Richard Webber takes a look at the most common clouds you'll spot in the skies above Britain.
‘I was about nine and flying for the first time,’ explains author Richard Hamblyn of the moment that clouds began to dictate his life.
‘Gazing at the clouds, I started worrying about what would happen to the plane when it reached the clouds. They looked solid and I didn’t know if we’d be able to fly through them. But, to my great relief, we were soon above the clouds and experiencing a different microclimate: bright sun, incredibly blue sky and a carpet of stratocumulus clouds stretching for miles below us. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen and that memory has remained with me.’
True lovers of clouds can tell dozens of different types apart — and those who find them endlessly fascinating should take a look at the books of Richard Hamblyn and the website of the Cloud Appreciation Society at www.cloudappreciationsociety.org. To get you started, here are 10 of the most common you’ll find in the skies above our island.
High clouds (base above 20,000ft)
Often indicate a change in the weather is coming. Although they release precipitation, the drops re-evaporate before reaching the ground.
Usually associated with fair weather, although their appearance can often be before stormy weather.
Made of ice crystals, this thin sheet of cloud usually indicates a warm front is approaching and a change of weather is expected soon.
Medium clouds (base 6,500ft–20,000ft)
Usually seen in settled weather. Precipitation is rare, but if it does fall, it never reaches the ground.
A near-featureless sheet of cloud often precedes a warm front and usually indicates a change in the weather is close.
These dark, grey, featureless clouds are usually accompanied by moderate rain or snow, lasting several hours.
Low clouds (base below 6,500ft)
Clumpy clouds that can be seen in all weather conditions. Colours range from white to dark grey, yet it’s rare that they produce anything but light drizzle.
Covers the sky in featureless grey or white and is not usually associated with precipitation. However, if thick enough, expect light drizzle or snow.
These fluffy clouds pop up on bright sunny days and are among the most common. Usually indicate good weather.
With their distinctive, anvil-shaped top, these mighty clouds are linked with extreme weather, including torrential rain, hail and thunderstorms.
This article was originally published in July 2020.
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