One thing you are almost always guaranteed to run into when exploring our region is the weather. While we have come a long way from simply looking at the sky to try to predict the weather, there is still a lot you can tell from a quick glance up at the clouds.
Clouds are the harbingers of all manner of weather conditions. They can be roughly categorized into four main names based on their formation and function; cirrus, cumulus, stratus, and nimbus. While there are far more than these four simple groups, properly identifying a cloud type usually involves a combination of two or more of these names to describe the shape and purpose.
Cirrus clouds are high-altitude clouds that are mostly made of ice crystals. These can appear as hazy clouds in feathery wisps or be seen blanketing the entire sky. These clouds will often arrive a day or two before a prolonged rain system. At night they can create halos around the moon or even small rainbow refractions during the day.
The classic puffy summer clouds are cumulus and are generally formed through convective air masses rising and condensing. When they are in their puffy stages these clouds pose little risk other than a sore neck from staring up at their beauty. As the convection rates increase, though, usually due to more and more input from uneven heating of the earth by the sun, cumulus clouds can transform into a towering thunderstorm flying by on a summer afternoon.
The bleak stratus clouds form the dense blanket that fills the sky for days-to-weeks in the winter. Thankfully less common in the summer due to our region’s climate, these clouds bring fog, light rain, and the sometimes a flurry of snow.
Nimbostratus clouds producing rain
The major rain-bearing clouds are in the nimbus family. These clouds are almost always dark grey or even black due to the shear amount of water they contain. The nimbus name is never really used on its own, but instead modifies one of the other cloud types denoting its likelihood for producing precipitation.