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Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus clouds are the large fluffy type of clouds, which almost look like cotton balls or piles of cotton candy up in the sky. Cumulus clouds are named for their appearance, with the name being based on the Latin word meaning heap” or “pile”.

These clouds are very pretty, and are usually pictured in photography or other scenic paintings.

What you may not have known is that there is a lot of science behind clouds, including cumulus clouds, and it is very interesting to learning more about what these clouds mean for the weather.


Where are cumulus clouds found?

img3Cumulus clouds are the lowest forming type of cloud, usually occurring below 6500 ft. However, cumulus clouds can appear as low as 300ft above the ground!

How are cumulus clouds formed?

Cumulus clouds are formed when rising warm air meets a body of cool air. The moisture in the warm air mass condenses as a result of the surrounding cool air. When the temperature of the air reaches a temperature known as the dew point, condensing water separates from the air around it, which creates a “cloud” as we see it. How large the resulting cloud is will depend on the temperature difference between the hot and cold air masses, with a greater difference creating a larger cloud.

What do cumulus clouds mean for the weather?

The fluffy cumulus clouds that we usually think of are usually associated with calm, mild weather. These clouds often appear with sunny skies on nice days. When a cumulus clouds grows tall and vertical however, it becomes what is known as a cumulonimbus cloud. These types of clouds are known for bringing precipitation. Whether this appears as rain or snow will depend on the air temperature closer to ground level.

Cumulonimbus clouds are known for bringing severe weather including high winds, hail, and thunderstorms. As they grow much taller than a cumulus cloud, they can occur at altitudes up to 50,000 feet. When several cumulonimbus clouds occur beside each other, forming a line, they become what is known as a “squall”.

Another type of cumulus cloud is the altocumulus cloud. These are much smaller clouds, looking like individual little cotton balls up in the sky. Altocumulus clouds are known for bringing thunderstorms during warm weather. These most commonly occur in the morning, when cool evening air meets sun-warmed air.

What gives a cumulus cloud it’s “fluffy” appearance?

Although cumulus clouds look like “puffs” of cotton, they actually have a flat base. The base is flatter because moisture within the cloud hovers at the lowest point. The fluffy appearance of the rest of the cumulus cloud is created by the air inside of the cloud. Small air bubbles float within it and make the edges appear to be lumpy.

Did you know…

Did you know that the lifespan of a cumulus cloud is only between five and forty minutes? Although clouds appear to be relatively stationary to the human eye, they are constantly forming, disappearing and changing as the air masses around them shift and move.

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