ST. LOUIS, Mo. – An airplane left an odd contrail in the sky above St. Louis this morning. It left many wondering how a cloud can form into the shape of a corkscrew that appears to be miles long.
If the pilot was twisting the plane’s flight path then they would certainly be very dizzy. Well, there appears to be a much better explanation for the phenomenon.
Meteorologist Chris Higgins says it may be an interaction of the contrail with what is called a wake vortex. It develops as a function of the lift generated by the plane’s wings.
The Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences describes this effect in great detail. You can read the study on the effect and see diagrams here. A quote from the study’s abstract states:
“Results of large-eddy simulations of the development of young persistent ice contrails are presented, concentrating on the interactions between the aircraft wake dynamics and the ice cloud evolution over ages from a few seconds to 30 mins.”
Jay DeLong took pictures and video of the cloud and posted them to social media. Commenters on a St. Louis subreddit report seeing the clouds 70-80 miles away.