Thursday, November 20, 2008

Altitude with Attitude

Water is one of nature's shape shifters, familiar in both its liquid and solid forms. Yet it's easy to forget that the clouds over our heads also are carriers of water, in this case in its vapor form. Clouds are one of nature's everyday wonders, hiding in plain sight until they are touched with the sun's reflected glory at sunrise and sunset or pile up to form a lightning generating, anvil headed cumulonous thundercloud or simply release their moisture in the form of rain or snow.

Clouds come in two different varieties: stratus (form a horizontal plane in the sky) and cumulus (the puffy, cotton candy ones). Everyone is familiar with the types of clouds that are generated in different levels of the atmosphere: wispy, high flying cirrus clouds that reach into the troposhere, the towering mid-level clouds, identified by the prefix alto-, and the low clouds. When clouds come in for a landing with the ground, we call them fog. Each of the categories are subdivided into other categories that are primarily of interest to nephologists (meteorologists who focus on the study of clouds).

Since clouds are creatures of the wind, they can assume some interesting shapes.

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