What Are Clouds?
Learn what the different types of clouds are and what they are composed of.
“Red sky at night – Shepherd’s delight, red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.”
This ancient saying was based on the reflection of the sun as seen in the clouds. It could augur in either good or bad weather. For as long as man has stood on the earth he has looked to the clouds for inspiration. But, just what do we know about those puffy blobs of candy-floss in the sky?
Clouds come in different shapes and designs. They all tell a story. The three main type of clouds are as follows:
(1) Cumulus Cloud: From the Latin word ‘pile’ or ‘heap’, these clouds appear to pile up higher and higher in the sky. If they bear rain, they will be dark or grey and will be called cumulonimbus.
(2) Cirrus Cloud: These are the clouds high in the sky that look like curly, wispy feathers. Instead of being composed mostly of water droplets – as is the case with other clouds – Cirrus clouds are so high in the sky that they are made of ice crystals.
(3) Stratus Cloud: These are the low lying clouds that cover the sky and bring rain or snow. Stratus comes from the Latin word for layer in recognition of the way these clouds layer the sky.
The cumulonimbus clouds are massive in size, being composed of billions of ice crystals. These formations can rise to 50,000 feet or more in height, with a single formation containing 300,000 tons of water. At any given moment, some 1800 of these clouds unleash thunderstorms around the planet.
Over 70% of the earth’s surface is water. Much of the sun’s heat goes to warm this up and turn it into water vapor. This vapor rises in the atmosphere to form clouds. It takes a lot of heat to turn water into vapor and when that vapor is released into clouds, all that heat is released. That may cause an inbalance in the cold higher atmosphere that clouds frequent.
Clouds affect the weather greatly. Not only do they carry rain or snow, but they block out the sunshine, causing the cool weather during the day. At night, however, they prevent the earth’s warmth from escaping into outer space. That is why a cloudy night sky is actually warmer than a clear night sky.
Though man has recently attempted to manipulate the weather by seeding clouds to induce rain, he is still at the mercy of the clouds. All of his best laid plans can quickly be nullified with the release of the contents of a cumulonimbus. Which all goes to remind us of how helpless we are when nature does it’s thing.