At around sunset on February 28, 1963, a cloud (referred to in this article as the "Cloud") appeared in the vicinity of Flagstaff, AZ and remained sunlit for 28 minutes after sunset. It was highlighted in the May 1963 edition of Life Magazine. In addition to Life Magazine, various articles written appeared in Science Magazine (April 19, 1963), an independent report issued May 31, 1963], and in Weatherwise Magazine (June 1963)].
The cloud was very unusual and puzzled scientists at the time, who could not find a conclusive explanation for the cloud. The height of the cloud was initially estimated by James E. McDonald from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Arizona, Tucson, as being approximately 35 kilometers but was later revised by him to be at approximately 43 kilometers (141,000 feet).
Was the Cloud important?
Believers of William Branham's message view the cloud as part of the fulfillment of a vision that William Branham had in December 1962 that Seven Angels would meet him outside of Tuscon, Arizona (see Prophecy of the Cloud). They see it as a supernatural sign the preceded William Branham's opening of the Seven Seals.
Critics view the cloud as simply being the aftermath of the intentional destruction of a Thor rocket over Vandenburg air force base. They also view William Branham's stories about the cloud being the aftermath of the angelic visitation as untruthful as these stories are in direct contravention with the facts. They believe that William Branham's own testimony clearly show that he made up the stories about being at the cloud's genesis and that these stories only began after he saw the article in Life Magazine.
Explanations for the Cloud
Followers of the message believe that there is a complete supernatural explanation for the Cloud while those outside of the message think that it simply a natural phenomena that had a credible scientific explanation.
The Scientific Explanation
On February 28, 1963, a thrust assisted Thor rocket was launched from pad 75-3-5 at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California carrying a Keyhole 4 military surveillance satellite. The rocket started to veer off course and was intentionally destroyed at an altitude of 44 kilometers (144,000 feet) at 1:52pm.
The cloud was investigated by Dr. James F. MacDonald in a number of published scientific reports. Dr. MacDonald is famous for his investigations of UFO's, yet was senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics and professor in the Department of Meteorology, University of Arizona, Tucson.
Dr. MacDonald never published a final report on the cloud. Why? It is likely that he lost interest in the cloud as he arrived at a likely explanation of the cloud that was not particularly interesting, i.e. the explosion of the rocket. As an individual who criticized the scientific community for ignoring phenomena that defied interpretation by conventional science, it is extremely unlikely that he would have failed to publish a final report on the cloud simply because he could not explain it.
- The explosion of the rocket was on the same day as the cloud appeared.
- The explosion of the rocket was at the same height as the height of the cloud (the height of the explosion was exact while the height of the cloud was estimated).
- No one recorded the wind speed on the day of the Thor explosion Vandenburg but the wind speed recorded by scientists at other times, according to Dr. Macdonald, "tantalizingly close" to the required wind speed.
- Windspeeds can vary with distance and therefore, the rocket explanation is the most plausible.
- When the launch records were later declassified, the United States Air Force released a memo explaining that the cloud was the result of a military operation.
- Declassified air force documents show that at
Dr. McDonald reports that the cloud appeared in the Mesosphere, but that clouds cannot form at this height.  However, Dr. McDonald has subsequently been proven wrong - visible exhaust clouds can reach into the Mesosphere.  More recently, NASA has been testing wind currents at high altitudes by creating extremely high clouds with chemicals. Some of these artificial clouds appear in shapes remarkably similar to the February 28, 1963 photograph published in Life Magazine and exist without an “exhaust trail” back to the launch site. 
Unlike the 1960s, anyone can now see rocket launches from the Vandenburg Air Force Base in California on Youtube. Depending on conditions, these launches can be seen from Tucson and beyond, and can leave clouds stretching into the mesosphere that remain illuminated long after sunset. 
The fact that rocket launches were seen as the cause of similar clouds appearing shortly after the Cloud appeared was also confirmed by scientists. For example:
- Abstract - A bright noctilucent cloud was observed and photographed northwest of Tucson on 15 June 1963. Results of computations indicate that the cloud was at a height of 71 kilometers. The cloud appears to have resulted from the launching of a Scout space vehicle. 
- Abstract - Measurement of the filamentary noctilucent cloud of 2 November 1963 yields a height of 56 km. Study of the motion and orientation of the cloud confirms the hypothesis that these unusual clouds appearing in the southwestern states are produced by the launching of rocket vehicles from the Pacific Missile Range.
Important documents relating to the cloud
- Declassified 1963 02 28 Thor launch record
- Declassified 1963 02 28 Pitch Pine launch record
- University of Arizona letter of June 5, 1980
- 1995 01 26 Air Force letter - page 1 and page 2
- 1996 08 23 letter from Mrs. Meinel
- 1996 09 10 letter from Mrs. MacDonald
Why was the cloud not seen before sunset?
Questions have also been raised as to why was the cloud not seen prior to appearing over Flagstaff.
To explain this, one has to understand a natural phenomenon - the noctilucent cloud. Noctilucent clouds (or night clouds) are tenuous cloud-like phenomena in the upper atmosphere. They are only visible in a deep twilight. They are made of ice crystals. Noctilucent roughly means night shining in Latin. They are most commonly observed in the summer months at latitudes between 50° and 70° north and south of the equator. These clouds can be observed only during local summer months and when the Sun is below the horizon for the observer, but while the clouds are still in sunlight.
They are the highest clouds in Earth's atmosphere, located in the mesosphere at altitudes of around 76 to 85 kilometres (47 to 53 mi). They are too faint to be seen during daylight and are visible only when illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon while the lower layers of the atmosphere are in the Earth's shadow. Noctilucent clouds are not fully understood and are a recently discovered meteorological phenomenon
Given that the cloud was similar to a noctilucent cloud, it would not be visible until the sky began to darken at sunset. Dr. MacDonald made no mention of the noctilucent cloud phenomena in his report.
In March 2012, NASA launched five rockets off the east coast of the USA to create some of these clouds. These clouds formed rings that look like the May 1963 Life magazine photo. 
The Second Cloud
Questions have also been raised about a second cloud accompanying the cloud. The second cloud is noted in the Life Magazine (and some other scientific reports), and appears in a smaller photograph off to the north-west.
This second cloud presents a serious problem for those arguing for a supernatural explanation: were there 2 sets of angels? Why didn't William Branham mention the second cloud if he was standing right underneath it?
Problems with the Spiritual Interpretation
Questions that must be asked if the cloud is seen to be supernatural in origin:
- If the cloud is related to the events which occurred at Rattlesnake Mesa, why didn't the cloud appear there?
- Why did William Branham state that the cloud was directly above him when it appeared 8 days earlier 200 miles away?
- William Branham stated that the Cloud was formed as the angels left him. If that is the case, why did the Cloud appear 8 days prior to the visitation of the angels.
- Why didn't the cloud appear at the time that William Branham said that his vision was fulfilled?
- Why does he state that the magazine refers to the same place that he was hunting when it clearly does not?
- Why does he again state that he was under the cloud, when he wasn't anywhere close to it? Some message ministers have stated that the Cloud that William Branham saw was in another dimension but he specifically states that the Cloud that was formed when the angels left him and that science took a picture of that cloud?
- Why did he say absolutely nothing about the Cloud until he was shown a picture of it in Life magazine?
- People have indicated the William Branham stated privately that the angels had been waiting for him a week before he arrived. There are a number of problems with this explanation:
- The statement occurs nowhere in the tapes, so cannot be verified. Is this something that a message believer simply made up to explain the time problem?
- William Branham stated that the Cloud was formed when the angels left. This does not agree with the theory that the Cloud was formed when they arrived.
- If there was a face in the Cloud, why was it looking towards Las Vegas?
At dusk on February 28, 1963, a cloud appeared in the skies above Flagstaff, Arizona and remained sunlit for 28 minutes after sunset. It was highlighted in the May 1963 edition of Life Magazine. William Branham explained that the cloud was part of the fulfillment of a vision that he had in December 1962.
IT.IS.THE.RISING.OF.THE.SUN_ JEFF.IN V-3 N-12 SUNDAY_ 65-0418M
- Later, the Angels appeared as was prophesied. And at the same time, a great cluster of Light left where I was standing, and moved thirty miles high in the air, and around the circle, like the wings of the Angels, and drawed into the skies a shape of a pyramid in the same constellation of Angels that appeared.
- Science took the picture, all the way from Mexico, as it moved from northern Arizona, where the Holy Spirit said I would be standing, "forty miles northeast of Tucson." And it went into the air, and Life magazine packed the pictures,
William Branham said that the angels appeared to him while he was standing in northern Arizona, and that when they left him they created a cloud that was pictured in the Life Magazine.
There are a few problems with this.
First, forty miles northeast of Tucson is not northern Arizona. Go get a map and measure it for yourself. The southern tip of the cloud was just north of Flagstaff when the photo was taken. Flagstaff is in northern Arizona, and Tucson is in Southern Arizona.
Second, the cloud that appeared in Life Magazine was photographed one week before William Branham went hunting. William Branham’s daughter Rebecca Smith confirmed this in an article she wrote called “Return to Sunset”, which was published in the “Only Believe” magazine.
Finally, William Branham was hunting in the morning, and the cloud appeared in the evening.
So if the cloud was not caused by angels leaving Brother Branham, as he claimed during this sermon, caused it to appear?
In the Life Magazine article, Dr. James McDonald stated that he was not aware of any rocket explosions that day. However, he later wrote a supplemental report where he discusses the explosion of a THOR rocket that had been launched from Vandenburg Airforce base in California earlier that day.
So we looked at the story of the rocket to try to see how likely it was that this explosion caused the cloud and here's what we found.
On February 28, 1963, a Thrust assisted Thor Agenda D rocket was launched from Vandenberg air force base in California. The rocket was carrying a military spy satellite.
The rocket malfunctioned and was intentionally destroyed at 1:52 in the afternoon at an estimated height of 44 kilometers.
The height of the cloud that appeared over Flagstaff later that same day was estimated to be about 43 kilometers miles high. Is this just a random coincidence?
In order to travel the required distance from California to Arizona, the cloud would have to be travelling at 135 miles per hour that afternoon. But Dr. James McDonald wrote that the wind speed recorded by scientists was, "tantalizingly close" to the 135 mile an hour wind speed required to carry the cloud from Vandenberg to Flagstaff.
The prevailing winds in California blow from west to east. It is also not unusual for Jetstream winds to vary in speed as you go from north to south. Windspeeds on March 1st, 1963 at an altitude of 43 kilometers were 90 miles an hour at White Sands, New Mexico and 125 miles per hour at Point Mugu, California.
Winds and atmospheric conditions are notoriously unpredictable. However, rocket trails from launches at Vandenberg air force base are regularly seen in Arizona… and even as far east as Oklahoma City.
On March 27, 2012, NASA launched 5 suborbital sounding rockets which released a chemical tracer that created milky white clouds 60 miles above the earth. They did this to learn about wind-speeds in the Mesosphere. The pictures that they took reveal circular clouds similar to the February 28, 1963 cloud.
Someone imposed the picture of Jesus from Hoffman’s painting “Christ at 33” into the photo of the 1963 cloud. The painting first had to be reversed to do this. If you are not a message believer, you are likely offended by this picture.
Still, you can take the same picture from Hoffman’s painting and impose it on the clouds from March 2012, without reversing it. If you are a message believer, you are likely offended by this picture.
But, whether you are looking at the 1963 cloud or the 2012 cloud, you have to manipulate the image to make the picture fit.
Questions have been raised as to why the cloud was not seen between Vandenberg and Flagstaff. However, noctilucent clouds are very thin and are only visible at dawn or dusk. They cannot be seen until the sky starts to darken overhead as it does at sunset. That is why the Cloud “appeared” over Flagstaff in the evening and was not seen between California and Flagstff.
Based on all of the facts available, it is not only plausible but highly likely that the cloud over Flagstaff was formed by the high altitude destruction of the Thor rocket over Vandenberg Air force base.
However, our examination of the cloud is not over. We will next look at whether the cloud could be in any way related to the events which occurred at Rattlesnake Mesa.
Evidence from the Branham Family
Rebekah Branham Smith, William Branham's daughter, also wrote on the Cloud and specifically details the timing of the events surrounding the appearance of the Cloud in the Only Believe Magazine, "Road to Sunset".
- Only Believe Magazine, "Road to Sunset", Page 1
- Only Believe Magazine, "Road to Sunset", Page 2
- Only Believe Magazine, "Road to Sunset", Page 3
- Only Believe Magazine, "Road to Sunset", Page 4
You are currently on the page that is in bold.
- McDonald, Dr. James E, Cloud-Ring in the Upper Stratosphere, Weatherwise, June 1963, Page 100
- Jackson, Jeff G., 30th Space Wing History, Department of the Air Force, January 26, 1995, Vandenburg AFB, California
- http://spaceflightnow.com/minotaur/cosmic/launch.html and http://www.atoptics.co.uk/highsky/rktr1j.htm
- Science Magazine, September 1963: Vol. 141, no. 3586, pp. 1176-1178, DOI: 10.1126/science.141.3586.1176, Low-Latitude Noctilucent Cloud of 15 June 1963, Aden B. Meinel1, Barbara Middlehurst, Ewen Whitaker
- Science Magazine, January 1964: Vol. 143, no. 3601, pp. 38-39, DOI:0.1126/science.143.3601.38, Low-Latitude Noctilucent Cloud of 2 November 1963, Aden B. Meinel, Carolyn P. Meinel