What’s one special thing you can notice outside in the winter? Clouds!
In Texas this winter, we had a serious cold snap. As a result of the 17-degree cold for several nights, gone are the tree and shrub leaves that sometimes hang on for the entire cold season. With one chilling swoosh, the Texas persimmons, fringe trees and cedar elms created crunchy leaf blankets at their feet.
What’s cool about this? I can see the January sky even better than most years. And what is there to do, even from inside the toasty house? Look at, and learn about, clouds.
You may remember learning a little about clouds when you were in school, even adding them to your grade-school drawings and paying attention when the weather people in the media made predictions.
But being able to look at the sky and make your own predictions is something early settlers knew and is now a lost skill. Except maybe for members of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Their manifesto states “We believe that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.” If you’re looking for real excitement, the CAS does an annual trip to Canada’s Northwest Territories in February-March each year see the aurora borealis, the “northern lights,” that are clouds of color caused by electrically charged particles.
So why would you want to look at clouds? Most people have two reasons – to figure out what’s going to happen with the weather and to have fun studying cloud shapes.
Did you know that clouds are categorized based on their location in the sky relative to the earth? Certain types of clouds form and disperse entirely in within each of three altitude bands – high, medium, and low. Clouds populating the high altitudes above 20,000 feet - cirrus, cirrocumulus, and cirrostratus – are named from the Latin word for a ringlet or curling lock of hair. Alto clouds are found between 6,500 and 20,000 feet, while cumulus types of clouds are found below 6,500 feet. The ones we commonly notice here in Texas are clouds that develop vertically. They can be puffy and flat-bottomed or looming billows of thunder and rain.
A great starting point for cloud knowledge is the Old Farmer’s Almanac. You can still buy a paper version or just go online to read about and see photos of the varied types of clouds.
If you begin now to learn about clouds, you can practice your predicting skill throughout the spring and be well-prepared to amaze your friends and family with facts during the summer, as you lie on the lawn and watch cloud shapes drift by.
Share new cloud types with your grandchildren as they are discovered, such as mustache and noctilucent clouds.