Some of us won’t admit it, but at some point, we’ve all woken up in a fog. It’s when the environment is out of focus and you can’t see detail. I’ll only address the literal fog, but it’s a lot like the euphemistic one. Fog is a cloud. That’s all it is. See? I could stop writing right now, but then there’d be a big blank, white space below, sort of like a cloud. Hmmm. That might be effective.
Fog is a cloud that’s on the ground or on the surface of a body of water. By that definition, if you are driving up into mountains and you drive into a cloud, then it is called fog. To someone in a valley, looking up, they see a cloud, not fog. You may ask, “What if I’m in an airplane, flying in a cloud?” That wouldn’t be fog, because it’s not on the ground. It is all a matter of perspective.
A cloud is a mass of suspended water droplets or ice crystals. It’s water vapor that has condensed to become visible. When you take a long, hot shower, the water vapor that floats into the air condenses and forms a cloud in the bathroom. When you open a freezer on a humid day and the cold air pours out to the floor, you also create a cloud since the cold air makes moisture condense. That would be a cloud on the floor, so you can call it fog.
We get natural fog that’s light and patchy on a clear night when winds totally die down, especially over ponds, lakes and rivers. It’s more common in locations where colder air drains into low spots, or where the ground is very moist.
When fog forms only over the Gulf of Mexico, it’s called sea fog. It’s a big hazard to mariners. That’s the type the wind can blow inland. There’s a version of that in the winter, when a strong north wind takes over and Gulf water rapidly evaporates and then condenses into the cold air. That’s called sea smoke.
Fog is gentle, but it’s not what you want to see on an early morning flight out of MOB or any other airport. Without a clear view of the runway, landing and takeoff are not easy or safe. For motorists, fog is also a hazard. Your eyes have to work harder in fog to see detail. When it’s in your face, leave extra space between your car and others. All colors are muted. Seeing pedestrians and cyclists is more challenging. In thick fog, vehicles blend in with the background. That’s why you need to have your driving lights and taillights on — so you can be seen.
Fog doesn’t really burn off. It evaporates or dissipates due to warmer or drier air. That can make it seem like it’s rising, hence the phrase “fog lifting.”
Alan Sealls is chief meteorologist at NBC15 and an adjunct meteorology professor at the University of South Alabama.
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