When mushrooms clouds dominate the skyscape, you know the monsoon has arrived.
Clouds may look like marshmallow mountains, but they are an interesting biological entity in their own right. From the ground they look pretty, and seem to be the soft-shelled Renaissance sculptures, edible images of our favourite trifles, or Megatron trucks.
Clouds though, are like living beings. They start small, cute. They grow. Evaporation and condensation raise the mists in vertcial winds called updrafts. Updrafts contribute to their growth. Internally the water droplets collide to form larger droplets. Above the freezing altitude levels, they morph into ice crystals, and the transition from supercooled water droplets into ice crystals make for larger crystals, all buoyed upon the stength of the updrafts as a function of what forces the air upward. So plunging into these marshmallows should not be equated to driving headlong into the thick mists along the KL-Kuantan East Coast Expressway.
|The Rainy Shores|
It has been a coquettish play this week, between wet grey mornings and irridiscent sunrises. Having the weather widget is no reliable index of foretelling the type of morning I face.
Some of the early morning departures have been simply picturesque. A red sun rises, smoggy grey clouds being beaten away by his indefatigueable cheer. You could turn you head to look northward and see the coastline curl away in quaint Vespuccian perspective from Kerteh to Kuala Terengganu, were limits not imposed by Paka's contributions to the suspensions in the air just above the earth.
|A Frontal Line|
But as you venture away from terra firma, you can almost see inscribed upon the sky, like ripples upon a lake with the shoreline as the epycentre, cloud formations and frontal developments. And of course, mushroom clouds.
I do not know if it's just symptomatic of the weather, but one mushroom cloud I spotted was originating from the smoke plume of a rig's flare boom.
|Posh Bali's plumage as seen from 8 miles away|
I have not seen such a sight in bonny Semenanjung. The last time I saw such a phenomenon was when I was doing Bambi Bucket operations in Sabah, about the year 1999. Back then we were fighting the forest fires of both Sabah and Sarawak, taking the span of about 5 months and many detachments all over the state. I was still a beligerent copilot then, and on completion of my detachment at the Sabah Forestry HQ at Telupid, en route Labuan, we came across a peculiar sight between Keningau and Tenom, where a patch of burning forest liberated a column of smoke that sublimated into a cloud. I suppose that this is possible, should a particuarly strong thermal convection within the fire thrust the condensation nuclei made of ash and dust high enough, fast enough in a vertical updraft to allow its water vapour to become cloud.
|Posh Bali up close and Purrsonal alongside Trident 9|
I wonder if similiar conditions existed over Posh Bali, a jack-up rig near Trident 9, to cause this visual curiosity . But the question is, yeah, the incipient monsoon freights moisture-laden air to our coasts for the rain spell, making cloud formation easier due to vapour saturation, but why only over Posh Bali does this manifestation occur? Why not the other rigs as well? I noticed it over the past few days, so it can't be the sudden convergence of all factors conducive to the formation of cloud from a flame everyday???
|Coming Out Of The Dark|
Back to the daily grind, as you pick up passengers and off-load them and return to the mainland, the rings of cloud you had noticed earlier have now ballooned into a storm waiting to protect the coastline form your intrusions. Sometimes, dog-legging around the build-up seems like an exercise in futility as you turn the corner of one stormcloud only to be faced with the black-walled mushroom of another standing defiantly in your diversionary flight path. However, as passenger comfort is a priority, dog-legging is done when the weather radar indicates it as a profitable manouvre, and if pushing straight ahead is more prudent, taking back the speed several notches helps prevent the porpoising of the aircraft through the dark turbulence of a rainstorm.
But flying in the monsoon is rarely slamming into dark clouds from take-off, cruising in a quaking chopper and landing on the rig in a near-blinding storm. Rarely, only because I have been at this one year. However, even my training captain will concur, that the nastiest monsoon weather lies about 50 nautical miles from the coast. Before and beyond that, the weather is normally docile. Yes, the prevailing winds are carrying the rains to the mainland, and so yes, we will have coastal and overland rains. But you get the picture, that the severity of floods here is a function of the rainfall and relief, and not so much that it's a case of Noah revisited.
|Mirrormare and a barge on tow|
Therefore, if you make it through the rain, you can come back home to the sight of a shimmering coast and fair-weather clouds reflected on a calm sea greeting you for turning up instead of turning away, as if turning away from shore was even an option. Such greetings are a welcome sight on any given day, more so days as bleak as these, lifting the mood as you seek the end of your work sector.
|Long Finals Runway 34 and somewhere down there is home|
It's a homecoming, I guess.