It was a Tuesday afternoon like any other as people wandered through the pathways of the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, peering at the yellow-footed wallabies and taking in the succulents blooming in spite of the arid landscape.
That is, until they looked up at the sky, where a large, flying saucer-shaped cloud loomed over them. It was a dead ringer for Jean Jacket, the UFO in Jordan Peele’s summer sci-fi hit “Nope” — or at least screenwriter Brian Lynch (“Minions,” “The Secret Life of Pets”) thought so. So he did what anyone in their right mind would do, sharing the photo with the filmmaker on Twitter.
“The cloud was HUGE,” Lynch told SFGATE in a direct message, adding that he and his family spotted it on a visit to the garden earlier this week at about 1 p.m. “It was hanging over us. … My kid (who has not seen NOPE) thought it was really cool.”
Several other images of the otherworldly cloud sighted over Coachella Valley appeared on Instagram and Twitter as people contemplated what it might be and where it may have come from.
It was not an extraterrestrial force but an altocumulus standing lenticular cloud, an unusual but not uncommon phenomenon that forms in a stable atmosphere when a fast wind pushes up and over mountaintops, as Cindy Palmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, explained to SFGATE when similar clouds were seen around the Bay Area in May 2021.
“They form from the wind blowing across the mountains or the hills. … You have to have a wind that’s very uniform in one direction,” Palmer told SFGATE at the time. “As it’s moving over the mountain and the way the air lifts, the moisture condenses and forms the clouds.”
Dr. James Danoff-Burg, the director of conservation at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, said he was leading visitors on a tour when they first discovered the cloud.
“They jokingly said it looked like an alien spaceship or a UFO,” Danoff-Burg told SFGATE in an email.
He noted that lenticular clouds form over the top of the zoo’s nature preserve several times a year, especially on cool days.
“That day was exceptional as we had one that was stacked three levels high – a rarity!” Danoff-Burg said. “They are really quite spectacular.”
As for Peele? It’s not the first time he has been tagged in a photo of the ominous clouds. When a Twitter user spotted one above Tempe, Arizona, last July, just a week before the release of “Nope,” the video went viral, with fans lauding the filmmaker’s marketing strategy.