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When water molecules from raindrops and bodies of water become heated by the sun, they change from a liquid into a gas and rise up into the air. This is called evaporation. Water that has evaporated is called water vapor.

Clouds are formed when water vapor rises high up into the air. When the water vapor reaches cold air, it turns back into droplets of water. Those tiny drops of water floating in the air collect and "stick" together up in the sky. That’s what clouds are – a lot of droplets of water all stuck together. When the mass of water droplets – the cloud – becomes so heavy and full that it can't hold any more, the water falls back down to the ground as rain. Sometimes the water droplets freeze and fall to the ground as snow, sleet, or hail. Water or ice that comes from clouds is called precipitation.

Besides bringing precipitation, clouds can also keep the earth warm. Warm air always rises, and cool air sinks. Even during the night, when there is no sunlight, if there are lots of thick clouds, the earth does not lose its heat as fast – because the clouds block the warm air from rising up into the atmosphere too much. For this reason, cloudy nights are usually warmer than clear nights.

On the other hand, clouds can also serve the opposite purpose and actually cool off the earth. When clouds are fluffy and hang low in the atmosphere, they reflect the sunlight, which lowers the temperature of the earth.

Types of Clouds

Cirrus cloudsare thin and wispy (the word cirrus in Latin means "tuft or curl of hair") and are very high in the sky. They are often made of tiny pieces of ice and are usually present the day before rain or snow.

Cumulus cloudsare large and fluffy (the word cumulus in Latin means "pile" or "heap") and are in the sky on days when the weather is clear (no precipitation). Cumulus clouds can turn into clouds that bring thunderstorms, called cumulonimbus clouds.

Stratus clouds are grayish layers of clouds that hang low across the sky like a blanket (the word stratus in Latin means "to spread out"). Stratus clouds can bring drizzle, rain, snow, or fog. Some stratus rainclouds have the word “nimbus” (meaning “rain bearing”) added to their name. These nimbostratus clouds are dark gray and bring rain and snow.

Heavy Cargo

An average cloud weighs as much as a jumbo jet!

Mystery Solved

When air moves toward a mountain, it is forced upward by the mountain side. As the air rises, it cools and forms clouds. That is why the tops of mountains are often covered by clouds.


Clouds of Glory

While Bnei Yisrael traveled in the desert, Hashem provided them with the Ananei Hakavod, the Clouds of Glory, for their protection. These miraculous clouds had several functions, one of which was to launder and iron Bnei Yisrael’s clothing to keep them looking fresh and clean (Rashi, Devarim 8:4). The Clouds of Glory also flattened the mountains and filled in the valleys to make Bnei Yisrael’s travels more pleasant (Rashi, Bamidbar 10:34); provided a cushiony walking surface to ensure Bnei Yisrael’s comfort (Pesikta Rabasi 13); and regulated the air temperature, so that Bnei Yisrael would keep cool in the heat and warm in the cold (Yevamot 72a).

Fast Fact

Cumulonimbus storm cloudscan reach six miles wide and six miles high. These gigantic clouds are full of energy, and the winds that develop inside them can reach speeds of
125 miles per hour!

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