Look Up

Top Photo: Thin cirrocumulus clouds (you may have to look closely to see these very thin and high wispy clouds).

It pays to look up. You can see some incredible sights by simply turning your gaze skyward. There’s always something going on up there.

Clouds are classified in three major groups or genera: cirrus, stratus and cumulus. Each group has sub categories (alto, nimbus…) and there are combinations of each, e.g. cirrocumulus, stratocumulus, etc.

There are low level (up to about 6500 feet), mid level (up to about 23,000 feet), and high level clouds (23,000 feet and beyond).

If you look up into the sky you may be surprised at how many cloud types you’ll be able to pick out and identify, and of course, some that may not be easily classify.

Here’s a few things I’ve noticed above us over the past couple of weeks.

Cumulus (low level).
Altocumulus undulatus (mid level).

Halos are produced by the interaction of light waves with ice crystals which make up the clouds between the observer (you) and the light source (here, sun).

Beginning of a halo (high level clouds).
Half halo (high level clouds).
Cirrus vertebratus? (high level clouds)

Cirrus vertebratus clouds are named for their resemblance to a vertebral column, backbone, fish skeleton, etc.

Cirrus vertebratus is a true cloud form, however, some of them you encounter may be deteriorating contrails. Everyone’s seen contrails (condensation trails) behind high-flying jets. The trails are caused by the cooling and condensing of moist hot air exiting the rear of jet engines. It’s not smoke though it does contain tiny bits of carbon, unburned fuel, metal, sulfates and nitrates which become the nuclei for the formation of ice crystals, the main component of the cloud and which is what you see when you look up at a contrail. Contrails are considered homogenitus (homo = man and genitus = generated) clouds.

Some contrails disappear within minutes, others persist and can in time, under the right conditions, become apparent “natural” cirrus clouds.

Contrail (high level).
Another cirrus vertebratus, or is it two? (high level)
Not sure how to classify these clouds beyond cirrus (high level clouds).
At least three types of cirrus clouds here including cirrocumulus and perhaps cirrostratus (high level clouds).
Stratocumulus which eventually became nimbostratus and produced rain (low level clouds).

Clouds aren’t the only thing in the daytime sky. While looking up at the loblolly pines in our Gateway Park recently, I noticed a white speck in the blue sky beyond the trees. It was the moon, a waxing gibbous moon.

White speck just above and to left of center frame.
Waxing gibbous moon.

So keep looking up, the skies are full of surprises.

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