A Tale Of Contrails

| May 20, 2009 @ 3:33 pm | 12 Replies

Received this note from a blog reader this morning. Your thoughts?

“James: Not a truly weather related topic, but yesterday afternoon, around 4:30, I was traveling I-59 west coming back from Gadsden. We were between Rainbow City and Trussville. My passenger and I were marveling at the blue-bird sky when two particularly vivid vapor trails caught our attention. They initially appeared to be heading down in a top right to bottom left motion, generally traveling from the northeast toward the south-southwest. It reminded me of the debris trails from the space shuttle re-entry accident over the southwestern US several years back, but there was no fireball like you would expect from a re-entry. However, as we approached the plateau upon which Oneonta sits (north – off to the right- of I-59), they seemed to level out and travel more westerly. We lost sight of the vapor trails below the tree line, but not before they appeared to join more closely together, like you would expect with military jets. However, there did not appear to be any particular object creating the trails.

I snapped several photos with my cell phone, but none of them depicts the trails primarily due to the fact that we were traveling directly into the sun. Also, I noticed a couple of other vapor trails in a straight line and much higher in altitude than these two particular trails. These others were also bright and vivid but were straight lines that are typically associated with airplanes. The two strange trails in the preceding paragraph were generally straight, but toward the end of our view, they seemed to level off and change general direction.

Now, I realize I was traveling generally in the direction of the B’ham Airport, and there have been, from time to time, military airplanes (fighter and transport) using our facilities. But, this was a weird enough occurrance that I mentioned it in the office this morning. My assistant confirmed seeing the same thing, but later in time, from her home in Gardendale. She placed the objects further west from her position.

I’m not sure you would know what these trails might have been caused by, or even care for that matter. But, I thought you might find it interesting.

Thanks for all you do. Don’t be swayed by the few, vocal NBA fans about interruptions in a game for significant weather developments! I and my family appreciate all that you do to help us stay safe.”


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Category: Pre-November 2010 Posts

About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

Comments (12)

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  1. Matt Padgett says:


    James,I noticed the same thing and I even had the same thought about the shuttle accident. I noticed it from the Moody exit off of I-20. Visibility was extreme yesterday.

  2. Dave says:

    Sounds like stuff you heard on Art Bell’s radio show

  3. Virginia says:

    I saw them in Moody yesterday afternoon as well.

  4. John Talbot says:

    On a day when the upper parts of the atmosphere are cold you can see all kinds of “low & high” & even ultra high” aircraft. If you can find a clear spot & be in an area where over you is part of the airplane’s interstate, yes, even airplanes have specific “airways” they travel while being directed or controlled by in our area the Atlanta ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Conrol Center). They are who controls ALL aircraft above 12,000 feet. The smaller the contrails the smaller the jet & of course the larger contrails or bigger or thicker contrails are formed by the big jumbo type jets. If you have a scanner that is capable of receiving aviation frequencies and if you are lucky enough to be close to one of the ARTCC transmitters where you can get both sides of the conservation they are really neat & interesting to listen to.

    Aviation is one of my other favorite hobbies.

  5. lynnd currently in Chattanooga says:

    I also saw the same thing here but it was about 11:30 or 12…maybe later, not sure of the time. Anyway, I have seen them before. It appears to me that it must be military aircraft, because they would break away just a bit and then come back together, but one was usually in front of the other. Both made a sharp curve about 65 degrees, at one point.

  6. Sherri says:

    Maxwell Airforce Base in Montgomery had an Air Show today of all sorts of planes. Maybe it was some of them practicing.

  7. Tim says:

    My mother-in-law lives in Gadsden and we were up there this past weekend. There was some air group there, but I don’t know who or what; I don’t believe, though, it was an air show. I know it wasn’t, but the planes were similar in style to the Blue Angels. We saw them several times flying in patterns.
    Not necessarily the same thing, but a possible relationship…

  8. Don Hacker says:

    One of the vapor trails was directly over our house in Liberty Park. Being an Auburn fan I would rather pretend the vapor design was an “A” for Air Force, but it was perfect “A” for the University of Alabama. The curve in one leg of the “A” perfectly matched the new “A” logo.

  9. Candis Hacker says:

    I took a photo of the two jets and their vapor trails. What is the email address for Spann’s website and I’ll send the photos.

  10. baba1157 says:

    What you guy’s saw were not real contrails a real contrail will dissipate after just a minute or so what you saw is commonly referred to as a chemtrail which is our fine Government spraying the upper atmosphere they claim to combat global warming which if you are a fan of this weather station you will not believe in global warming those trails you saw are mostly made up of Barium and fine aluminum particles. If you don’t believe this do a Google search there has been lots of articles on this it is a proven fact that this is going on.

  11. bama1157 says:

    Here is a link to the U.S. DOE Atmospheric science program
    http://www.asp.bnl.gov/ You can see here that they admit to doing this of course they sugar coat it and say it is all for good but spraying the atmosphere with metal particles to rain down on the earth can not in the long run be good for anyone. If you pay attention to the sky on a daily basis you will notice on most clear days a Cris cross pattern of these trails that last for hours and usually end up merging with one another to form very weird looking clouds. I have seen days that started with the sky clear as a bell then the planes start flying and by afternoon there is solid cloud cover or what looks like it And no it did not cloud up with real clouds. More people need to be aware of this so just pay attention to the sky for a month it hurts nothing to look up every now and then if you see nothing then don’t worry about it but if you see it think about it think is that natural is it GOOD? For those who don’t know a real contrail from jet exhaust only lasts for a minute or so so if you see a jet with a “contrail” that goes from one horizon to the other you have seem a Government Chemtrail. My father who was a test pilot for Hayes Aircraft in the 50’s and then worked for NASA in quality control for years pointed this out to me in the late 90’s and believe me he knew the difference in the two trails!

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