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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Cloud watching

                                     May 2009


This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.    

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.



This month - Cloud watching

cloudsIf you live in the United Kingdom, then you will be very very familiar with clouds. When we get a cloud free day it certainly is something to be remarked upon.

But clouds bring us more than protection from the sun and essential rain and water supplies. Clouds also bring beauty into our lives.

Clouds themselves are simply water vapour, a mass of tiny droplets or ice crystals. When warm air cools, any water vapour in the air will condense into tiny droplets. A cloud is simply a mass of these tiny water droplets.

Clouds come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. Clouds generally have a high reflectance ability right across the visible range of wavelengths. This means they reflect all colours and because of this they can look white, especially from the top. In deep clouds, the intensity of the solar radiation will decrease and the cloud can look grey or even quite dark from below. Thin clouds can also reflect colours from the environment, perhaps during a sunrise or sunset.

Generally they are categorized into three different types; cirrus (including cirrus, cirrostratus and cirrocumulus clouds) which usually occur around 18,000 feet high; alto clouds (altostratus and altocumulus) which are usually between 6,500 feet and 18,000 feet and stratus or low clouds (stratus, stratocumulus and nimbostratus) which occur up to 6,500 feet.

There are also a range of clouds that grow specifically tall, the cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds. Anyone who has flown across the top of the anvil at the summit of a major thunderstorm cloud will appreciate the power and beauty of these amazing giants.

When one learns more about clouds, it comes clearer how much enjoyment can be gained by “cloud watching”. Some enthusiasts note the clouds they have seen with the same detail as the most fanatical bird watcher; others prefer to compile photo books of beautiful pictures of different clouds and formations.

Some make a point of seeking out the more unusual clouds such as lenticular clouds, wonderful saucer like clouds that are caused by a special wind pattern by a mountain. Another major cloud of note is the spectacular Morning Glory cloud, formed in the north of Australia. It looks like a huge white roll of meringue, stretched up to 600 miles across and travels forward at over 30 miles an hour

Contrails are another area of speciality. These are the condensation trails left in the sky behind high aircraft. The trails are formed when hot humid air from jet exhausts mixes with the high air of low vapour pressure and low temperatures. The mixing is caused by the turbulence generated by the engine exhaust and contrails come in all sorts of shapes and patterns.

Cloud watching is a growing hobby and is also deemed to be very healthy because it brings peace and beauty into people’s lives. It certainly is a good antidote for stress.

For anyone wanting to know more, there are lots of books on clouds in most good bookshops or through book websites. There is also, surprisingly, an active cloud watching association which offers a vast range of supportive information and news. They have even opened Britain’s first Cloud Bar in Lincolnshire where enthusiasts can gather to study clouds from a special viewing platform equipped with cloud viewing swivel seats, mirrors and additional information.

For more information, visit or write to:
The Cloud Appreciation Society
PO Box 81, Somerton, Somerset TA11 9AY

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