How to Forecast the Weather Using Clouds

Two Methods:Recognizing Cloud TypesPutting the Information to Use

Nowadays, to predict weather, most of us simply go online, watch TV, or check the radio. However, if you're in a place where you can't use any of those resources and need to know what might be happening soon, you can look at clouds for help. Read on to know how to read the cloud forecast.

Method 1
Recognizing Cloud Types

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    Learn the different types of clouds. Take a bit of time to understand what clouds are and how different types suggest changes in weather. The basic kinds are cirrus, cumulus, nimbus, and stratus.
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    Know what high clouds are. These clouds form bases at an elevation of about 20,000 feet (6,096.0 m) above sea level. These clouds are usually composed of ice crystals only.
    • Learn how to identify and analyze cirrus clouds. Cirrus clouds are the most abundant of all high level clouds. They are made out of ice and are thin, wispy clouds blown in high winds and gusts into long streamers. These feathery clouds usually spread across the sky. Although single or maybe a few cirrus clouds can indicate that there is fair weather coming, a gradually increasing cover of cirrus clouds may show that an approaching warm front is coming. By observing the movement of cirrus clouds you can tell from which direction the weather is coming. When you see cirrus clouds, it usually indicates that a change in the weather will occur within about 24 hours.
    • Learn about cirro-cumulus clouds. These clouds look like ripples or are grainy in appearance. When cirrus clouds begin to be turned into cirro-cumulus clouds, a storm may be on its way. Cirro-cumulus clouds are usually seen in the winter and show fair, but cold weather. In tropical regions, they may indicate an oncoming hurricane.
    • Learn how to identify cirro-stratus clouds. These clouds look like thin sheets that spread themselves across the sky. At times, they do not look to be different clouds at all; however, they give the sky a pale, white-like appearance. These clouds can indicate the coming of rain. Often, these clouds are thin enough that the sun and moon can be seen through them. Cirro-stratus clouds usually come about 12-24 hours before a rain or snowstorm.
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    Know your mid-level clouds.These clouds form bases at an elevation of about 6,500 to 20,000 feet (1,981.2 to 6,096.0 m). They are mostly made of water droplets, but can also contain ice crystals. These clouds are most often seen as uniformly bluish-grey sheets that cover all or most of the sky. At times, they are so thick that they obscure the Sun, which then appears as nothing more than a light area in the sky.
    • Be able to recognize alto-cumulus clouds. Alto-cumulus clouds are mid-level clouds that are composed of water droplets and appear as grey, puffy, irregular objects. These clouds most often are seen in recognizable layers of puffy, round, small clouds. If you see alto-cumulus clouds on a warm, humid, or sticky morning, be prepared to observe thunderstorms late in the afternoon. A similar type of cloud, alto-stratus clouds, often appear a few hours ahead of a warm front that brings precipitation.
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    Know your low clouds. These clouds form bases below 6,500 feet (1,981.2 m) in elevation. They mostly are made of little drops of water only and rarely contain ice.
    • Study up on cumulus clouds. Cumulus clouds are usually called "fair-weather clouds" and are the fluffy clouds you see on a mostly-sunny day. The bottom of each cloud is generally flat, and the top of each cloud has rounded stacks, which often appear puffy. Cumulus clouds look like white cotton balls and usually show that fair, dry conditions. Fair-weather cumulus clouds only last for a short time. When they make showers, the precipitation is most often light and simple, sometimes only lasting for a few minutes.
    • Know what cumulonimbus clouds mean. Cumulonimbus clouds are thunder clouds. High winds can make the cloud's top flatten into an anvil-like shape. Also called thunderheads, cumulonimbus clouds have bottoms that are usually dark. These clouds can forecast some of the most extreme weather, including heavy rain, hail, or snow, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The anvil usually points in the direction the storm is moving.
    • Be able to recognize a funnel cloud. A funnel cloud is a tapering form of a cloud coming from the base of a larger cloud. This is a classic sign showing that a tornado is soon to occur. The tornado forms when the clouds reaches the ground with a violent wind speed and a cloud of debris around it.
    • Identify stratus clouds. Stratus clouds are grayish clouds that often stretch across and block the entire sky with a dull grey color. They look like fog that is not on the ground. This is called overcast. If their bottoms reach the ground, they become fog. Stratus clouds produce only drizzle or fine snow, if anything at all.
    • Analyze strato-cumulus clouds. Strato-cumulus clouds are low, puffy, and gray. Most form in rows with blue sky visible in between them. Rain rarely occurs with strato-cumulus clouds; however, they can turn into nimbo-stratus clouds. A sky full of strato-cumulus clouds indicates dry weather, a small difference in temperature from day to night, and sometimes light precipitation.
    • Nimbo-stratus clouds form a dark gray, wet-looking cloudy layer that is so thick that it completely blocks out the sun. They often produce precipitation in the form of rain and/or snow. The precipitation can be long lasting.
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    Know your other clouds. There exists a group of clouds, rarely or occasionally observed. Despite their lack of categorization, they can still predict weather well.
    • The clouds that look like hanging bulges from the skies are called mammatus clouds. These clouds are formed by sinking air and mean that a storm is going away.
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    • Fog is made up of billions of practically microscopic water droplets. It occurs if the atmosphere's ability to be seen near the Earth's surface is reduced to 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) or less. This can indicate various weather, usually cloudy and cold and sometimes rainy.
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    • Green clouds are usually related to severe weather. The color is formed by light reflected from green vegetation, such as a cornfield or a very thick forest. They often predict hurricanes and tornadoes.
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    • Nacreous clouds resemble pale cirrus in daytime, but after sunset, are characterized by brilliant colors. They occur at altitudes between 21 and 30 kilometers (70,000 and 100,000 feet). The physical constitution of nacreous clouds is still unknown. However, the simultaneous occurrence of various diffraction colors in more or less irregular patterns indicates the presence of minute particles, possibly spherical ice particles.
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    • Noctilucent clouds also resemble thin cirrus, but usually with a bluish, silvery, or sometimes orange to red color that stands out against a dark sky. Measurements have shown that their altitude ranges from 75 to 90 kilometers (250,000 to 300,000 feet). Their physical composition is also unknown, but they are believed to be composed of fine, cosmic dust particles possibly with a thin, outer layer of ice. Noctilucent clouds become visible after sunset. They are at first grayish, then more brilliant and, as time advances, they appear bluish white like tarnished silver.
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    • Billow clouds are formed from the state of being unstable that is associated with air-flows. This often shows that a front, either cold or warm, is probably coming in.
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Method 2
Putting the Information to Use

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    Using the information you have learned, start practicing. Begin trying to predict the weather for several days using clouds, and record your observations as well as your success rate. If you want, you can also take pictures.
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    Research how the weather in your area ought to be. Knowing the climate of your area and how seasons often turn out can help you predict weather as well.
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    Be patient. It will take a while to be able to predict the weather with a degree of accuracy, so keep a positive attitude.


  • Some clouds are associated with nuclear energy. Not all clouds are formed normally, some clouds may even be smoke. Be aware of these dangers and if any are in sight, it is a good idea to not be exposed to such conditions.
  • If you happen to see storm clouds, safety comes first. Go inside when you see severe weather clouds. Do not risk your life to just observe the weather!
  • Be extremely cautious when a tapering cumulonimbus cloud appears. Always follow the rules of tornado safety.

Article Info

Categories: Meteorology