Cloud watching is a hobby that is accessible to all and is absolutely free. Weather cycles can create a beautiful, mesmerizing visual display.
The sky is constantly changing, presenting the observer with endless opportunities to witness the beauty of cloud formations. From sunrise to sunset, the “ultimate art gallery above”, as it was described by American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, puts on an impressive display, including dramatic variations in colour, light and form.
In contrast to many hobbies, which require a great deal of time and money to pursue, cloud watching costs absolutely nothing and can be done at any time of day for any amount of time. Knowing a little about some of the different types of clouds can help cloud watchers get the most out of their hobby.
Basic Cloud Formations
Cirrus clouds are wispy clouds that form high in the atmosphere, usually higher than 20,000 feet. They contain ice crystals and are spread out by high altitude winds. Cirrus clouds can form “streaks” across the sky or more interesting phenomena such as the “Angels on Horseback” effect. The clouds are usually seen when the weather is fair and calm.
Cumulus are the familiar “billowing” clouds that often seem to make interesting shapes in the sky, such as castles or ducks! These clouds have a flat base and may only be 330 feet above the ground. These clouds can grow upward, forming thunderstorm clouds called cumulonimbus. Their height can range from 2 to 5 miles.
Stratus clouds are the sheetlike clouds that cover much of the sky. They can often be grey in colour. Fog is actually stratus clouds at a low level. These clouds bring rain or snow.
Spectacular Cloud Formations
Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds possible. They can form 50 miles above the earth. These clouds can only be seen for a few hours after sunset, and they glow, as they reflect the sunlight from below the horizon.
Mammatus clouds have a “bobbly” appearance and are associated with unstable stormy weather. The shapes of these clouds can vary from long ripples stretching across the sky to more rounded formations.
A “glory” is an optical effect that looks like a small circular rainbow. it is formed when light is scattered back towards its source by a cloud of water droplets, forming coloured rings. They can usually be seen from aircraft windows when passing over areas of cloud.
You never know when or where you may witness a spectacular or dramatic cloud formation. It is easy to miss the beauty that surrounds us every day, so why not spend a few minutes in the simple pastime of cloudwatching, and enjoy the “ultimate art gallery above”?