Sky gazers discover new cloud

SOMERSET COUNTY, England -- Gavin Pretor-Pinney feels clouds get a bad rap.

"They're generally considered a negative thing when there's bad news in store there's a cloud on the horizon," said Pretor-Pinney.

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Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society
CBS News

But the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society and his 37,000 members around the world have their heads in the clouds, and thinks that's a good thing.

"They associate them with dreaming," said Pretor-Pinner. "They associate them with freedom, freedom of the imagination."

Pretor-Pinney takes audiences back to their childhoods, seeing the shapes they saw as kids. He believes clouds can be imagined to look like anything: a topless sunbather, a heart, or the abominable snowman going to rob a bank.

But it's not all about funny shapes. In their constant cloud gazing, Pretor-Pinney and his members feel they have made an important scientific discovery: a brand new cloud. One that looks like it was cooked up by the special effects department of a disaster movie. One so rare, meteorologists have never classified it before.

"This cloud looks as if you're down beneath the water looking up at the sea's surface on a turbulent day," Pretor-Pinney described.

The new cloud was first noticed in Iowa by Jane Wiggins, a wedding photographer who took its picture and sent it in.

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"Undulatus Asperatus" cloud captured in Iowa, 2006
JANE WIGGINS

"I knew I was capturing something special," Wiggins told me. "It looked like something turbulent was in the air although you couldn't feel anything turbulent, which was kinda cool."

So cool the society gave it a cool Latin name, "Undulatus Asperatus," and submitted it to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, which is poised to officially recognize it; a big deal in the cloud spotters' world.

"If it goes in there it will be the first new type of cloud since 1951," said Pretor-Pinney.

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"Undulatus Asperatus" is seen in Iowa, 2006
JANE WIGGINS

When asked if it'd also serve as justification for all the time he wastes looking at clouds, Pretor-Pinney answered: "The funny thing is you don't need a justification."

You just need a little blue sky thinking.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.