Phoning in New Clouds: Part 1

Cloud Shaped Like a Dove


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Reach into your pocket and you will find the newest weather instrument—your cell phone. Thanks to people’s cell pictures, scientists have now discovered 12 new clouds. These are the first new clouds discovered in 30 years. 

For a cloud to officially exist, it must be recognized by the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which lists types of clouds in its International Cloud Atlas. This year it published a new edition and for the first time since 1986 has listed new types of clouds—a dozen of them!


Cell phones – the newest scientific weather instrument Source: Wikimedia


Basically, it is like when you were a kid and stared up at the sky. Your mind started to classify the clouds. This one looked like a ducky, that one looked like a dragon and—whoops—that one looked like it was going to rain.

Nephologists (cloud scientists) are more methodical, but they are basically classifying the clouds and studying the physics of how they work. Only instead of cataloging them by cool animal shapes, they are divided into five physical forms and the three altitudes where they are located.  Animal names get replaced by Latin, so that rain cloud is either a Cumulonimbus or a Nimbostratus. The meteorologists also follow the example of biologists by dividing the clouds by genus, then species and variety. (Biological example: your pet cat is a Felis silvestris catus.)


Types of clouds – the old list. Source: NOAA

However, cloud lovers, (you know who you are!) learned their Latin and still watched the skies. Even more, they brought their cell phones and cameras and shared interesting pictures with each other. Some of the pictured clouds just didn’t fit the old categories. Eleven of these strange clouds were new types and one was so unusual that it was an entirely new species. After a dozen new clouds were accumulated, it was time for the WMO to acknowledge the change and make a whole new International Cloud Atlas. 


Amateurs cloud watchers recorded strange new clouds. (The power of a cell phone!) Source: WMO

The WMO thanked “meteorologists, photographers and cloud lovers from around the globe” for being directly responsible for six of the new clouds. But the skies are huge and the clouds are still out there. Keep looking!


Keep looking! Source: Wikipedia


Now it’s time to meet these strange new clouds filling the skies. Read “Part II: Meet the Newest Clouds!”

About This Blog

Evelyn Browning Garriss doesn't just blog about the weather forecast; she provides insight on WHY extreme weather is happening--and a heads up on weather to watch out for. A historical climatologist, Evelyn blogs about weather history, interesting facts about the weather, and upcoming climate events that affect your life--from farming to your grocery bill. Every week, we look forward to another great weather column from Evelyn. We encourage our weather watchers to post their comments and questions--and tell us what they think!

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