Clouds: why they could be a better messenger than the weatherman/woman


We see clouds every day and most times we do not look at them long enough to read the message they hold for us about the weather. Other times we simply ignore them, not focusing on their importance. When talking about clouds, or the mention of a cloud, most people’s minds shoot directly to the data storage model where data is kept for easy availability and accessibility. However, my interest is in reminding ourselves of clouds; a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water and suspended in the atmosphere because of their light weight. These droplets, when large enough is what is seen as clouds and when they become larger they fall as rain or snow. Precipitation, better known as rain, is important for crop growth, water sources for human beings and animals. Clouds are formed from the water in the air which remains unseen when near the ground due to the warmth on earth, and therefore this water exists as water vapor. When warm air rises, this condenses to tiny droplets and in billions, they form clouds. Clouds move with the wind but they also move as part of thunderstorms and they move even faster when across a jet stream and most times we witness the white clouds that seem to form a path following the jets. These are referred to as contrails. Formation of clouds however seem to occur at varying heights and this can be explained by the various elements involved in cloud formation. These elements include the amount of water vapor, temperatures at a particular height, wind speeds and so on. This is therefore the basis for cloud classification. There are high clouds, middle clouds and low clouds. High clouds being typically those at an elevation of above 18,000 feet, middle clouds are those on approximately 6,500 to 18,000 feet and low clouds are those under 6,500 feet. High clouds are categorized under Cirrus, medium as Alto and low clouds are referred to as Stratus.

altocumulus clou

altocumulus clouds

There are many other questions that we presumably hold for those unfamiliar with this topic. Like why are some clouds white while others are gray? The answer as to why clouds are white is because the ice crystals that make up the cloud are large enough thereby dispersing light into all the seven wavelengths which combine to form white color. The grey color of the clouds appear when clouds get too thick or are too high up to such that not all the light makes it through hence the dark and dull appearance. The grey appearance is also attributed to the shadow created by other clouds around each other. So clouds communicate weather messages all the time. The question is, do we know how to decipher these messages? The most common clouds are Cirrus clouds, which are common high clouds. They are white and predict fair to pleasant weather and they usually indicate an expected change in weather within 24 hours but this definitely doesn’t stop you from wearing the light shirts and dresses as you enjoy the freedom of not carrying around a heavy coat. Cirrostratus clouds are thin and see-through and they usually come 12-24 hours before a rain or snow storm while cirrocumulus clouds appear as small rounded white puffs, occurring during winter signaling fair but cold weather, and also indicative of an approaching hurricane. Other clouds are altostratus and altocumulus clouds which are blue gray and gray puffy masses respectively. The former occurs ahead of storms with continuous rain or snow while the latter form in groups starting off as a warm morning but warning of late afternoon thunderstorms so very advisable to carry along a warm coat for later. Stratus clouds are uniform and grayish covering the entire sky and resembling fog, and it comes along with light mist and drizzle. Cumulus clouds are referred to as ‘fair-weather clouds’. They are flat based clouds with rounded towers on the top of the cloud. The top of this clouds grows and towers above which can lead to thunderstorm clouds. Stratocumulus clouds however are usually low, puffy and gray but with blue visible sky between them and little or no chance of rain with these clouds present.

Stratocumulus clouds

Stratocumulus clouds

However, chances of a change to nimbostratus clouds is high, these are the dark gray, wet looking clouds with continuous falling rain and snow. Best weather for being indoors tucked up nice and warm with a cup of hot cocoa or my favorite black ginger tea. So let’s learn about clouds and follow their prompts, it helps to be mentally prepared and well dressed for the weather even without the daily intervention of the weatherman.