Gravity wave triggered by storms captured on satellite above Plains

Gravity controls all things on Earth, including the atmosphere. Undular bores are waves in the atmosphere and can be seen on radar or satellite by the clouds they produce.

A gravity wave formed over Wichita and continued through St. Louis on Wednesday and we're not talking about the gravitational waves caused by black holes colliding in space. 

On Wednesday, visible satellite imagery captured an interesting weather feature developing in the morning that lasted through the day.

Thin lines of clouds broke off from thunderstorms in northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri, then raced south across Missouri before dissipating after reaching Arkansas and Tennessee.

According to FOX Weather Meteorologist Jordan Overton, this weather phenomenon is called a gravity wave or an undular bore.

In the satellite image above you can see the thin lines of clouds stretching west to east as it dives south, with another brief set of line clouds on the northwestern side of the storms.

What causes an undular bore?

Gravity controls all things on Earth, including the atmosphere.

Gravity naturally forces air down from the atmosphere to Earth moving it up, down, left and right. For example, warm air rises and cold air sinks.

"Gravity Waves are just vertical waves of motion," Overton explains.  "If I take my hand and splash it into a pool, there is a ripple effect that expands outward. This is in essence how a gravity wave works in our atmosphere."


According to the National Weather Service, undular bores, or waves in the atmosphere, can be seen on radar or satellite by the clouds they produce.

"They form when an air mass, such as a storm outflow boundary, collides with another air mass characterized by cool, stable air," according to the NWS in St. Louis.

What caused the gravity wave on Wednesday?

Overton said the trigger point was storms in parts of Nebraska. The undular bore traveled over Kansas and Missouri before eventually reaching Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Here the storms created a downburst that in essence was the big splash of air. As the air raced outward, the rising vertical motion cools the air, causing condensation and clouds to form right on this boundary.

Just like a ripple in the water eventually fades because gravity wins, the Undular Bore diffuses throughout the day.