After rainy days I come up with a “puzzling” question: do you know how much a cloud weighs?
Despite appearing light due to the fluffy appearance, clouds would be heavier than they seem, as they say the researchers in the field of atmosphere. But let’s find out more details about clouds!
What are clouds?
To begin with, you must know that clouds are masses of condensed liquid droplets or sublimated ice crystals. They are made up of billions of tiny water droplets or ice crystals that clump together to form a cloud of varying sizes and colors, from pure white to dark gray.
Clouds that are multi-colored—white, black, or grayscale—are very thick and dense, reflecting all wavelengths of white sunlight equally. They are in the atmosphere above the earth’s surface and can even exist on other planets that have atmospheres, such as Earth.
How clouds are formed
When water vapor in the air condenses into visible droplets or ice crystals, clouds form. The process takes place in 3 different ways:
– in the first, the air cools below the saturation point, that is, it comes into contact with a cold or radiation-cooled surface.
– In the second way, clouds form after two air masses that are both below the saturation point mix. A good example would be a human breathing outside at low temperatures.
– and in the third way, the air does not change its temperature, but absorbs a lot of water vapor until it reaches the saturation point.
Classification of clouds
In 1802, Luke Howard classified clouds according to their altitude and appearance. The basic words used were from Latin, as follows: Cirrus – fibrous, like hair; Cumulus – heap; Stratus – layer / horizontal level; Nimbus – bringing rain.
Currently, the clouds are high-altitude clouds with a ceiling above 6,000 meters, medium-altitude clouds with a ceiling between 2,000 and 6,000 meters, low-altitude clouds, and low-altitude but vertically extending clouds.
How to weigh a cloud
Now that we’ve got a few essentials out of the way, let’s dive deeper into exactly what we’re interested in. Namely, how much does a cloud weigh? Well, there are a few ways we can measure this. The first is to weigh the water vapor that makes up the cloud, but only after “you have some knowledge of the dimensions of the cloud,” says Armin Sooroshian, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona in the US.
Margaret LeMone researcher in the atmosphere at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, USA, measured a cumulus cloud several years ago. It is about the clouds separated in the form of piles, but with a well-defined outline. They are as tall as they are wide, roughly cubic in shape.
She started by measuring the size of the shadow to estimate the weight and Margaret LeMone believes the density of the water droplets would be about one/two grams per cubic meter, totaling 550 tons of water. It’s like 100 elephants hanging in the sky together.
How heavy are the clouds?
Specialists have come to the conclusion that each type of cloud has its own weight. Separate high-altitude cirrus clouds are lighter because they have less water per unit volume, according to researcher Margaret LeMone. Cumulonimbus clouds, the dark clouds that appear before a storm, are much heavier.
But Armin Sooroshian, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, USA, argues that “the entire volume of a cloud is not just droplets; we must also consider the air. A cloud is actually denser than the air it comes in contact with.”
Can the clouds fall from the sky?
Have you ever wondered why clouds don’t fall from the sky even though they contain so much water or ice? Well, the experts come up with the answer: the water droplets are so small that they hardly reach the bottom. Margaret LeMone says that the average drop of water in a cloud is approx. a million times smaller than a raindrop, which would be 2 mm, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.
The tiny droplets are held in the air by wind currents and thermal convection. The only way clouds can fall is as rain or snow. When the droplets cool, they condense into each other and grow, becoming so heavy that they fall to Earth.