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A cloud atlas for idiots

A cloud atlas for idiots
10 May
2:56

A supercell thunderstorm photographed in 2013 in Nebraska. (Ian Livingston)

Josh Lorenzo (a.k.a. AoS/Author of Sarcasm) is a longtime reader and active contributor to comments on the Capital Weather Gang blog. All opinions are his own. Once in a great while, they’re funny.


Clouds are important for science and stuff. Some clouds portend rain, and others are stupid looking. Some clouds are puffy and cool, while other clouds are wispy freaks. Below is all you need to know about the types of clouds. The information won’t make you smarter, but you may impress some geeks along the way.

Note from the author: There are way too many cloud types to mention here. It’s like meteorologists all met around a table one day and decided to just make up 4.2 million cloud names to absolutely mess with the rest of society. Based on their carelessness, I will highlight only the important clouds.

Cirrus clouds

These clouds are wispy and thin. The word “cirrus” is Latin, meaning “lock of hair.” These clouds are atmospheric (sort of like hanging out at a party where there is a black light) and usually form high in the sky. Cirrus clouds are generally white or a light gray.

These clouds are stupid and annoying. They yield nothing. No rain, no snow. They hardly block out any sun. They serve no purpose. It’s impossible to look at these clouds and make shapes out of them. In short, they lack imagination.

If you ever find yourself in a field with these clouds overheard, you should reevaluate your life’s choices.

Stratus clouds

These are low-level clouds, varying from off-white to almost a dark gray. “Stratus” comes from the Latin prefix “strato,” which means “layer.” A lot of science-y words come from Latin. These clouds can produce light drizzle and/or snow. Stratus clouds are a lot like fog.

These clouds are morons. They just sit there, hovering overhead. Stratus clouds are exactly like the guy you knew in high school who continued living in his parent’s basement until he was 52. Stratus clouds do not aspire to be better clouds. They are content to remain there, mired in their mediocrity, just like your 52-year-old friend.

Cumulus clouds

These clouds are awesome. They have flat bases and appear fluffy or cotton-like. They also get their name from the Latin “cumulo” — which means “pile.” Like stratus clouds, they are low, though they are more vertical. Cumulus clouds don’t produce precipitation, but they can grow to do so. In certain situations, cumulus clouds are lead clouds, meaning that meaner clouds could be coming.

If you see these clouds, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by their beauty. They could be portending death and destruction. Probably not, but just keep it in mind.

Cumulonimbus clouds

These are the alpha-male clouds. Their name is also derived from Latin. Seriously, what’s up with that? Can’t one cloud be named something non-Latin? Maybe Greek or something?

These clouds are dense, vertical clouds and are known for their instability, like when Bruce Banner gets angry. They can produce severe weather like tornadoes and can further develop into apocalyptic supercells. During a storm, it’s okay to call these by their very humble name, “thunderhead.”  Seriously, what’s more alpha-male than “thunderhead?”

Altostratus clouds

These clouds are generally gray and resemble a layer. The sun can be seen through these guys if they are thin enough. There is a lot of science behind these clouds because they are formed by the lifting of large and stable air masses.

If you are interested in the exact science behind this, you’ve come to the wrong article. These clouds elicit a “meh” response from 100 percent of the people who stumble upon them. They are unremarkable, like my high school science grades.

The rest of the clouds are too pathetic to mention, though I should give a shout-out to stratocumulus clouds. These can form waves that are pretty cool, and they cause everyone with a camera to go outside thinking they are Ansel Adams. That part is annoying, but these clouds deserve an honorable mention.

Editor’s note: For a more serious take on clouds, you may enjoy this article from Mashable: Clouds, ranked

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