Predict the weather

If and when you are out in the elements having a little lead time on the weather is always a good thing. There are plenty of ways to predict the weather. You can sometimes smell the rain or the snow on it’s way. Some people feel a change in barometric pressure from past injuries  while others can look at their surroundings and tell you how long it’ll be before you get dumped on. In this installment I’ll talk about how to tell what the weather will be by reading the cloud formations. As a general rule the higher the clouds are in the sky, the better the weather for the simple fact that the lower the clouds are the more moisture is contained within them, they are heavier and eventually they need to release all their water.
Cirrus clouds can be thin or wispy and sometimes look like ripples in water. These clouds will usually either dissipate or could signal a front coming in. The tails of the wisps indicate wind direction and are usually composed of ice crystals because of their altitude.




The Cirrocummulus are at the high level of the of the Cirrus but they lack the high winds which give the cirrus clouds their wisps.  These have long rows of puffy clouds and mean cold weather is coming in.



The stratocumulus are found around 6,500 feet and resemble rows of little white cotton balls and depending on how the sun is hitting the could will range in color from white to gray. Moisture is rare from these clouds unless in the winter the upper atmosphere cools enough to get the clouds to form vertically then showers may occur.





The altocumulus can be found between 6,500-23,000 feet and shouldn’t be confused with stratocumulus because these formations appear much larger and will appear on humid mornings and signify a thunder shower later in the day.




Cumulu clouds are found around 2,000 feet in altitude up to 3,000 feet and are associated with rain and heavy showers if they are puffy and gathered close. If they are spread apart they mean fair weather.





The cumulonimbus are the clouds associated with thunder storms and can mean lighting and hail if conditions are right so you should prepare to find or build shelter. These clouds are easily recognizable because of their anvil top shape.
The nimbostratus are low level clouds which look like a blanket, they are found around 6,500 feet and can extend all the way into the upper atmosphere. These clouds usually mean showers for extended periods of time.


The cirrostratus are high altitude clouds which produce a thin veil like appearance and can create a halo effect around the sun or moon. They usually signify an approaching storm in the next 12-24 hours.




This cloud formation may look cool, but if you are ever going to do a summit attempt this is not the time to do it. A cloud formation like this on a mountain top signifies high winds and bad weather. Avoid going to the top of the mountain on this day.

One comment

  1. trace

    the last cloud formation i believe is lenticular. bad for mountain climbing but good for paragliding because of the lift they provide. good review of clouds. thanks. trace.

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