Cirrus Clouds

Which of the following types of clouds is the highest in the atmosphere, often appearing wispy and thin?

And the answer: cirrus clouds.

Often seen during fair weather, cirrus clouds are long and wispy, almost like strands of hair, and they sit very high in the sky. Due to their high altitude, cirrus clouds are made entirely of ice crystals.  

Photo credit: PiccoloNamek.

You may better recognize these clouds in a gorgeous sunset or on a windy day— cirrus clouds are the highest cloud layer in the atmosphere and tend to be most reflective of its conditions. These delicate clouds tend to be the whitest in the sky, and their wisps can appear almost silky or tufty. Forming from the ascent of dry air, cirrus clouds freeze the water vapor in the air into ice. These ice crystals are responsible for the clouds' bright-white reflective nature, as well as the delicate shapes that these clouds can take on.

Pink skies at night, sailor's delight! Like the rhyme suggests, cirrus clouds usually form in advance of a warm front – where the air masses meet at high levels, the cirrus clouds form to indicate a change in the weather is on the way. These clouds physically can not rain, though they certainly try — they can produce precipitation, but it never reaches the ground. Instead, it reevaporates, creating virga clouds.

Did you know?

The recognizable "anvil" that tops a cumulonimbus cloud is actually a cirrus cloud! A thunderstorm can pump moisture high into the air, where it forms ice crystals.

Cumulonimbus cloud. Image: Aviation Stack Exchange.


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