Up Up and…in the Clouds?

What are clouds and how are they formed?

Clouds are large collections of very small ice crystals, water droplets so small they can float in the air. These tiny droplets rise EVER UPWARD with warm air from lakes, rivers, and oceans. Once they get high enough up in the sky, they will combine with other droplets around them and a cloud is born!

 

What kinds of clouds are there?

Although clouds come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, they can be looked at based on where they sit in the sky.

Lowest Clouds

Stratus – Ever look-up and see blankets or sheets up in the sky? These are Stratus clouds and usually mean an overcast or rainy day is ahead. The lowest hanging cloud, they can sometimes linger VERY near the ground, which we call fog.

Cumulus – Whenever you look at clouds and try to figure out what shapes they are, these are cumulus clouds. Big, fluffy, cotton ball-like clouds that, if white, are usually a sign of great flying weather! These sometimes can form into thunderheads, which can lead to rain and thunderstorms in the future.  

Stratocumulus – Similar to stratus and cumulus clouds, these are low, gray clouds but can sometimes be more spread out. Only light rain or drizzle will fall from these clouds.

Mid-Level Clouds

Altocumulus – Partially gray and white with one part darker than the other. Seeing these clouds on humid mornings may mean thunderstorms later in the day.

Altostratus – Gray or blue clouds that cover the entire sky. If these clouds are above, be on the lookout for a storm with continuous rain.

 

High Clouds

Cirrus – Thin and wispy cirrus clouds that stay high up in the sky – higher than 20,000 feet. That’s more than 37 miles up in the air! 

Cirrocumulus – Sometimes called a “mackerel sky,” these clouds are small, rounded puffs that can look like fish scales. Winter is your best chance to see these as they point to fair, cold temperatures.

Cirrostratus – Similar in shape and color to cirrus clouds, but much thinner and covering the entire sky. Cirrostratus clouds are so thin the sun or moon can shine through creating a halo from the light shining off the ice crystals inside the cloud. Seeing these will mean a rain storm is approaching within 12-24 hours.

Contents (c) Copyright 2019, Experimental Aircraft Association, Inc.