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What are clouds?

When air is cooled below its dew point

temperature, the excess water vapour
condenses into very small particles of water,
which remain suspended in the air. Millions of
these particles, close together, become visible
as a cloud.

*** So basically a cloud is the excess water

vapour particles which condenses when air is
cooled below its dew point temperature. ***

For condensation to take place condensation

nucleii must be present (i.e. particles on which
condensation takes place).
Condensation Nucleii

Examples of condensation
nucleii include:

Salt particles

Dust particles

Industrial smoke

Volcanic ash.
FYI- Condensation Nucleii

Nuclei is typically 0.0002 mm, or 1/100th the size of a

cloud droplet

When no CCNs are present, water vapour can be

supercooled below 0C (32F) before droplets
spontaneously form

Other common types of cloud nucleii include:

dust or clay, soot or black carbon from grassland or
forest fires
phytoplankton or the oxidation of sulfur dioxide and
secondary organic matter formed by the oxidation of
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).

The ability of these different types of particles to form

cloud droplets varies according to their size and also
their exact composition, as the hygroscopic properties of
these different constituents are very different.
Clouds can form at any height from sea level
up to the tropopause, and can thus be grouped
or classified according to:

1. Their height above sea level

We have four (4) cloud groups according to

their height:
Low cloud group consists entirely of water droplets
and have their bases between sea level and two (2)

Medium cloud group, these have the prefix "ALTO" to

their names and consist of water droplets and ice
particles, but mainly water droplets. Their bases are
between two (2) km and six (6) km above sea level.

High cloud group, these have the prefix "CIRRO" to

their names and consist entirely of ice crystals. Their
bases are between six (6) km above sea level and
the tropopause.

Special cloud group: These have their bases at low

cloud level but tops may extend well into the high
cloud level (for example cumulonimbus (Cb) and
towering cumulus (TCu))

The height of 6km is average only.

Cloud bases are slightly lower over the

poles and slightly higher over the tropics
or the equator.

The tops of medium clouds and the base

of high clouds can overlap by as much as
3 km.
2. Classification Based on Appearance

There are four (4) main classifications:

Cirrus- curl of hair
Cumulus- heap
Stratus- layer
Nimbustratus- violent rain
Cirrus: These are silvery clouds in the form of feathers or
fibers seen high up in a blue sky
Cumulus: These are white clouds, shaped like a
cauliflower, which can have great vertical extent
Stratus: Are even layers of grey clouds, not giving torrential
Nimbostratus: These are even layers of grey clouds giving
Various combinations of the above mentioned four types of
clouds exist and are their abbreviations and grouping
according to height are as follows:

Cloud classifications according to height.

(Abbreviations are in brackets)

High Medium Low Special

Bases between Bases between Bases between sea Bases at low cloud
6 km and the 2 km and 6 km level and 2 km level but tops may
tropopause extend well into the
high cloud level

Cirrus (Ci) Altostratus (As) Stratus (St) Cumulus (Cu)

Cirrostratus (Cs) Altocumulus Stratocumulus (Sc) Cumulonimbus (Cb)


Cirrocumulus Nimbostratus (Ns)

There is about 100 different genera and species of the
10 types of clouds .

Whilst at sea the International cloud atlas, which is

available on nearly all ships should be consulted when
making observations of clouds for weather report.

Points to note well:

1. Stratiform type of clouds indicates stable atmospheric

conditions, where as Cumuliform clouds indicate unstable
atmospheric condition.

2. If Cumulonimbus (Cb) covers the sky completely, its top

cannot be seen and hence it is difficult to be distinguished
from Nimbostratus (Ns). The fact that rain falls from Ns,
while showers falls from Cb can be used to distinguish
Clouds form at locations of rising air. Ascension rate varies from
several cms-1 in broad cloud layers such as As, to tens of ms-1 in
massive Cb towers.

Once relative humidity becomes 100% condensation (phase

change of water vapor to liquid water) begins, causing cloud
droplet formation.

At the center of each cloud droplet is at least one speck of 'dirt'

sea salt, smoke particles, clay, fungus, pollen...some sort of
condensation nucleus.

The diameter of cloud droplets are fraction of a micrometer,

growing to about 20mm as diffusion of water vapor to them

After a sufficient number of clouds droplets form, a cloud exists,

composing of billions of droplets of various sizes.
1. Collision Coalescence Process
 Responsible for the formation of precipitation in the Tropics-
where majority of clouds form at levels too warm for ice crystal

 Presence of a few large water droplets which form on larger than

normal nuclei.

 Droplets grow by collision with and absorption of smaller cloud

droplets, the process being self sustaining as the larger drops fall
faster than the smaller ones.

 Updraughts assist in the collisions by carrying all but the largest

drops up through the cloud and reducing the fall speed so that
the time during which collision can occur is increased.
Actually, the fall rate is relative - not very strong updrafts or
turbulence is sufficient for moving the droplets upward. In a
cloud you would see quite a variety of these up & down
movement along with the horizontal wind, among a general
descending motion.

Collision Coalescence Process

2. Ice Crystal Formation (Bergeron Process)
Primarily thought to be responsible for precipitation formation
in Temperate and Polar Latitudes

Many clouds contain mixtures of ice crystals and water droplets,

which is important regarding the precipitation processes.

Lower saturation vapour pressure over ice than over water,

thus ice crystals grow at the expense of the water drops until
they are large enough to start falling through the cloud.

This is so because ice crystals grow quicker via diffusion than

water droplets and water droplets fall much quicker than ice
crystals, freezing to them very effectively.

Process of growth continues during the descent until they finally

emerge from the base of the cloud and reaches the ground,
either as snowflakes if the temperature is low enough, or as
drops of rain or drizzle if the melting level is sufficiently high
This is referred to as the "Bergeron process", and is
responsible for much of the precipitation in our

All Cirriform clouds (except some Cc) and some As &

Ac clouds consist of ice crystals, where the air is
below freezing point.

Others clouds contain water droplets or a mixture of

water & ice.

It is noticed that Cumulonimbus clouds have very

well-defined edges, indicating water droplets, but
poorly-defined tops, indicating mainly ice crystals.
Types of Precipitation
Water: Drizzle, Rain, Shower, Freezing drizzle, Freezing
rain, Sleet
Snow: Snow flakes, Snow pellets, Sleet
Ice: Ice pellets, Hail, Sleet.

Fine drops of water with diameter less than 0.5 mm
Drizzle may be light or heavy depending on the intensity
of the precipitation
Drizzle falls from Stratus clouds.

Water droplets with diameter greater than 0.5 mm
Rain may also be termed light or heavy depending on the
intensity of the precipitation
Rain, falls from Stratiform clouds, mainly Nimbostratus,
Altostratus, and Stratocumulus clouds and falls for 1
hour or more.
Water droplets with diameter greater than 0.5

Shower may also be termed light or heavy

depending on the intensity of the precipitation

Shower, falls from Cumuliform clouds, mainly

Cumulus, and Cumulonimbus clouds and falls for
less than 1 hour.

These are loose clusters of ice crystals, in very
soft, small particles having branches

Snowflakes fall from Nimbostratus, Altostratus,

Stratocumulus and cumulonimbus clouds.
The anvil-shaped tops are cirriform clouds being blown off
the tops of Cumulonimbus clouds by very strong winds near
the tropopause.
Clouds are formed in four (4) main ways
or because of four (4) main reasons and
these are as follows:
Orographic Lifting
Frontal Lifting

Discussion of these will be done at a

higher level.
Frequently Asked Questions

1. Give a basic definition for a cloud and state what

must be present for condensation to take place
during the formation of clouds giving examples.

2. Clouds are grouped or classified according to their

height and according to their appearance. What are
these groups or classifications?

3. What are the abbreviations for the following clouds

and what are their classifications according to
(i) Cirrus (ii) Altostratus (iii) Stratocumulus

4. What are the names of the clouds with the

following abbreviations and what are their
classifications according to height:
Cc (ii) As (iii) St
5. List the four ways in which clouds are formed.

6. Say how it is possible to distinguish between Nimbostratus

(Ns) and Cumulonimbus (Cb) If (Cb) covers the sky

7. Differentiate between rain and showers.

8. Which clouds are classified as special, give their abbreviations

and state why they are classified as special. What are the
names of the clouds with the following abbreviations and
state in which cloud group they are classified in according to
(i) Ac (ii) Cs (iii) Ns

9. Explain the formation of precipitation in temperature areas.

10. Explain the formation of precipitation in tropical regions.

End of Chapter 6