What are clouds?

Clouds are the visible water and ice particles floating up in the sky. Tiny water particles turn icy because it is below freezing point up there. Billions of water and ice particles are present in the atmosphere, formed around dust, soot, smoke, and other solid particles. These water particles come together to form a massive body of water droplets known as clouds. From the earth’s surface, we can see them in infinite shapes, sizes, textures, and colors.

Look up in the sky anytime during the day, and chances are you will find some soft, fluffy patches of the white stuff up there. Sometimes on a very sunny day, you feel a sudden shade or shadow pass. That happens because something up in the sky blocked the sun’s rays from hitting you directly. Clouds make those shadows.

People who study the atmosphere (including weather and clouds) are called meteorologists. They can tell if a particular cloud will bring rain. By the end of this lesson, you will be able to predict rains by studying clouds too.

Cloud Names

The names of clouds often tell us what kind of clouds they are, and the altitudes that they are in the atmosphere. Many of them are Latin names. Can you guess what cloud names mean?

Why are some clouds dark and others white?

Water droplets in the atmosphere reflect sunlight. When there is less water vapor, less light is reflected and more light passes through to illuminate the bottom of the cloud. When a cloud is heavily laden with water particles, all the light is reflected (or scattered), and no light can pass through it. From the ground, looking up, it looks very dark because there is no light passing through it. As the clouds become taller, the darker the base becomes.

Clouds are a vital part of the water cycle. That is because they make up the moisture that ends up as rain (or precipitation) and keeps the water cycle going.