General Question

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Why do clouds behave the way they do?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26856points) October 21st, 2011

Off of this question, as well as my own observations traveling about during the day. Going on the notion of no intelligent design maybe someone can point out why these attributes of clouds are. If I am not mistaken, clouds are formed from water vapor. OK, so what condition makes this water vapor lighter than air? When all these zillions of water vapors congregate in a given area what keeps them together to form a cloud? If I should pass through a cloud, logically I should come out of the other side wet, or will I, if I don’t, why not? What makes these minute vapors visible for me to even see the cloud in the first place? Going on clouds are water vapor, why would there be clouds other than the coast or large lakes where a great body of water is. What decides how high a cloud forms? Should not all clouds form the same way all the time? If they do not, what is the scientific significance of having clouds that do not rain? When a cloud dissolves, the water vapor doesn’t disappear, where does it go, and why did it if the reason for it going airborne in the first place was to form a cloud? So, science guys, and gals, what is up with the clouds?

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10 Answers

gasman's avatar

Meteorology here, here, here and many other online tutorials.

Clouds have the same composition as fog: tiny water droplets in air that’s super-saturated with water vapor. When temperature rises or humidity falls, H2O goes from liquid into gas phase and the cloud “disappears.”

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

OK, they have answered some of the low laying fruit. They did not fully explain if it is thermals that cause the water vapors to be able to rise, why do the clouds not lose buoyancy and fall back to the Earth as a hot air balloon or a glider does eventually?

If it is a combination of dust and moisture that causes clouds to condense enough to be visible, is it because there are super condensed cells the reason why there are individual clouds? I did not quite get what conditions would hold a cell together like that to not only hold the could together but allow it to travel by wind hundreds if miles.

Those clouds that do not rain but the moisture just gases out more to the point the moisture is no longer condense enough to be seen as a cloud. What happens to the dust that helped form it? Blows somewhere else on the solar rherms?

ragingloli's avatar
“Water vapor is all around us, and it is lighter than air. It rises with warm air and upward moving air currents. When this moist warm air enters a layer of cold air, the water cools and condenses into tiny drops, becomes part of a cloud, and starts falling. It falls into the warm air, and may evaporate again, and move up into the cold air over and over again. So, parts of a cloud are continually disappearing and reforming. And that is what keeps a cloud up in the sky.”

the truth is however that god is holding the clouds up in the sky with his invisible hands and squeezes the clouds with his hands to make it rain. it’s magic!

dappled_leaves's avatar

“Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication.” My guess is that it will probably take more than the answers of a few jellies to fully convince you. There is an entire science devoted to answering your question, and the math involved is pretty intense.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@ragingloli the truth is however that god is holding the clouds up in the sky with his invisible hands and squeezes the clouds with his hands to make it rain. it’s magic! Welcome to Fluther, the seriousness never stops, say good night Gracie.

@dappled_leaves There is an entire science devoted to answering your question, and the math involved is pretty intense. In a nutshell, use the science to explain it. If water is lighter than air, does that make it lighter then helium, hydrogen or neon?

If clouds are created by condensation what cause it to stop at the end where the cloud is visible, and what holds it together causing the cloud to remain intact, even if constantly being made and remade as it travels over the globe?

The reason fog doesn’t become buoyant is because it lacks rising heat or because it is do dusty and heavy to rise?

LostInParadise's avatar

Your question made me think about just what clouds are. It occurred to me that they might be colloids, and this is indeed the case.

This still raises a lot of questions, like why there can be clouds in one part of the sky but not another. What are the conditions that cause a solution of air and water to transition to a colloid? Why do clouds move, that is, if the conditions in a particular place in the atmosphere are favorable for cloud formation, why should the cloud remain intact as it moves to another place that is presumably less suitable for cloud formation?

gasman's avatar

Clouds don’t necessarily rise due to buoyancy. I think you’re forgetting that air gets colder with altitude. Clouds form when temp is below dew point, which is why clouds often look like they’re all cut off flat at the bottom – at the altitude of the dew point. Below that the cloud evaporates.

When droplets of liquid water are small enough, they defy gravity because convection dominates over their tiny weights. Aerosols don’t “fall.”

sydsydrox's avatar

I always thought that you could lay on clouds, but then you would fall through. I don’t know if you would come out the other side wet, I guess it would be true, because it’s water and water makes you wet.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@gasman Clouds don’t necessarily rise due to buoyancy. I would concur. It is not so much the cloud raising, or sinking, as it is the particles and dust that makes the cloud. Once a cloud forms in whatever cloud it is, I have never known one to change to any great deal from a stratocumulus to a cirrus, etc. Still the question is, what stops the expansion of the cloud and keeps the condensing together even as the cloud travels to knew areas. Is that because the cell that spawned the condensing is traveling taking the cloud with it and not so much the wind?

gasman's avatar

Having seen many time-lapse films of clouds evolving over minutes to hours, I’d say they are always changing dynamically, evaporating in some spots and re-condensing in others, especially billowy cumulus clouds.

But you ask interesting questions & I, too, wish I understood the process better. No meteorologists at Fluther?

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