Hey! That Cloud Looks like Grandpa!

Weather Talk

POSTED: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 1:26pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 1:38pm

Do you Ever Wonder? How Do Clouds Form and What Are They Made Of?

The best days are when you have the time to lay back in a park or back yard and look at the sky and analyze the clouds. Hey that one looks like an Elephant! Look at that one, it looks like a bird! Or as my 4 year old godson “Lex” exclaims, “That one looks like “Apa”!”, his name for grandpa. We all need to stare at the clouds more; it is very freeing and relaxing! Who needs a psychologist? OK…don’t answer that!

Clouds are wonderful to look at indeed and add excitement to our atmosphere. Just think, without clouds we would not see any rain, hail, snow, lightning, thunder, fog, rainbows or we could not use our imagination to see amazing look-a-like shapes!

There are many questions about clouds. Let me first start with the basics. A Cloud is a large group of tiny water droplets or ice crystals that form on dust, debris, pollution and even sea salt, these are called condensation nuclei. These small droplets or ice crystals are so small the float in the air.All air contains water vapor or humidity. Here in the desert sometimes the air contains hardly any water vapor at all! Clouds form when sun heated warm air rises, it expands and then cools. Cooler air is not able to hold as much water as the warm air. The water vapor condenses on the dust, pollution, etc… into a small drop of liquid water. If the air temperature is cold enough, it usually is, the droplet freezes into an ice crystal. Millions to billions of these water droplets and ice crystals form clouds. As long as the air and the droplets are slightly warmer than the air around them, the cloud floats.

When a water droplet freezes, layers of water freeze over each other as the ice crystal is pushed upwards and downwards by the updrafts and downdrafts within a cloud, it eventually gets heavy enough to fall out of the cloud. As this ice ball falls through the warmer lower levels of the atmosphere below it becomes a rain drop. If it is too big and does not melt, it hits the ground, your car, your roof or even you as a hailstone! Hail is amazing but it no fun when it causes damage!

Different types or varieties of clouds form at different heights. This all depends on upper level winds, temperature differences and what kind of air mass is moving in, cold or warm, moist or dry.

The upper level winds carry the clouds along. Fair weather clouds barely move at all because of the light winds at the upper levels, maybe they travel a just a few miles per hour. In contrast, thunderstorm clouds can travel at 10 to over 40 mph depending on the speed of the weather system producing them or the speed of the high level steering winds. If clouds catch a ride on or get pulled along by the jet stream they can travel as fast as 100+mph!

What Does the Difference in Cloud Color Indicate?

The color of a cloud all depends on how the water droplets and the ice crystals scatter the light. Usually the droplets or crystals are of the right size to produce white light. The scattering of all seven of the color wavelengths, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, produces the color white.
Darker clouds indicate a higher concentration of water droplets and ice crystals. The thickening of the clouds allows less light through, so they appear darker. If there are many clouds covering most or all of the sky, the clouds appear in multiple shades of grey.

Sometimes severe thunderstorm clouds have a green or aqua marine colored hue. Some farmer’s and storm chasers say it is indicator hail, strong updrafts and or even a tornado. Although, many times there is hail or even tornadoes associated with storm clouds of a greenish hue, I have seen it myself; hail itself cannot produce this effect. The greenish hue has been proven to indicate higher cloud tops; the higher the cloud tops, the stronger or more severe the thunderstorm. The “green hue” still remains a bit of a “meteorological mystery”.

My favorite cloud colors are at sunrise and sunset. The waning sunlight has more of the atmosphere to travel through The dust, debris, pollution and sea salt in our atmosphere along with the clouds scatter the light into the vivid reds, oranges, yellows and violets of the color spectrum. This in turn causes the distant sky and clouds to take on these beautiful colors. Our desert sunsets are some of the most spectacular I have ever seen! Remember if you have amazing sunset, sunrise, weather or cloud pictures send them to cderoder@ktsm.com or news@ktsm.com. We will mention your name and give you credit on the web, on the air or both!

Fog is a cloud at ground level. Fog is formed warmer, humid air moves over colder air, ground or snow. The air is completely saturated, 100% relative humidity, and cannot hold any more water. The temperature is usually at or near the dew point. Yes, when there is fog you are inside a cloud at ground level! Check out yesterday’s “Weather Talk”, “Our Friend the Dew Point”

Be sure to catch my next “Weather Talk”, tomorrow, I will talk about the different types of clouds and give you a formula to determine cloud height!

So the next time you are watching the clouds float by you can explain how they are formed, what they are made of, why they are a certain color, and how fast they are traveling. Just as important, you should still discuss whether or not a certain cloud looks like a dog, a fish or yes, even you grandpa.

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX
www.twitter.com/ Chuck DeBroder NC9 @wxchuckNC9

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