Have you ever looked up in the sky and seen shapes in the clouds? Have you ever wished you could float on a cloud?
Clouds are fun to watch and think about, but what are they really? Those billowing shapes might have been our first form of art or characters in our first stories.
Clouds can be big and fluffy like a castle made up of cotton candy or they can be thin and wispy like little white lines drawn in the sky. But have you ever wondered what the clouds are? We know there aren’t real alligators or socks up there, but what makes a cloud a cloud?
Did you know that there are water droplets in the air? These water droplets are so tiny that they float. Although they may not look like it, but clouds are just big clumps of these water droplets. But how did those water droplets get up there in the first place? If it is cold, they can be ice crystals.
Water can exist in three different forms. A solid, a liquid or a gas. Ice is just a solid form of water. And water in your drinking glass is a liquid. And you can not see water when it is a gas which is called water vapour but have you ever heated a pot of water and noticed that as it boils the water level goes down?
The water that is not there anymore has evaporated or turned into gas. It has become water vapour and floated up into the air. And that is basically how clouds are made.
When the sun shines down on the water in the oceans, lakes and rivers, it acts in pretty much he same way as the water on the stove. The sun warms the water enough to turn a little bit of that liquid water into water vapour.
Then the water vapour rises into the sky and as it goes higher, the air gets colder. Finally it cools down enough that it turns back into a liquid again. But this time, it sticks to tiny bits of things that are floating around up there like dirt, dust and smoke.
As more water vapour floats up and bumps into those sticky wet specks, the droplets get bigger and bigger until they are bug enough to see. Now they have formed clouds. Even though all clouds are made of the same stuff, they can look pretty different.
There are actually different kinds of clouds that scientists look for based on how they look and the type of weather that they produce.
Some days there are no clouds to be seen. On other days, there are a few and sometimes there are a lot. It depends on how much water is in the air. Some clouds are seen way up high, others are seen lower in the sky.
Some clouds look white while some others look grey.
So, let’s play cloud spotter again, but this time with science. Clouds are named after how they look.
First let’s check out everyone’s favourite, the cumulus cloud. Have you seen clouds that look like big heaps? Cumulus means heap. We love these guys because they are the big puffy, fluffy clouds that can make us think of alligators or socks or robotic rats. They are usually bright white and they are thick and dense enough that when one passes in front of the sun, it can cast a shadow. These clouds usually mean nice weather, but beware! When you start to see a cumulus cloud grow tall and turn dark grey it can produce a big storm with lots of thunder and lightning and pouring rain.
Cirrus clouds are totally different! They’re the super thin, wispy clouds, high in the sky. Cirrus means hair. If a cirrus clouds passes over the sun, you’ll hardly notice. They’re almost see-through. When you see these kinds of clouds in the sky you’re probably in for a sunny day.
Now take a look at these stratus clouds. They form something that looks kind of like a blanket across a big chunk of the sky. They might look flat and smooth or they may have a pattern that looks bumpy or wavy. Stratus clouds tend to block out a lot of the sun’s light. So these clouds usually bring a grey, drizzly or a foggy day.
But cumulus, cirrus and stratus clouds are just the beginning. There are lots of different versions of these three main types depending on how high in the sky these clouds form and the shapes that they make.
You can be a cloud spotter too. You have a chance to check out cool clouds every time you step outside. So keep looking up and pretty soon you’ll be a pro at telling a cirrus from a stratus.