General Question

tekn0lust's avatar

Why are clouds sometimes flat on the bottom?

Asked by tekn0lust (1861points) July 1st, 2008

I looked out the window today to see all the clouds in the sky flat on the bottom and pillowy on the top like they were sitting on an invisible layer of air. Why is this?

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4 Answers

butters326's avatar

Different updrafts

marinelife's avatar

Like this? “CUMULONIMBUS ARE THE CLOUDS WHICH PRODUCE INTENSE RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. THEY ARE LARGE, HEAVY AND DENSE WITH BOTTOMS THAT ARE USUALLY FLAT AND DARK AND TOPS THAT LOOK LIKE VERY TALL, BILLOWING TOWERS. LIGHTNING, THUNDER, AND SOMETIMES HAIL AND TORNADOES ARE ALSO ASSOCIATED WITH THESE CLOUDS.” There are ten types all described here.

Les's avatar

I can handle this one! The clouds you are talking about are cumulus clouds (cirrus, and stratus form under different conditions and heights). Cumulus clouds can only form at, what we in the meteorology community call the “lifted condensation level”. Imagine a cube of air on the surface. Let’s say you could lift this cube. Well, as you lift this “parcel”, it will cool and condense, and at some point in the atmosphere, it will become saturated with respect to all the other air around it. This is the lifted condensation level, or LCL. It is at this point that a cumulus clouds will form, given that there is proper upward motion (i.e., there has to be some type of “updraft”.) The flat bottom that you see you can imagine is the LCL, and the cloud can extend past this so long as there is sufficient moisture, and upward motion. It’s pretty cool to be able to actually “see” thermodynamics, isn’t it? The reason the cloud doesn’t extend down past this level is because air warms and drys as it sinks (in fact, the only cloud which forms in downward moving air is mammatus… different process.)

Hope this helps!

boffin's avatar

The Earth is “Flat”....

No?
Then I have no idea…..

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