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OiCNW PHASE 1 METEOROLOGY REVISED 09.

2009

CHAPTER 6-
CLOUDS and PRECIPITATION

Definition: A cloud may be defined as a visible aggregate of minute particles of


water or ice, or of both, in the free air. When air is cooled below its dew point
temperature, the water vapour condenses into very small particles of water, which remain
suspended in the air. Millions of these particles, close together, become visible as a cloud.

For condensation to take place, there must be condensation nucleii present (i.e. particles
on which condensation takes place). Example of some condensation nucleii are:
(a) salt particles
(b) dust particles
(c) industrial smoke
(d) volcanic ash.

Cloud names have abbreviations, which consist of two (2) letters, of which the first is a
capital letter.

CLASSIFICATION OF CLOUDS

Clouds can form at any height from sea level up to the tropopause, and are thus grouped
or classified according to their height above sea level and according to their appearance.

(1) Classification according to their height above sea level.


We have four (4) cloud groups according to height above sea level: (i) Low (ii) Medium (iii)
High (iv) Special clouds.

(i) Low cloud group consist entirely of water droplets and have their bases between
sea level and two (2) km.

(ii) Medium cloud group: These have the prefix "ALTO" to their names and consist of
water droplets and ice particles, but mainly water droplets. Their bases are between
two (2) km and six (6) km above sea level.

(iii) High cloud group: These have the prefix "CIRRO" to their names and consist
entirely of water ice crystals. Their bases are between six (6) km above sea level
and the tropopause.

(iv) Special cloud group: These have their bases at low cloud level but tops may
extend well into the high cloud level

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Note*** the height of 6km is average only. Cloud bases are slightly lower over the poles
and slightly higher over the tropics or the equator. The tops of medium clouds and the
base of high clouds can overlap by as much as 3 km.

(2) Classifying of clouds according to their appearance.


There are four (4) main classifications according to their appearance, which are:
(i) Cirrus (ii) Cumulus (iii) Stratus (iv) Nimbostratus.

(i) Cirrus type clouds: These are silvery clouds in the form of feathers or fibers seen high
up in a blue sky.

Fig 6.1 Cirrus (Ci) clouds:

(ii) Cumulus type clouds: These are white clouds, shaped like a cauliflower, which can
have great vertical extent.

Fig 6.2 Cumulus (Cu) clouds:

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(iii) Stratus type clouds: Are even layers of grey clouds, not giving torrential rain.

Fig 6.3 Stratus (St) clouds:

(iv) Nimbostratus type clouds: These are even layers of grey clouds giving rain.

Fig 6.4 Nimbostratus (Ns) clouds

Various combinations of the above mentioned four types of clouds exist and their
abbreviations and grouping according to height are given in the table below.

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Table 6.1: showing Cloud classifications according to height.


(abbreviations are in brackets)

High Medium Low Special


Bases between Bases between Bases between Bases at low cloud level but
6 km and the 2 km and 6 km sea level and 2 tops may extend well into
Tropopaues km the high cloud level
Cirrus (Ci) Altostratus (As) Stratus (St) Cumulus (Cu)
Cirrostratus (Cs) Altocumulus Stratocumulus Cumulonimbus (Cb)
(Ac) (Sc)
Cirrocumulus (Cc) Nimbostratus (Ns)

There is about 100 different genera and species of the 10 types of clouds which is beyond
the scope of this course, however, whilst at sea the international cloud atlas, which is
available on nearly all ships should be consulted when making observations of clouds for
weather report.

***Two points to note well***


(1) Stratiform type of clouds indicates stable atmospheric conditions, whereas
Cumuliform clouds indicate unstable atmospheric condition.

(2) If Cumulonimbus (Cb) covers the sky completely, its top cannot be seen and hence it is
difficult to be distinguished from Nimbostratus (Ns). The fact that rain falls from Ns, while
shower falls from Cb can be used to distinguish them.

FORMATION OF PRECIPITATION

Precipitation is the general term given to water drops or ice particles formed at a higher
level and falling to the ground. It includes rain, drizzle, sleet, snow, snow pellets, snow
grains, ice pellets, hail and ice prisms. Precipitation is thought to occur by way of two main
processes; firstly the Collision-Coalescence of water droplets and secondly, the growth
of ice- crystals within clouds or the Bergeron Process.

The Collision-Coalescence process is thought to be responsible for the formation of


precipitation in the tropics, where clouds are known to be too warm for the formation of ice-
crystals. It is believed that in this instance, precipitation depends on the existence of, a few
water droplets which are much larger than the majority which have formed on a small
number of nuclei that are themselves very much larger than the average of all nuclei
present. These large drops are able to grow by collision with and absorption of smaller
cloud droplets, the process being self sustaining as the larger drops fall faster than the
smaller ones; up-draughts also assist in the collisions by carrying all but the largest drops
up through the cloud and by reducing the fall speed of the larger drops so that the time
during which collision can occur is increased.

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Ice crystal growth or the Bergeron process, is however thought to be responsible for
the formation of precipitation in temperate and polar latitudes, as the tops of precipitating
clouds usually reach levels where the temperature is low enough for ice crystals to form. In
this instance, water droplets and ice crystals co-exist in the same cloud; at least in its
upper parts. Because the saturation vapour pressure is lower over ice than over water, the
ice crystals are able to grow at the expense of the water drops until they are large enough
to start falling through the cloud. This process of growth continues during the descent until
they finally emerge from the base of the cloud and reaches the ground, either as
snowflakes if the temperature is low enough, or as drops of rain or drizzle if the melting
level is sufficiently high.

All Cirriform clouds (except some Cc) and some As and Ac clouds consist of ice crystals,
where air is below the freezing point. Others contain water droplets or a mixture of water
and ice.

It is noticed that Cumulonimbus clouds have very well-defined edges, indicating water
droplets, but poorly-defined tops, indicating mainly ice crystals.

Fig 6.5 Anvil-shaped Cumulonimbus (Cb) clouds

The anvil-shaped tops are cirriform clouds being blown off the tops of Cumulonimbus
clouds by very strong winds near the tropopause.

Clouds are formed in four (4) main ways these are:


(i) Turbulence
(ii) Orographic lifting
(iii) Convection and
(iv) Frontal lifting

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Types of Precipitation.

PRECIPITATION TYPE CHARACTERISTICS


Water Drizzle, Rain, Shower, Freezing drizzle,
Freezing rain, Sleet
Snow Snow flakes, Snow pellets, Sleet

Ice Ice pellets, Hail, Sleet.

Drizzle: Fine drops of water, diameter less than 0.5 mm. Drizzle may be light or
heavy depending on the intensity of the precipitation. Drizzle falls from Stratus
clouds

Rain: Water droplets with diameter greater than 0.5 mm. Rain may also be termed
light or heavy depending on the intensity of the precipitation. Rain, falls from
Stratiform clouds, mainly Nimbostratus, Altostratus, and Stratocumulus clouds and
falls for 1 hour or more.

Shower: Water droplets with diameter greater than 0.5 mm. Shower may also be
termed light or heavy depending on the intensity of the precipitation. Shower, falls
from Cumuloform clouds, mainly Cumulus, and Cumulonimbus clouds and falls for
less than 1 hour.

Snowflakes: These are loose clusters of ice crystals, in very soft, small particles
having branches. Snowflakes fall from Nimbostratus, Altostratus, Stratocumulus and
cumulonimbus clouds.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. Give a basic definition for a cloud and state what must be present for condensation
to take place during the formation of clouds giving examples.

2. Clouds are grouped or classified according to their height and according to their
appearance. What are these groups or classifications?

3. What are the abbreviations for the following clouds and what are their classifications
according to height:
(i) Cirrus (ii) Altostratus (iii) Stratocumulus

4. What are the names of the clouds with the following abbreviations and what are
their classifications according to height:
Cc (ii) As (iii) St

5. List the four ways in which clouds are formed.

6. Say how it is possible to distinguish between Nimbostratus (Ns) and Cumulonimbus


(Cb) If (Cb) covers the sky completely.

7. Differentiate between rain and showers.

8. Which clouds are classified as special, give their abbreviations and state why they
are classified as special. What are the names of the clouds with the following
abbreviations and state in which cloud group they are classified in according to
height:
(i) Ac (ii) Cs (iii) Ns

9. Explain the formation of precipitation in temperature areas.

10. Explain the formation of precipitation in tropical regions.

End of Chapter 6