You’re not alone if you’ve noticed a large amount of contrails in the sky today.
Condensation trails, or contrails for short, form when the right temperature and water vapor levels meet to create cloud-like streaks through the sky. Not every atmospheric profile will allow contrails to form, but every aircraft can produce them. When you see a contrail you are really looking at tiny ice crystals. As a jet flies through the air, the exhaust releases water vapor into the atmosphere. If cold enough, the water vapor will condense and form into the icy streaks.
As time progresses, the thin "tail" will grow outwards from the center and eventually dissipate. A calm wind at flight level, like today, will allow the contrail to stick around for quiet some time. The width of a contrail is a good indication of how long it has been since the plane was there.
Why So Many Today?
The forecast today called for clear skies through the lower and middle parts of the atmosphere. The high pressure that will bring warm temperatures to eastern Carolina this weekend is also bringing moisture to the upper levels of the atmosphere (30,000 ft).
Temperatures are cold enough for the water vapor to freeze and form trails, while calm winds have allowed them to linger, making the sky look even more crowded. Since the moisture is contained to the upper parts of the atmosphere, we don't have any low/mid level clouds to get in the way of seeing the contrails (this may be the reason why it is so noticeable this afternoon). In a typical day, contrails could be just as abundant, but they are obscured by the thicker clouds below them.
Finally, it is important to note, that contrails are a natural phenomenon and don't pose any health risks to humans.
We hope you'll share any cool photos of contrails or any kind of weather event on WITN's Carolina Camera.