What’s in a cloud name?

from Mike on Click2Pins

I get sent beautiful cloud pictures via Click2Pins and viewers email very often asking, “What kind of cloud is this?” So imagine a world where scientists didn’t really know because they looked at clouds individually: clouds come and go, come in different sizes and shapes, different colors at different heights. A couple of hundred years ago no one thought of actually classifying clouds! They were just clouds, moving along in the sky each day. Something to paint.

Enter Englishman Luke Howard, who was born this very day 250 years ago (Nov. 28, 1772) and who loved weather from the time he could point to the sky. Young Luke never became a scientist and, in fact, owned a chemical company, but he found the natural world fascinating. An avid weather observer, Luke wrote different papers and talked to scientific groups on his observations of rain and clouds.

Then, on Thursday, Dec. 16, 1802, Howard presented to the local Askesian Society (a ‘think’ group on worldly subjects) his paper encouraging the classification of clouds! No one had ever thought of such a thing and part of the genius in his idea was to use the universal language of Latin! Thus:

1. Cumulus (Latin for heap) Convex or conical heaps, increasing upward from a horizontal base.

2. Stratus (Latin for layer) Widely extended horizontal sheet.

3. Nimbus (Latin for rain) Systems of clouds from which rain falls.

4. Cirrus (Latin for curl) Flexuous fibers extending and increasing in any or all directions.

Then there are intermediate categories: cirro-cumulus, cirro-stratus, cumulo-stratus. Howard even used sketches of different clouds to illustrate the types he’d come up with like this cumulus with cirrostratus.

The idea, literally, went global (today we’d call that ‘viral’) and meteorologists have been classifying clouds using Howard’s first ideas ever since. In fact, they still do. Asperitas clouds (formerly known as undulatus asperatus) is a cloud formation first popularized and proposed as a type of cloud in 2009 by Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Here’s a Click2Pins example of asperitas:

from Click2Pins, these clouds have an undulating effect thanks to wind

So a big Happy Birthday, Luke Howard! Felix Natalis! Known as “The Godfather of Clouds,” you are 250 years old today and your brilliance continues to make the world a better place (and easier to understand!).

You can read much more about Howard here! Enjoy!


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.