Many mechanisms cause moist air to rise.

Clouds form when moist air from the surface rises in the atmosphere. First, air masses must pick up moisture. In the United States, the air masses pick up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes. Second, the moist air must rise through one of these mechanisms: Orographic uplift When airflow confronts a mountain barrier, the air rises. Frontal wedging Warm, moist air rises over cold, dense air, which happens at frontal boundaries. Convergence Two airflows collide head-on, forcing air upward. Localized convection Areas of the ground heat unevenly, and small pockets of hot air above the hot spots rise. Click on this link and red about the types of air motion that causes clouds.

Cooling moist air condenses to form clouds. • Remember that atmospheric pressure is highest at the surface. So, the atmosphere squeezes the air at the surface. But as air rises, the atmosphere squeezes it lesswthat is, the pressure decreases. The rising air expands and cools (adiabatic cooling). The air cools at a rate of 10° C/1,000 m. When the temperature of the rising air falls to the dew point, the water vapor in the air condenses. The phase changewwater vapor condensing to liquidwreleases heat (heat of vaporization), which decreases the rate of heat loss to 5v9° C/1,000 m. The water condenses around small particles of dust called condensation nuclei to form small water droplets, which collect together to form clouds.

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To read about why the sky is blue and clouds are white visit this site.


Cirrocumulus Cirrostratus

High clouds do not make precipitation. •

Clouds form at different levels in the atmosphere. First, the dew point varies with the amount of moisture in the air. Highly humid air (high dew point) might cool and condense at a lower point in the atmosphere than drier air (low dew point). Second, the condensing may be forced higher into the atmosphere, where the liquid water droplets may freeze to form ice crystals. So, there are different types of clouds based on their altitude.

There are three types of high clouds (altitude greater than 20,000 ft): • • • • Cirrus-thin and feathery Cirrocumulus-small, fluffy, globular masses Cirrostratus-flat layers High clouds are thin and relatively dry. They consist mainly of ice crystals and do not produce precipitation. Cirrostratus clouds

Midlevel clouds can produce precipitation. • • • • Midlevel clouds are those that form between 6,500 and 20,000 ft. Altocumulus-globular masses that are larger and denser than those in cirrocumulus clouds. Altostratus-gray or white layered clouds that are somewhat thicker than cirrostratus Altostratus clouds diffuse light from the moon and sun, thereby creating fuzzy discs, but they do not totally block light from these objects. Midlevel clouds have more moisture than high-level clouds and can lead to light snow or light rain.

Alto type clouds

Low-level clouds usually make precipitation. • • Low-level clouds are those that form below 6,500 ft. There are three types:

Stratocumulus-light gray, globular clouds that can roll together into one continuous layer • Stratus-a single, smooth continuous layer (white or gray) • Nimbostratus-layer of dark gray clouds with no particular shape. • Low-level clouds are usually thick and obscure the sky. They are rich in moisture and usually result in precipitation. Nimbostratus clouds are the major precipitation-producing clouds and form mostly where air has been forced up by mountains, convergence, or fronts.

Low level clouds

Fog is the lowest-level cloud. • • • • • Fog is a cloud that happens at ground level. Fog is classified by how it forms: Radiation fog-When the ground cools rapidly (radiative cooling), it cools the air immediately above it below the dew point, and a fog forms. Advection fog-When warm, moist air blows over a cold surface (land or water), fog forms. Upslope fog-As air rises along a mountain, a fog forms like a cloud near the mountain slope. Evaporation fog-This fog forms when water vapor is added to air. Steam fog occurs when cool air moves over a warm body of water and picks up moisture to the point of saturation. With frontal or precipitation fog, after rain or snow at a front, the evaporating water will saturate the cold air above it and form fog.

Thunder and Lightning
Vertical development clouds can lead to severe weather. • Some clouds stretch over multiple altitudes within the atmosphere. These clouds are called clouds of vertical development. They initially form low in the atmosphere and grow upward. Vertical development clouds start as cumulus clouds, which are white, dense, puffy clouds with flat bases. You may see them alone, loosely packed, or closely packed together. Cumulus clouds grow as unstable air is forced upward. They reach high altitudes and the tops flatten out into an anvil shape (cumulonimbus). Cumulonimbus clouds are associated with heavy rain and severe thunderstorms with lightning.

Cumulus clouds

What do the clouds tell you?
Clouds indicate weather. Types of clouds can be associated with specific weather patterns. • • • • Cumulus clouds usually form in fair weather. Nimbostratus clouds are a sure sign of heavy rain or snow. Altonimbus or altostratus clouds are often associated with light rain or snow. Cumulonimbus clouds indicate that conditions may be right for severe weather, such as thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Cool Cloud pics and a chart showing the height of different cloud types.

Clouds form when air rises. • • • • • • • This lesson discussed how clouds form, the various types of clouds, and their associated precipitation. Warm, moist air can be forced upward into the atmosphere by several mechanisms, including orographic uplift, frontal wedging, convergence, and localized heating. The rising moist air expands, cools, and condenses. The water vapor condenses onto small dust particles called condensation nuclei. Condensation nuclei collect together to form clouds. Clouds form at different altitudes (high, middle, and low) and are classified according to their shapes and altitudes. Fog is a type of cloud at ground level. Specific clouds can be associated with different types of weather.

Review questions

1.Warm, moist air can be forced upward into the atmosphere by several mechanisms. What are they? 2. The rising moist air expands, _______, and condenses.

3.Clouds form at different altitudes (high, middle, and low) and are classified according to their shapes and what else? 4. Fog is a type of _____at ground level. 5. Specific clouds can be associated with different types of ________.