January 24, 2017
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The Old Farmer's Almanac For Kids

Find out what the weather was like on the day you were born.





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Clouds

Want to know how to predict the weather? Look at the clouds and see if you can identify them. Cloud types give you clues about what's going on in the atmosphere and can sometimes alert you to weather changes ahead.

Clouds are classified by their shape and by their height in the atmosphere. The names of the clouds come from Latin words that describe their characteristics:

cirrus means "curl" (as in lock of hair) or "fringe"
cumulus means "heap" or "pile"
nimbus means "rain-bearing'
stratus means "spread over an area" or "layer"

The basic cloud types, listed below, use these words in combination:

HIGH CLOUDS

These clouds form bases at about 20,000 feet. They usually are made of ice crystals only.

Cirrus

Cirrus: These wispy, feathery clouds often spread across the sky. Streaming cirrus clouds are also called mare's tails. Although isolated cirrus clouds can indicate fair weather, a gradually increasing cover of cirrus clouds may indicate an approaching warm front.

Cirrocumulus: These clouds are rippled or grainy looking. If they resemble the striped patterns of fish scales, the effect is called a mackerel sky. When cirrus clouds begin to be replaced by cirrocumulus clouds, a storm may follow, which accounts for the folk saying, "Mackerel sky, storm is nigh."

Note: Cirrocumulus clouds have smaller features than altocumulus clouds, and they have no shading.

Cirrostratus: These clouds appear as thin sheets that stretch across the sky. At times, they do not appear to be distinct clouds at all but give the sky a whitish appearance. These clouds can indicate the approach of rain.

Note: Cirrostratus clouds are thinner than altostratus clouds, and when the Sun shines through them, you can sometimes see a halo.

MIDLEVEL CLOUDS

These clouds form bases from about 6,500 to 20,000 feet. They usually are made of water droplets, but can sometimes also contain ice crystals.

Altostratus: These clouds are most often seen as uniformly bluish-gray sheets that cover all or most of the sky. At times, they are so thick that they obscure the Sun, which then appears as nothing more than a light area in the sky. Altostratus clouds often appear a few hours ahead of a warm front that brings precipitation.

Altocumulus: These clouds most often occur in distinct layers of puffy, round cloudlets. As with cirrocumulus clouds, their patterning is sometimes called a mackerel sky. Altocumulus clouds in the morning may foretell afternoon thunderstorms.

Note: Although "alto" means "high" in Latin, the word is used to describe midlevel clouds.

LOW CLOUDS

These clouds form bases below 6,500 feet. They usually are made of water droplets only.

Cumulus: These clouds are sometimes put in the category of vertically developed clouds, as they can build in height. Cumulus clouds look like white cotton balls or cauliflower heads, and usually suggest fair, dry conditions. Fair-weather cumulus clouds are short-lived. When they produce showers, the precipitation is most often light and brief.

Cumulonimbus: Sometimes put in the category of vertically developed clouds, these are cumulus clouds that have grown high into the atmosphere. Also called thunderheads, cumulonimbus clouds have bases that are usually dark, and their tops often resemble the shape of an anvil. These clouds can accompany some of the most extreme weather, including heavy rain, hail, or snow; thunderstorms; tornadoes; and hurricanes.

Stratus: These clouds often blanket the entire sky with a dull-gray color. If their bases reach the ground, they become fog. Stratus clouds produce only drizzle or fine snow, if anything.

Stratocumulus: These are masses of puffy clouds with little or no space in between. A sky full of stratocumulus clouds indicates dry weather if the difference in temperature between night and day is only a few degrees. Sometimes, though, light precipitation can occur.

Nimbostratus: These clouds form a dark gray blanket. Nimbostratus clouds bring precipitation, and rain and snow can fall from them almost constantly for long periods.

Note: Nimbostratus clouds are similar to stratus clouds, but they are darker and have rougher bases.

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