The combination of warrn water temperature and hundreds of square miles of ocean, uninterrupted by land masses, results in a regular cumulus and stratocumulus cloud formation. In the Pacific Ocean the Trade Winds propel the clouds from east to west across the ocean. When the air current is intercepted by a sufficiently high land mass, such as the Big Island of Hawai‘i, the stable cloud pattem is interrupted and the clouds divide to bypass the island in a wide arc forming an “island wake.” In addition to illustrating how gracefully the clouds circumnavigate Hawai‘i’s volcanic peaks, the photograph shows how the prevailing wind direction dictates that the north and northeast of the island are wetter than the westem side of the the island and frequently under cloud. The clouds deposit rain on the low ground before dividing and spinning out to sea when they meet the Kohala Mountains and Mauna Kea with its summit at 13,796 feet.
STS 51-G, June 1985. Picture #25-47-016.