What Kinds of Weather Do Different Cloud Types Indicate?
If you’ve ever endured a severe thunderstorm, a tornado, or some sort of heavy precipitation event, you may have noticed that the clouds in these events are often very large, dark, and often voluminous and puffy. On the contrary, during fair weather and heat spells, one may notice some passing cirrus or little to no clouds. Though, can we make an accurate estimation as to what sort of weather conditions are present or about to occur based off of the presence of different cloud types? Generally speaking, yes!
When it comes to fair weather, sunshine, gentle breezes, and moderate temperatures, one may often find puffy cumulus drifting by. Cumulus are often associated with fair weather as warm pockets of air, or thermals, rise up into the atmosphere and are cooled as they gain elevation. As these pockets cool and condense, water droplets accumulate and a puffy cumulus forms and drifts on by. Though, for this to happen a bit of humidity, or water in the atmosphere, must be present. So, generally speaking, if cumulus are present, one may deduce that moderate temperatures, slight humidity, and clear, fair weather is occurring. However, weather may still be considered “fair” in the area even if cumulus are not present. Often, this occurs in areas with very little humidity, such as the California valley. Here, the presence of cirrus often are associated with fair weather.
Representing inclement weather is a variety of clouds, most notably being a different strain of cumulus: Cumulonimbus. When cumulonimbus are present and gathering, skies darken, wind may pick up, and precipitation typically occurs. They may grow in size and shape to where they even anvil out as the updraft strengthens and hits the tropopause. As this occurs, hail may begin to fall, and if the storm is strong enough, it could potentially produce a tornado. One may deduce by the presence of a cumulonimbus that a thunderstorm is about to occur.
In the wintertime, colder, but still fair weather is often associated with cirrocumulus. These close-knit, but puffy and icy groups of clouds are most present in colder temperatures. Upon viewing this type of cloud, one may predict the day will be clear of any precipitation, but chilly!
Switching back to inclement weather, some cloud types are signals for severe weather. Often cumulonimbus produce many of these types of severe weather clouds. These types of clouds include mammatus, wall clouds, and shelf clouds. Mammatus are a type of cloud that are not completely understood, but are bulbous in shape and often can be found before and after severe thunderstorms. They may hang from the anvil at the front of the storm, or come trailing in once the storm has passed. Either way, these indicate a very unstable atmosphere and that severe weather is in store. Wall clouds form at the rear base of a cumulonimbus and are what tornadoes typically are birthed from. Ahead of this is often the shelf cloud that also forms at the bottom of cumulonimbus but forms in the leading edge of the storm along what is called the gust front.
Clouds provide a plethora of information about the weather that is about to or that is currently happening in the vicinity. They are somewhat of atmospheric indicators, providing clues and evidence as to what atmospheric phenomena may be about to take, or not take place. Whether they are present or absent, there is much to learn and take from clouds in predicting and understanding the weather.