How to Look at A Cloud

© Copyright 2018 Nabil Najibzada, Ryerson University

Clouds are practically everywhere in the world and can be seen by just about anyone who is able to look outside into the sky. Most of the time we look at clouds and involuntarily make assumptions in our mind, usually consisting of 2 predictions. One, the weather is good, two, the weather is or will be rainy. However, clouds are much more than a simple indication of whether it is going to rain today or not. There are several different types of clouds, each existing in different layers, each with its own specific patterns, and each having its own effect on the sky.

When one typically investigates the sky and predicts fair weather, they are most likely looking at a Cumulus cloud which consists of a puffy-type of cloud with a flat base which is a type of low cloud forming around 2000 meters high. Other clouds which also may occur when the weather is good are Cirrus clouds which are high clouds above 6000 meters. These clouds have a hair-like feature to them as they look like strands of hair in the sky (Christopherson 195). However, when we look up into the sky, we do not tend to notice these features as we are simply concerned with what the weather is like.

Imagine looking into the sky and seeing a gray drag of cloud with no features, what would you predict the weather to be? You would most likely say it will rain, yet the cloud you are looking at is a low-type of cloud called a Stratus cloud. If this cloud was darker in colour and thicker in texture, it now becomes a Nimbostratus cloud which does result in a drizzling type of rain (195). Now the same cloud suddenly became even more dense and heavy and now has an anvil-type of development above it rising high up, this cloud has become a Cumulonimbus cloud associated with heavy rains and dark thunderstorms (195). Remember when I mentioned the halos that I saw in the sky in the preface? Those halos are actually made by Cirrostratus clouds which form in the higher altitudes made from fused sheets of ice crystals (195).

Figure 1: An image of Stratocumulus clouds at sunset taken by Carlye Calvin/UCAR, extracted from UCAR Center for Science Education:

Figure 1 is a great demonstration of how clouds take part in the beauty of a landscape, such as this image taken on a beach during sunset. We would tend to look at the clouds and say “oh cool look at the clouds”, but we fail to understand what exactly we are looking at. Clouds that have a wavy type of form to it, or have arrangements in lines, groups, or packed together like cotton balls are called Stratocumulus clouds. These are the types of clouds you see when you see long strands of clouds in the sky like ripples of water but in cloud form and these clouds are present lower down in the sky (195).

Hopefully the next time you look up into the sky and see clouds, you will be able to identify the type of cloud it is and brag to your friends about it the next time you correct them when they make an incorrect prediction of the weather by looking at the clouds. There is more to seeing, than just looking.


Works Cited

Calvin, Carlye. “Stratocumulus Clouds.” UCAR Center for Science Education, UCAR,

Christopherson, Robert W, et al. “Water and Atmospheric Moisture.” Geosystems, by Robert W Christopherson, 4th ed., Pearson Education Inc., 2016, p. 195.

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2009.

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