Cliff Mass Weather Blog: Edgy Clouds

Every week, several blog readers send me cloud photos to identify.  So there is plenty of interest in clouds…and for good reason.  A little knowledge about clouds is not only fun but can be useful as well.  

So let me provide some cloud identification 101 today, starting with what you can tell by the characteristics of cloud edges.

Clouds are made up of either ice crystals, water droplets, or a combination of the two.

Importantly, you can differentiate between ice crystals and water droplets by looking at the cloud edges.

Clouds made of water droplets have sharp edges.

Like cumulus clouds:

Or the top of a fog bank:

On the other hand, ice crystal clouds have fuzzy, indistinct edges.

Such as cirrus clouds.

Or cirrostratus clouds:

Did you know that the bases of low-level clouds change sharpness depending on whether precipitation is falling out of the cloud?

When low-level clouds are not precipitating, the cloud base presents a lot of structure (see below)

But once precipitation starts, the cloud base tends to fuzz out and become less sharp and structured. 

In summary, the edges of clouds provide a lot of information for the knowledgeable observer.


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