Summer: A Good Time to Watch Clouds
Wx and the City
Summer is a great time for cloud-watching. This summer (now that it feels like summer), while you're sitting at the beach, camping in a nearby park or taking a stroll down a city street, try to take some time to watch the sky and identify the clouds that go by.
One of the first things weather enthusiasts usually learn is how to identify clouds. Another fun activity -- especially with kids -- is finding images in the clouds, such as objects or animals. The great thing about cloud-watching is that anyone can do it, from anywhere. It's instant entertainment, not to mention a connection to the natural world. (Yesterday, I overheard a coworker retelling her experience from a recent thunderstorm. Afterward, she exclaimed, "I can't imagine living somewhere with no weather ... I just love watching the clouds!")
Here are a few of my favorite cloud types that can be seen above the D.C. area in the summer -- some are common, some are rare and a treat to see, and some warn of severe weather.
Keep reading for pictures and explanations of some common and rare cloud types...
Common or somewhat common:
Altocumulus -- mid-level clouds; great clouds to find images in
Cumulus Congestus -- also called towering cumulus; can develop into cumulonimbus and turn into thunderstorms
Cumulonimbus -- very tall, often with an anvil-shaped top; produce thunderstorms; also known as thunderheads
Cirrus -- high clouds; can often look like horse's tails or paint brush strokes
Contrails -- man-made clouds; common over the city from planes and jets flying overhead
Rare or somewhat rare:
Lenticular -- formed above and nearby mountains; can look like flying saucers
Mammatus -- can occur after severe thunderstorms; often seen during sunrise or sunset
Kelvin-Helmholtz -- can occasionally be seen in this area, usually among cirrus
Iridescent Clouds -- an optical effect caused by the diffraction of sunlight around water droplets in thin clouds, often in altocumulus, cirrocumulus, cirrus or lenticular clouds
It's also fun to watch how cloud cover progresses over several hours. Certain patterns are associated with approaching fronts, so by watching the clouds you can learn to make your own short-term forecasts. Here are two helpful diagrams that display clouds in a typical cold front and warm front to help you get started. In addition, here's a great online cloud guide from Plymouth State University's meteorology program, and another from the University of Illinois.
Look up: there's more to the sky than meets the eye!
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