In 1959 Lieutenant-Colonel William Rankin, a pilot in the US Air Force, became the only man to have survived a fall though a cumulonimbus cloud. Rankin was flying across the top of a cumulonimbus when his plane caught fire and he was forced to eject. He spent a good half hour trapped inside the cloud, being thrown about and pelted with hail.
Miraculously he survived, albeit with frostbite, blood pouring from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears due to decompression, and welts all over him from being the hail.
The clouds are not harmed by the barking of dogs.
The 'Morning Glory' is the name of a cloud formation which appears over Northern Queensland every September and October. A small group of individuals travels from all over Australia to Burketown (population 178) for the event. Looking like a huge white roll of meringue, it stretches up to 600 miles (about the length of Britain) and sweeps over Burketown at speeds of up to 35mph.
For glider pilots the cloud promises the most unique and thrilling flying conditions of anywhere in the world. Each year they come here in the hope of ‘soaring’ the Morning Glory, an exhilarating ride that can only be described as cloud-surfing.
Cirrus clouds are higher than cumulonimbus but even they are not the highest clouds. Seven times higher are noctilucent ('night shining') clouds, silvery blue streaks that form so high up in the atmosphere they reflect the sun's light, even at night. Meteorologists refer to them as NLCs or 'polar mesospheric clouds'. This is because they form right on the boundary of the mesosphere (between the stratosphere and space) - an area that has been nicknamed the 'ignorosphere' because we know so little about it.
The mesosphere is dry and cold (about -123 degrees Celsius), unlike the warm, moist troposphere below, where all the other clouds form. For a long time it was thought that noctilucent clouds must be made of something other than water vapour, but now we know they are indeed tiny ice crystals - a fiftieth of the width of a strand of human hair.
Noctilucent clouds are on the increase - there are twice as many as there were 35 years ago and they're moving south: a visible result of global warming.
Thank God they cannot cut down the clouds!
Cumulus are the white fluffy clouds that feature in children's drawings. They are also the ones used on BBC weather forecasts: their shape was chosen by 22 year-old graphic designer Mark Allen when he created the icons in 1975.
Hindus and Buddhists believe cumulus clouds are the spiritual cousins of elephants. The word megha, which means 'cloud' in classical Hindi, is also the name used to address elephants in prayer. The water in a medium-sized cumulus cloud weighs about as much as eighty elephants.
Clouds are classified according to their heights and appearances. At the end of the nineteenth century the International Cloud Atlas was published, listing ten types of cloud. The mountainous cumulonimbus (with their distinctive 'anvil' shape), are the most billowy and tallest and were listed as 'Cloud Nine', which may be the origin of the term ‘on cloud nine'. Cumulonimbus capillatus clouds are by far the tallest structures on Earth, forming as low as 150 metres but reaching altitudes of 23,000 metres.
The International Cloud Atlas was based on the work of a Quaker and pharmacist called Luke Howard (1772-1864). Howard had created his cloud classification system in 1803, in a work called the 'Essay on the Modification of Clouds'. He named four main cloud types: cirrus ('curl'), stratus ('layer'), cumulus ('heap'), and nimbus ('rain cloud'). He also came up with a series of intermediate and compound modifications, such as cirrostratus and stratocumulus, in order to describe the transitions between the forms.
The French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) had come up with his own cloud system the year before Howard, but almost nobody paid any attention. Lamarck came up with his system while ill in bed, looking at the clouds which floated past his window. They included en voile (hazy), attroupés(massed), pommlés (dappled), en balayures (brooms), and groupés (grouped).
Before Howard and Lamarck, clouds were simply named after their appearance: white, black, mare's tail or mackerel. When Howard’s were published, Goethe dedicated four poems to him and praised him for 'bestowing form on the formless and a system of ordered change on a boundless world.'
In Iran, clouds are lucky. If someone is blessed, you might tell them, 'your sky is always filled with clouds'.
The word 'cloud' comes from the Old English clud, meaning 'a hill or mass of rock or earth'.
The Maori word for New Zealand is Aotearoa, meaning 'Land of the Long White Cloud'.
Cirrus clouds are the only clouds in the sky made entirely of ice.
The amount of water vapour in a cloud depends on temperature, pressure, etc, but averages 5g per cubic metre. A modest-sized cumulonimbus 1km in diameter and 100m thick weighs about 400,000 kilos, comparable to an airliner, though many clouds are up to 10,000 times bigger. The largest clouds can be several kilometres across and taller, top to bottom, than Mount Everest. Alternatively, a cloud the size of a bus (50m^3) would contain 250ml of water (equivalent to two 'small glasses' of wine).
So why don’t they fall down? Because a cloud's weight is spread out over a very large area, and because the water droplets and crystals are very small (about one micron, or one-hundred-thousandth of an inch across. The warm air rising from the earth's surface is able to keep them floating in the air (similar to the way specks of dust swirl in a shaft of sunlight). However when the warm air keeping clouds afloat cools down, its water vapour condenses and adds to the cloud's droplets. At a certain point the droplets become heavy enough to overwhelm the force of the rising air, and the water falls to the ground.
Pilots avoid flying through clouds as they are rife with danger; hail inside the cloud can damage the plane, electrical activity damages the circuitry, super-cooled water can coat a plane's wings with ice and alter their aerodynamics, and air currents inside a cloud can even flip a plane over on its back.
An enubilous sky is cloudless.
One of the constituents of the clouds, of fine dust and pollution in the atmosphere is dandruff.
Llamas have the nickname 'Camels of the Clouds'.