Florida waterfront condos literally create their own weather

"Condo fog" clouds form along waterfront of Panama City, Florida on Feb. 5, 2012. (Photo Courtesy: JR Hott, Panhandle Helicopters)

How would you like to live in a place that not only has a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico, but creates its own weather?

Check out this photo of individual fog wisps climbing over a line of tall waterfront condos, taken Sunday afternoon by JR Hott of Panhandle Helicopter in Panama City, Florida.

What you are seeing is what happens when moist, warm air blows in off the Gulf of Mexico. And as the condo buildings force the air to climb, the slight cooling from the change in altitude is just enough to bring the air to its saturation point, creating a personal fog bank.

For Hott, whose helicopter pad is right on the water there (near the pier shown in the photo), the fog can affect his aerial tour business.

"Usually when this stuff comes in and it goes over my helicopter, we don't fly into it," Hott said.

Hott says the phenomenon happens a couple of times a year around Panama City. "And it happens extremely fast. It starts with wisps at the top of the buildings, and with 2-3 minutes, we're covered up."

But on Sunday, his pilot returned from a flight and noted the stripes of fog were beginning to form down the beach but hadn't reached their helipad yet. Hott got an idea to grab a camera and take off to snap a photo before the fog enveloped the rest of the beach.

"This time it was progressing west to east, we jumped into helicopter and took off," Hott said. In the 4-5 minutes it took to leave, "buildings closer to us started to get wave clouds... Within a few minutes after we landed, it covered up the helipad."

But those few precious moments in the air allowed him to snap photos that fast became an internet sensation.

"Put this on Facebook to share and, oh my God, we've got thousands of shares and thousands of likes," Hott said. "Both photos have been shared thousands of times. It has truly gone viral."

He says it's as much a story for him about how the photos have spread around the world as how the clouds formed in the first place.

"It's amazing to me how this thing has gone nuts," he said.

Similar meteorology to some of Northwest's best cloud shows

The mechanics behind what what create those individual fog banks are pretty similar to how the Northwest gets some of its best cloud shows when lenticular clouds form over Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood.

In our case, the mountain is the condo building, forcing cool, moist air up just enough to where it cools and condenses into a cloud that hugs the summit.

And Hott would know a thing or two about Mt. Rainier and its unique cloud formations -- he used to live in Poulsbo.

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