Recognizing Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus clouds take on many shapes and often have tails – mare’s tails – and often appear as great delights when the evening sun shines through them with its red and yellowish hues. Sometimes they even appear scalloped. This look is formed when very small balls of cirrus clouds combined with cumulus clouds are stacked, or are appearing to be stacked. Too, a lot of cirrus clouds crowding the sky are indicative of fairer weather. These phenomenal happenings are the result of warmer air and a lowered elevation plus melting ice crystals. Soon these will turn into cumulous clouds which are present in good weather.

Cumulus clouds are the high flyers among the cloud families, often times floating 20,000 feet above our heads. They appear wispier and gauze-like and are easily distinguishable from the cushiony appearing cumulus clouds. These aloof clouds are composed of ice crystals and it is this property that gives them that thinly glazed look. Sometimes, even, they are seemingly stretched so thin, the sun and the moon can shine through them. The naked eye cannot detect this but a visible halo is seen around the sun or the moon when this happens.

How are cirrus clouds formed? When the raindrops that from cumulous clouds are forced into higher and colder air the water drops freeze and part of the cloud break off and drift higher and higher. As they drift they appear thin and wispy although in reality they are possibly as dense, or maybe more so, than the lower clouds that are water filled. I say possibly because of their great height they have not been examined and as carefully studied as those of a lower height. Most of what is known is speculative, although efforts are being made for more intense studies.

A mackerel sky is so called when ripples of cirrus clouds resemble fish scales. There’s no end to the effects these can assemble themselves into. And possibly because their cause and effect is not well known those observing add to the lore of what appears to be. After all, we who gaze up and see all manner of shapes and contortions in the clouds are free to make of them what we will. It is instant art without all the cleanup mess with brush, paint and canvas.

Yet clouds, weather, earth and all that’s in it are never still. Even good weather gives way to bad weather – such as heavy rain, storms, tornadoes, hail, etc – when the clouds become overly saturated and the warm and cold air collide. Clouds are thought to be modulators of the climate generally. In particular cirrus clouds have the potential of blocking the sun’s energy from earth or space, or allowing either. There are supposedly involved in the often heard weather word jet stream. These are high powered cold winds that usher in winter weather.

Cirrus clouds are more influential on the climate patterns as a whole than are the lower and more easily detectable clouds. They are thought to affect the way in which environmental changes occur such as carbon dioxide utilizations, long ranging weather predictions, and other environmental concerns than do mere rain clouds. It is toward this study that meteorologists are anxious to learn more about them.

Cirrus clouds combine with other clouds. They are after all one big family, or more aptly, one big wash load of dirty water picked up by the sun. The clouds can be compared to the various cycles of our present day washing machines, or heavenly dry cleaning establishments. Cirrostratus clouds are sheet like clouds that are stretched thin. Sunlight or moon light traveling through these flimsy clouds filled with ice crystals are bent, giving the appearance of color. When they are thicker the sky appears white. Usually this is cold weather times and snow is in the forecast.