How to use clouds to predict the weather

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We all know the saying "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight.."

People have been looking to the skies for weather predictions as long as humans have been around and even those of us without meteorology degrees have the capacity to predict the weather if we look at what is happening up above our heads. One of the most obvious features of the sky are clouds and these big balls of water have quite a few different forms that can tell us a lot about what to expect.

Good weather is on the way

Cirrus Clouds

These fluffy clouds look a lot like giant trails left by planes and usual signal the onset of good weather, usually coming when a new weather front is due to blow in. If you see these the weather is likely to change within 24 hours.

Cumulus Clouds

Probably the most traditionally 'cloud like' cloud on our list, these pretty guys float around like cotton wool. Genrally they appear in fair weather and are nothing to be worried about. But if they keep gathering together and grow vertically then they soon become cumulonimbus clouds which are far less fun.

Bad weather is on the way

Cirrostratus Clouds

These she sheets of very fine clouds that cover the whole sky and are so thin you can often see the moon or the sun behind them. Usually they mean that a snow storm or rain storm is on the way within 12-24 hours, so batten down the hatches!

Altocumulus Clouds

These messes of puffy little clouds are usually at medium height and signal a change. If the weather is already hot and close then they usually signal a thunderstorm on the way.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

Also known as 'anvil' clouds because of their shape, if you see one of these then you are almost guaranteed a thunderstorm. They comprise of updrafts and downdrafts containing rain or hail in strong wind, and these shifting air pressures are what cause thunderstorms. In fact, it's the high winds that flatten the top of the clouds into the distinctive shape.
Personally, I always notice that a storm is coming from the odd dark yellowish light that joins with these big clouds, and the pressure you can feel in the air.

Mammatus Clouds

These never bode well and are an indication of extreme weather on the way.

Holy Crap, Don't go Near That Thing!

Jupiter's Storm

All right, all right. So you're not likely to see this in person any time soon, but Jupiter's 'Giant Red Spot' is a storm that is full of many of the cloud formations above, just on a massive scale. Jupiter's iconic storm has been raging for as long as we have been able to view the planet but it is not a completely static feature. Instead it's a quirk of meteorology that is the side of 2-3 Earths and consists of a conflicting soup of high and low pressures between high and low altitudes. In the above image, low altitude clouds are coloured blue, high thin clouds are pink and high thick clouds are white.
Some scientists have suggested that water must be present on jupiter as on earth atmospheric water vapor are crucial to creating winds. On Jupiter, wind speeds can reach as high as 300 miles per hour.

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Stay curious!

Weather Wiz kids
- Cirrus Cloud image by Dimitry B on Flicker
- Cirrostratus image by Cloudwise
Altocumulus Image
- Cumulus image
Cumulonimbus cloud image from aviation stack exchange
- Astronomy Picture of the Day: NASA
- Jupiter's great red spot shrinking

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