sky showed no hint of the coming dawn.


The moon will light the clouds, just as the tides shall shape the sand. – Anthony T. Hincks

June 27 at 8:05 AM (left) and 8:08 (right) my patio perch offered nice sun-play backlighting morning cumulus. The left image presents a rainbow prism above the cloud and the other a spectacular margin and a wedge-shaft of solar rays. Some people ask why I get up so early. I hide my incredulity that anyone would not choose to rise early!


The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? – It is the same the angels breathe. ― Mark Twain

June 27, 2021 the sun set at 8:05 PM here in Madison, Alabama. I snapped this photo at 8:16 PM directly opposite the sunset (which just five days after the solstice is, for all practical purposes, due west). These anti-crepuscular rays are converging due east to the antisolar point. Without dipping into the optical physics, the sun’s rays are parallel even though they appear to radiate outward from the solar point and converge inward to the antisolar point. Picture how a long road straight-away converges to a common vanishing point; the same is true of the sun’s rays.


July 1, 2021 my bike ride took me back to the Bradford Creek Greenway, where I paused beneath my favorite oak tree at 8:07 AM to capture an overhanging branch and a memorable cirrus against a perfect blue.


July 9 at 4:24 PM from my patio I spotted some distant thunderheads peaking through a nearer opening in the stratocumulus. Radar revealed echoes from these storms some 70 miles to the south. Such radar verification allows me to better estimate location for the images I see. I think about my current reliance upon weather radar for improving my decisions about hitting the bike trail or heading to my mushroom foraging forests. I wonder, too, about how many people even see such a cloud-window as this, much less read it to recognize a distant thunderstorm. Funny thing that the more I learn about weather, the more that I appreciate it. Learning and understanding weather (or anything of Nature and science) more deeply certainly adds volume to my knowledge base, yet, increases the universe of related things I do not know and understand. Toby Keith echoed my sentiment when he sang I Wish I Didn’t Know Now What I Didn’t Know Then.


Morning cumulus often show off, sending puffs vertically into sunlight peering above the eastern horizon, like this one on July 10 at 5:45 AM. This one suggests movement from left to right (I verified through observation). Cumulus clouds build vertically, often encountering winds of increasing velocity with height. The pink top of this one is being sported along more quickly than the gray below it drifting more slowly.


July 21 at 8:50 PM, I captured this line of thunderheads to the south with a 3-second shutter. For all practical purposes, we were at full dark, the clouds illuminated by urban lights.


Cumulus never fail to entertain me. These few individuals July 27 at 4:37 PM hinted at developing into showers and thunderstorms. They never broke through the threshold beyond fair weather galleons.


Who reports the works and ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? John Muir

July 30, a vigorous thunderstorm cluster powered southward at 6:09 PM (left, view to north) and at 6:14 PM (right, view to southwest). These ragged gust front underbelly clouds evidenced turbulence in advance of the rain shield, which dropped 0.42″ of rain.


Be comforted, dear soul, there is always light behind clouds. – Louisa May Alcott

Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of wisdom. Life is short. – Limani David

August 4 at 6:00 AM crepuscular rays reached into the rapidly retreating night, far to the west. Dawn arrives with promise and hope on mornings such as this, its good tidings foretold in every ray.


August 13, 6:03 AM, an alto cumulus deck ushered in the new day. I can’t imagine choosing sleep, oblivious to such a grand entrance.


That same day, thunderstorms 60-70 miles south of us peeked through our broken mid-level partial cloud cover at 5:28 PM. The casual observer would not have caught sight of the storms (below left) without drawing them closer with telephoto (below right). I have fond and still deep memories of camping with my family as a boy, fishing for catfish along the river after dark, watching far distant thunderheads, lightning illuminating their cauliflower tops from within. Because darkness lagged several hours beyond these images I was denied seeing the storms light from within.


You must not blame me if I talk to the clouds. – Thoreau

A powerful storm drifted our way from the west just 30 minutes later, nearing close enough for audible thunder at 6:01 PM, producing a roll cloud headed in my direction. I sat watching, waiting for the imminent wind and rain…in vain. As occasionally happens with heat-of-the-day thunderstorms, the sinking sun and rain-cooled air associated with the storm combined to stabilize the atmosphere, shutting down the convective energy. This storm fizzled without sharing a drop of rain.






I felt blessed to see a shimmer of color August 14, 6:47 PM as this narrow, chimney-like cumulus rose to my ESE, its top shearing to the north, dropping enough virga (precipitation evaporating before hitting the ground) under the shearing overhang to create a small rainbow arc (visible in the below right expanded view).


Try to be a rainbow, in someone else’s cloud. – Maya Angelo

Two and three minutes later (6:49 and 6:50 PM), the virga rainbow arc shifted almost imperceptibly to the cloud’s lower right.


Fittingly, the ten-week cloud series ends August 14 (6:50 PM) with a spectacular floating-city cumulus platform rising to my south.


Now, if God made the clouds so beautiful, did He not mean us to gaze upon them and be thankful for them?Alfred Rowland


Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • What we see in Nature depends clearly on what tools, understanding, and knowledge we bring to the observation.
  • A lifelong weather addict, I find inspiration for life and living in clouds.
  • Wherever I roam, I keep an eye to the sky for beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.


  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!


Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books


All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.