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Head in the Clouds!

Have you ever looked up and been amazed by the fluffy, floating formations in the sky? Welcome to the wonderful world of clouds! Clouds are forever changing formations that marvel scientists. Keep reading to learn all about spectacular clouds, like how clouds form, different types of clouds and how they miraculously change colours!

What are clouds?

Clouds are made up of tiny water droplets or ice crystals. They form when warm air rises up from the earth and meets cold air high up in the atmosphere. As the cold air cools the warm air, the water vapour condenses and turns into tiny water droplets or ice crystals. These droplets stick together to create a cloud. Clouds are just like giant cotton candy floating above us!

Different types of Clouds

Clouds come in countless shapes and sizes. Scientists have categorised them based on their appearance and height to help us better understand clouds and the weather. There are 10 types of clouds, 3 different heights, and 2 characteristic identifying suffixes.

The height of the cloud in the atmosphere gives the cloud the first part of its name. The prefix cirrus [sir-uhs] means high, alto [al-toh] means middle, stratus [strat-uhs] means low, and cumul means the cloud is vertical and goes through many heights. The end of the name, the suffix, indicates what the cloud will look like. Cumulus [kyoo-myuh-luhs] means an accumulation, a heap, or a pile. For example, cirrocumulus, altocumulus, stratocumulus, or cumulus. These types of clouds will appear to be a bunch of small clouds that look like cotton balls grouped together or be in a bunch of rows. The suffix stratus means layer, so these clouds will appear to be a layer covering the sky. For example, cirrostratus, altostratus, or stratus.

Cirrus – (high type)

Cirrus are high level clouds that are thin and wispy and appear during good weather. They are the most common high cloud type. By watching their movement you can indicate which way the weather is approaching.  They are composed of ice crystals and usually indicate the weather will change in the next 24 hours.

Cirrocumulus look like tiny cotton balls bunched together. Usually seen in the winter, they indicate fair but cold weather. In tropical regions may indicate approaching hurricane.

Cirrostratus are flat clouds that can cover the sky but are thin enough to see the moon and sun through. These clouds can indicate that it might rain the next day or two.

Alto – (mid type)

Altostratus are middle level clouds. They are dark grey and often cover the sky. Usually they are a sign of storms with continuous rain or snow. When these clouds cover the sky it’s known as overcast.

Altocumulus are middle level clouds. They are small grey and puffy groups. If you see them on a warm, humid morning, prepare for thunderstorms in the late afternoon.

Stratus – (low type)

Nimbostratus are mid to low level clouds. They are thick, dark grey clouds that usually produce continuous rain or snow.

Stratus are low level clouds. They are grey, flat clouds that tend to cover much of the sky. They often bring light rain or drizzle. They look like fog that doesn’t reach the ground.

Image Source: Piccolo Namek,

Stratocumulus are low level clouds. Puffy grey clouds that form in rows. They rarely bring rain but they can turn into nimbostratus clouds.

Cumul – (vertical type)

Cumulus are mid to low level clouds. Big, White, puffy clouds. Usually it means good weather. The base of each cloud is flat and the tops are rounded bumps. They grow upward and can develop into giant cumulonimbus clouds which produce thunderstorms.

Cumulonimbus – Very tall clouds that span from low level to high level. They can cause violent thunderstorms with heavy rain, hail, and sometimes tornadoes. High winds can flatten the top into an anvil-like shape. The direction of the anvil points in the direction the storm is moving.

Why are some clouds different colours?

Clouds are white because the water droplets or ice crystals absorb all the different wavelengths of colours so they all cancel out and appear as white. They can appear grey if the cloud becomes thick or high enough that all the light won’t pass through the cloud, making it look dark or grey. Have you ever noticed that at sunset clouds can turn all different colours? This beautiful phenomenon happens because light passes through more of the Earth’s atmosphere when it’s lower in the sky, the sunlight gets scattered and turns clouds into different colours, creating beautiful artwork in the sky!

Fun Activity!

Cloud watching can be so much fun. Grad a blanket and lie down in an open area where you can see the sky. Look up at the clouds and use your imagination to see the shapes of the clouds. You can even try to identify the types of clouds and predict the weather with your newly acquired knowledge!

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