Why this trail of corkscrews on Saint-Louis may surprise you

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – An airplane left a strange contrail in the sky over Saint-Louis this morning. This has left many people wondering how a cloud can take the shape of a corkscrew that seems to be miles long.

If the pilot distorted the aircraft’s flight path, he would certainly be very dizzy. Well, there seems to be a much better explanation for the phenomenon.

Meteorologist Chris Higgins says it could be an interaction of contrail with what’s called a wake vortex. It evolves according to the lift generated by the wings of the airplane.

The Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences describes this effect in detail. You can read the effect study and see the diagrams here. A quote from the study summary states:

“The results of large vortex simulations of the development of young persistent ice trails are presented, focusing on the interactions between the dynamics of the aircraft’s wake and the evolution of ice clouds over ages ranging from a few seconds to 30 minutes. “

Jay DeLong took photos and videos from the cloud and posted them on social media. Commentators on a St. Louis subreddit report seeing the clouds 70-80 miles away.

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