What are clouds made of? How do clouds form? The 10 major types explained.
Is your weather app predicting clouds? No need to pull out that umbrella just yet. Not all cloudy days are the same, or, not all clouds are the same to be exact. There are a number of distinguishing factors that make each unclear sky different from the next.
If you’ve ever looked upward and wondered just what those white wisps, or ominous gray clusters mean, you’re not alone. Here’s are a few short answers on all things cloudy – from how they form to the weather forecast each type signals.
What are clouds made of?
Water drops or ice crystals floating in the sky. As air gets cooler the farther you travel upward, water vapor in the sky is condensed and water droplets stick to bits of dust, ice or sea salt.
How much do clouds weigh?
It depends on the type of cloud. An average cumulus or “fair-weather" cloud without ice or rain, weighs about 1.1 million pounds, according to some estimates. This answer is reached by multiplying the density by the volume of the element.
How do clouds form?
As water evaporates from the Earth’s surface it is transferred into the air as invisible water vapor – meaning the sky is constantly full of water, we just can’t see it! Once the temperature drops low enough, that vapor condenses into visible ice particles or water droplets, forming clouds. Clouds can also form when there is an increase in evaporation and the air can no longer hold additional water in vapor form, causing it to condense into a liquid or solid.
Learn about less common cloud types:How rare ‘rainbow clouds’ form
How fast do clouds move?
The average cloud moves 30 to 40 miles per hour. A cloud’s movement is based on how strong the winds are. Typically, winds get stronger higher up in the sky, meaning at increased altitudes clouds can be moving upward of 100 miles per hour.
How do clouds float?
The simple answer is that they are less dense than the surrounding air. Think of oil and water – oil floats in water because its particles are less dense than the water particles. Similarly, the particles of cloud material, the “wet air” that we see in the sky, are usually less dense than the surrounding dry air.
Even if the cloud is "full of rain", those water droplets are tiny, and if they fall are instantly buoyed back by updrafts which keep them suspended in the air.
Learn more about how clouds float: Ask a scientist: How do clouds float?
What are the different types of clouds?
There are 10 main types of clouds, separated into 3 categories based on their height in the sky.
The final cloud class are the low-level clouds, these are the ones closest to us. Their names alternate between two prefixes: “strato-” indicating a horizontal formation, and “cumulo-” indicating vertical formation. These clouds exist below an elevation of 6,500 feet and are largely comprised of liquid water droplets.
Learn about lesser known cloud types:'New' cloud to have its day in the sun
What is a rain cloud called?
You’re likely thinking of cumulonimbus, one of the low-level clouds. This looks like a classic thunderstorm cloud. It is usually large and dark in color and can signal incoming showers. Note: lots of clouds can indicate rain, but these are the most ominous.
What is the most common cloud?
No such thing. Clouds differ in frequency depending on the climate in your given area.
What are big fluffy clouds called?
Most of these are cumulus clouds -- they are your classic cartoon clouds, rounded at the top and flat around the base, typically white and fluffy. Think of a collection of cotton balls.
What are thunder clouds called?
Cumulonimbus. Rain, thunder and lightning are likely to follow if you spot one of these in the sky.
What are dark clouds called?
There are a few different types of dark clouds. Nimbostratus, altostratus, cumulonimbus, stratus and even cumulus clouds can all appear dark in color at times.
What are tall clouds called?
Clouds can grow either vertically or horizontally. The “tall” clouds, or clouds that grow vertically are of the cumulus type. These are most likely to stand alone in individual clumps, making sense as Cumulus is Latin for “heap.”
Why do clouds turn gray?
A cloud gets its bright coloring from the sunlight hitting it. That light is then reflected back in all directions evenly, creating a white appearance. When a cloud is denser some of the particles begin to block or absorb the sunlight though creating a gray tone. The thicker a cloud is, the darker it will be.
Sometimes clouds are even more colorful:Rare iridescent cloud formation dazzles over Costa Rica
What is the biggest cloud in the world?
That would be the Morning Glory or Soliton Cloud. This is a rare meteorological occurrence that can be seen in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria during the months of September, October and November. The cloud forms a long roll shape that stretches up to 620 miles and usually sits between 300 and 600 feet above the ground.
What are snow clouds called?
Nimbostratus. These dark, flat clouds contain rain, snow and ice.