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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Weather 101: A Tutorial on Cloud Types

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Weather 101: Clouds

Clouds are an ever-changing aspect of weather. Clouds can often be a great visual indicator

of certain weather patterns, and they can even act as a harbinger of upcoming weather

conditions. In this brief tutorial, we will discuss four primary types of clouds, as well

as some combinations or hybrids within these categories. Well show some specific examples

of each, and some of the weather elements associated with these different cloud types.

Clouds are categorized by their structural characteristics and the height in the atmosphere

at which they develop. The four main forms of clouds are cirro-form, cumulo-form, strato-form,

and nimbo-form. There can be different combinations or hybrids of these cloud types.

Cirrus clouds are high level clouds that typically form between 16,000 and 50,000 feet above

the surface. The Latin wordcirromeans curl of hair. Many times cirrus clouds can

mimic curls of hair due to the thin, wispy structure they exhibit. “Cirrocan also

be used as a prefix to describe high level clouds. Cirrus clouds are composed of tiny

ice crystals suspended in the upper parts of the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere

where all weather occurs. Cirrus clouds are often thought of asindirectindicators

of weather patterns. Sometimes they may accompany a strong jet stream in the upper atmosphere.

Cirrus clouds can also be seen preceding surface fronts by more than a day or two.

Cumulus clouds might be one of the more recognizable cloud types. “Cumulois Latin for heap

or pile. Cumulus clouds often are detached or isolated from other clouds, and will often

appear as fluffy white cotton balls or perhaps even cauliflower. These clouds are considered

low level clouds, usually forming between a few hundred to a few thousand feet above

the surface. In the desert Southwest and much of New Mexico these cloud bases will often

form at higher levels than other parts of the country due to the warm and arid conditions.

Strato-form clouds or layer clouds often appear as a sheet or layer of cloud that exhibits

little definition or features. In other words they will typically appear as a hazy white

or gray mass. Stratus clouds are primarily thought of as low clouds, but can be observed

in the middle to upper parts of the atmosphere as well. Mid level stratus clouds are referred

to as altostratus and high level stratus are commonly identified as cirrostratus.

Nimbo-form clouds are also representative of a hybrid or combination of different cloud

categories. “Nimbois Latin for rain. The two common nimbo-form cloud types are

nimbostratus and cumulonimbus. As you can probably guess, nimbostratus clouds are layered,

producing rain or precipitation. These clouds can extend into the middle to upper parts

of the troposphere, but are typically only seen in the lower parts since they will usually

obscure any clouds above. Cumulonimbus are also a unique hybrid of cloud that extends

from the lower to the upper parts of the troposphere and are otherwise known as thunderstorm clouds.

We briefly mentioned cirrostratus, but another high level cloud is cirrocumulus. These are

similar to altocumulus, the difference being that altocumulus form in the mid levels of

the troposphere while cirrocumulus clouds are in the highest part of the troposphere.

Altocumulus clouds have some variations of their own.

One such variation that frequents New Mexico is the altocumulus standing lenticular, sometimes

simply referred to as lenticular, lennies, or wave clouds. These clouds are common on

the leeward side of topographical barriers such as mountains where a stable layer of

air is found above the crest or peaks of the topography.

Stratocumulus clouds are another combination of two previously mentioned categories: stratus

and cumulus

So, weve discussed a few of the more common cloud types. We invite you to scan the skies,

and maybe you can identify a few of these cloud types on your own. For more information

refer to the National Weather Service website, including theJetstreamwebsite where

you can learn more about clouds with additional charts and imagery.

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