Clouds don’t just provide us with fresh water, they provide us with eternal interest; they never stop changing or moving, they appear at all heights of the atmosphere from the ground to the edge of space. Many people dedicate their careers to researching clouds and other atmospheric features, there is a huge amount of science and mathematics involved in this study – and it is important too for predicting weather and measuring the effects of climate change. The majority of people don’t pay very much attention to clouds unless they are raining on them or blocking out the sun, but there are people who fall inbetween the atmospheric scientist and the average Joe who actively appreciate these wisps of vapor.
Babies and young children are natural cloud-watchers, babies don’t have much choice because they have to lie down in their pram all the time but older children love to spot shapes and creatures in the clouds. It might seem though that as an adult (and therefore not allowed to use their imagination) there is not much interest in clouds unless you work at the Met office; this is simply not so. Victorians were notorious collectors of all natural things dead or alive, so when certain gentlemen ran out of birds or beetles to collect they turned their attention to the skies. It is because of these early cloud-watchers that clouds today actually have scientific names in Latin and are arranged into categories much like animals or plants.
- Low clouds: these include Stratus (fog), Cumulus (the fluffy ones), Cumulonimbus (The massive storm cloud) and Stratocumulus (which is full of holes and blocks out the sun).
- Middle Clouds: a mostly grey, dull bunch including Altocumulus (an attractive cloud that forms ‘mackerel skies’ and nice sunsets), Altostratus (flat, featureless and grey – the cloud version of a desert) and Nimbostratus (which is that dark grey one that rains all day without stopping).
- High Clouds: a wispy group of clouds these, Cirrus (the paint-brush like hairy ones), Cirrostratus (the very high up plain white one) and Cirrocumulus (like someone spilled popcorn from space) are the main ones.
Then there are the exciting rare forms of clouds like Nacreous, which can only be seen in the far north and resembles a smooth lumpy blob coated in the iridescent colours of the rainbow. Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds on Earth (forming in the mesosphere at 50 miles up where temperatures drop to -150C) and are made from ice crystals – you can only see them in summer after sunset (hence nocti-lucent, meaning night-shining) if you live in latitudes above 50 degrees. Clouds also produce many associated phenomena, the best known being the rainbow of course, but others are both rare and wonderful including many ‘halo-phenomena’ which are atmospheric light effects formed by the sun’s rays bending through ice crystals or vapor in clouds.
So clouds take on a multitude of very different forms, some dull and constantly raining but some can be very beautiful and worth looking out for. There are people out there who take great enjoyment from watching clouds and this is proved by the existence of The Cloud Appreciation Society, which currently stands at just under 39,000 members worldwide – including myself. This society doesn’t take itself too seriously and exists to simply promote the wonder and beauty of clouds, there is a small joining fee and you get a cool badge and certificate too. The best thing about this society though is the books it has produced; ‘The Cloudspotter’s Guide’, ‘The cloud collector’s handbook’, ‘A pig with six legs and other clouds’ and ‘Clouds that look like things’. Why not take a look at their website and maybe even join!
P.S. I have previously written about clouds here, have a read for more depth on how and why I appreciate clouds.