Observing Clouds

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Clouds are comprised of a mass of small droplets of water and ice that are condensed into a single spot in the sky. When water particles are in the gaseous form they are able to rise into the sky and because they are so small, they actually stay up there and float. Clouds form from these suspended particles as a result of the air rising from the ground upward causing the water molecules to clump together quickly. The cloud becomes visible when the water vapor starts to condense. There are several different types of clouds and only some of them suggest rainfall is coming soon. When you see one of these clouds, make sure you have your umbrellas handy. Listed below are the names of the different clouds and their meaning so that you will know the difference between a raincloud and a vapor puffball.

Cirrus Clouds (Latin: “curl of hair” or “Mare’s tail”): These clouds form at high altitudes between 5km and 14km (approximately 2.5-8.5 miles) where temperatures are at an extreme cold. This causes tiny crystals to be formed. The “curl” part of the cloud is formed from warm air passing by the cold air which generally indicates that bad weather is soon approaching.

Cumulus Clouds (named after the word “heap”): Cumulus clouds are said to look like wads of cotton balls, wool or cauliflower. They are thought of as the “good” kind of clouds, the ones that speckle the sky on a bright, shiny summer afternoon. They are generally known for forming at altitudes of 500 meters (slightly less than a mile) in the air. Generally, you see cumulus clouds form when there is favorable weather. Pockets of moist, warm air causes the tiny water droplets to rise quickly where the air is cooler forming the clouds to look like cotton balls.

Stratus Clouds (Latin: stratus- “layers”): Although the layers are hard to see with the naked eye, stratus clouds are comprised of layers that range anywhere from 1 km to 1000 km wide. This is a massive possible range, spanning from less than a mile to over 600 miles. Stratus clouds are formed by a layer of warm, humid air which rises over large bodies of colder air. Generally, you’ll see these types of clouds when it is gloomy during a light drizzle. Stratus clouds often look like the layer of fog that sometimes forms on the ground over bodies of water.

Of course, these are not the only types of clouds you might encounter. There are about ten different varieties of clouds that are combinations of these three major cloud formations. Some of the combinations are cumulonimbus, stratocumulus, and cirrostratus clouds.

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