Is cloud formation related to height, weather systems and temperature?
Study and record how clouds relate to weather patterns.
Introduction: (Initial Observation)
Clouds are an important part of the Earth’s climate puzzle. Cloud height and shape along with other factors such as air pressure and temperature are being used to foretell the weather condition in the next few hours or the next few days.
In this project we will study the height (elevation) and shape of clouds in a period of 2 to 6 weeks to see if cloud formation has any relation to weather conditions.
We will also record temperature, air pressure and air humidity as parts of weather condition. We may use our own instruments to do these or collect such information from news or the Internet.
In this project you will research, gather information and prepare a display about different types of clouds, their names, their altitude and precipitation. By completion of this project you should be able to look at clouds or a picture of clouds and determine the name, estimated height and the clouds precipitation ability. This page contains all the information that you need to complete your project. Make sure you follow all the links and print some cloud pictures for your display.
Find out about clouds. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about different types of clouds and how they can be used to interpret weather conditions. Keep track of where you got your information from.
Precipitation is one key to the water cycle.
Rain comes from clouds, but where do clouds come from?
Through the process of evaporation and transpiration, water moves into the atmosphere. Water vapors then join with dust particles to create clouds. Eventually, water returns to Earth as precipitation in the form of rain, snow, sleet, and hail.
All clouds contain water vapors. You rarely ever see clouds in the desert because there is very little water to evaporate and form clouds. Coastal regions can receive a lot of rain because they pull up moisture from surrounding waters.
Cloud size are influenced by many complex factors, some of which we still do not understand very well. These include: heat, seasons, mountain ranges, bodies of water, volcanic eruptions, and even global warming.
Clouds are formed when air containing water vapor is cooled below a critical temperature called the dew point and the resulting moisture condenses into droplets on microscopic dust particles (condensation nuclei) in the atmosphere. The air is normally cooled by expansion during its upward movement. Upward flow of air in the atmosphere may be caused by convection resulting from intense solar heating of the ground; by a cold wedge of air (cold front) near the ground causing a mass of warm air to be forced aloft; or by a mountain range at an angle to the wind. Clouds are occasionally produced by a reduction of pressure aloft or by the mixing of warmer and cooler air currents.
There are many funny names for clouds.
Have you ever wondered why clouds have such weird names?
In 1802 an Englishman by the name of Luke Howard invented the cloud naming system that is still in use today. Howard used Latin names to describe clouds. (The first part of a cloud’s name describes height, the second part shape.)
The prefixes denoting heights are: cirro, high clouds above 20,000 feet, alto and mid level clouds between 6,000 – 20,000 feet. There is no prefix for low level clouds.
The names denoting shapes are: cirrus mean curly or fibrous, stratus means layered, while cumulus means lumpy or piled.
Nimbo or nimbus is added to indicate that a cloud can produce precipitation.
Given that information, describe what each of the following clouds would look and act like?
Cloudy regions of the world usually have much more moderate climates than areas which have few clouds. This is because during the day, clouds shield the earth’s surface from absorbing sunlight, which in turn heats the atmosphere. At night, clouds keep the air temperature from cooling too fast, because they absorb and emit infrared radiation from the earth. Clouds are also important for day-to-day weather variations. Clouds bring precipitation, and can be monitored from the ground or from space (by satellites).
Following are some related information available via the Internet:
Nephoscopes, used for measuring the speed and direction of cloud motion, may be divided into two types: Grid Nephoscope and Mirror Nephoscope.
The grids in the Grid Nephoscope are used as reference in finding the speed and direction of the cloud. The vertical pointer in the Mirror Nephoscope is placed such that the image of a cloud appears in line with it and the center of the disk. The image is then watched, keeping in line with the pointer. The direction of the cloud motion can be read from the graduation of the edge of the disk.
Two different Mirror Nephoscopes
The purpose of this project is to find out if cloud formation is related to height, weather systems and temperature? Study and record how clouds relate to weather patterns.
Identify Variables: (Not needed for this project)
When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.
Variables that can affect cloud formation are:
- Rate of moisture or water vapors in air
- Air temperature (temperature is lower in higher elevations)
- Air pressure
- Wind speed and direction (can affect the shape or type of cloud)
Hypothesis: (Not needed for this project)
Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.
My hypothesis is that gaseous water such as water vapor or moisture are invisible and in order for the cloud to form, these gases must somehow change to water droplets or small ice/snow particles to become visible (as clouds are). I also believe that air pressure and cold temperature can both condense water vapors to form clouds. The temperature is cold in the higher elevations, that is why we see the clouds there.
Design an experiment or tool to measure wind speed and direction. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”
Determine wind direction at cloud height–which can be different from wind direction at ground level–and get to know different cloud types.
High-altitude winds affect the cloud movements that bring changes in weather. Therefore, the direction of these winds can be very important. High-altitude winds do not necessarily blow in the same direction as ground winds. Winds at ground level tend to be light and variable because they’re affected by hills, trees, buildings, and other obstructions. At higher altitudes, winds can have considerable velocity and a definite direction. A “nephoscope” indicates the direction of high-altitude winds by tracking cloud movement. Weather balloons are also used to determine the direction of upper winds.
Clouds are classified by shape and altitude. The two basic types of clouds are stratus (meaning “sheet” or “layer”) and cumulus (meaning “heap”). Nimbus (which means “rain-bearing”) is sometimes included as a basic cloud type. Prefixes are added to the names of the basic cloud types for a more accurate description of a particular cloud formation. Cirrus or cirro (e.g. cirrostratus) refers to high clouds, usually with a base above 6 km, consisting of tiny ice crystals. At middle levels, 2 to 6 km, are alto clouds (e.g. altocumulus). Below are the basic cumulus, stratus, nimbus, cumulonimbus, and so on, the tops of which may go up to higher levels. Clouds are seldom seen at altitudes higher than 10 km, which is why large airplanes usually fly higher than 10 km. If there are various types of clouds in the sky, those which appear to move faster are usually the lower ones.
Topics: Weather Conditions; Atmosphere; Classification.
Mirror; paper; pencil; compass; scissors; tape; cloud type illustrations on following pages. Optional–cotton puffs; dark blue or black paper; glue.
1. Make a nephoscope to track cloud movement. Cut out and discard a large circle from the centre of a sheet of paper. Mark the cardinal points of a compass (i.e. N, S, W, E), and perhaps the intermediate points, around the circumference of the circular hole. Tape the paper on top of a mirror so that the mirror’s surface fills the open circle.
2. Use the nephoscope by placing it on level ground with N facing north. Look in the mirror and follow the path of a cloud as it passes across the circle and past the edge of the mirror’s surface. The point on the nephoscope at which the cloud begins its Journey across the circle indicates the wind direction. For example, if clouds are moving toward the east, the wind is coming from the west. Is the wind direction the same at higher altitudes as it is at ground level (use a wind vane to determine the wind direction at ground level)? Why might the wind directions be different? Why are high-altitude winds important for weather forecasting?
3. Use the cloud illustrations on the following pages to classify clouds in the sky. What do the clouds look like (e.g. high, low, thick, thin, fluffy, bumpy, white, gray)? What type of clouds are they? Is their name appropriate (think about the meaning of the name)? What kind of weather might they bring? Is there more than one type of cloud in the sky? How many clouds (not types) can you see? Watch a particular cloud for a few moments and see how it moves and changes. Make a picture of the sky in your mind, close your eyes and, when you open your eyes again, see how the sky has changed.
4. Extension: Make cloud pictures on dark paper using cotton puffs and glue. Try to make each of the different cloud types. Pay attention to the details that make clouds different from one another (e.g. thickness, formation). Some clouds will require large pieces of cotton while others will require only wisps of cotton.
Try to answer these questions:
- Is the wind on the ground moving in the same direction as the wind in the clouds? Why? Why not?
- Why are some clouds moving faster than others?
- Are all the layers of clouds moving in the same direction today?
- What happens when clouds are moving in opposite directions?
Prepare your display board:
Visit CLOUD GUIDE and print pictures and descriptions of different types of clouds to be used in your display. You will need to cover the following four cloud types in your report.
Cloud types include: altocumulus, altostratus.
Materials and Equipment:
List of material can be extracted from the experiment section.
Results of Experiment (Observation):
Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.
You will not usually need any calculations for this project.
Summary of Results:
Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.
It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.
Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.
Related Questions & Answers:
What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.
If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.
If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.
Visit your local library and find books related to meteorology and clouds. Review and list such books as your references in addition to this website and other Internet resources you may use.
The anemometer is used for measuring the wind speed. It measures the speed by spinning in the wind. It is made of three plastic medicine cups, a block of wood, an eye dropper, a nail and a cork. First we sanded the wood. Then we colored the top with markers. We put a nail through the bottom and put an eye dropper on it. We got three nails and stuck the medicine cups through them. Then we stuck the nails into a half cork and colored one cup with a marker. We stuck the cork on the eye dropper. We took it outside. Then you can count how many times it goes around in a minute. Ten turns was about one mile per hour.
The weather vane tells you what direction the wind is blowing. First we took a piece of wood, drew diagonal lines to find the center and hammered a nail in the middle. Then we colored it with four colors. We put north, south, east and west on each side. We stuck a pen cap on the nail and stuck a cork onto the pen cap. We took a feather and hot glued it on the cork. We took them outside and held it up as high as we could to see which way the feather is pointing. If it is pointing to the east, it means the wind is coming from the east.
The barometer is a nice forecasting tool. It shows air pressure. If the pressure is going up that means we’re going to have good weather, but if the pressure is going down that means we’re going to have bad weather. We made the barometers by putting a balloon over the top of a jar and we smoothed the balloon out. After that we put a rubber band over the balloon. Then we cut the end of a straw diagonally so it had a point and taped it on the balloon. Finally, we rolled up a big ball of clay and stuck it to a flat surface. We took a ruler and stuck it through the clay. When it is made, the straw will go up and down each day to show the pressure.
The rain gauge is something that measures the rain. It gets water in it. We made it with a big plastic soda bottle, tape, hot glue, a plastic plate, tape, and a ruler made on overhead material. First we cut the top off the two litter bottle and then taped them together with the top inside. Then hot glue on the measuring stick on the outside with hot glue. Then hot glue it to a plate. When it rain the water goes inside and you can see how much water is in it.