Clouds are indicators of weather conditions. By reading cloud shapes and patterns, observers can forecast weather with little need for additional equipment such as a barometer, wind meter, and thermometer. Any time air is lifted or cooled beyond its saturation point (100 percent relative humidity), clouds are formed. The four ways air gets lifted and cooled beyond its saturation point are as follows.
a. Convective Lifting. This effect happens due to the sun's heat radiating off the Earth's surface causing air currents (thermals) to rise straight up and lift air to a point of saturation.
b. Frontal Lifting. A front is formed when two air masses of different moisture content and temperature collide. Since air masses will not mix, warmer air is forced aloft over the colder air mass. From there it is cooled and then reaches its saturation point. Frontal lifting creates the majority of precipitation.
c. Cyclonic Lifting. An area of low pressure pulls air into its center from all over in a counterclockwise direction. Once this air reaches the center of the low pressure, it has nowhere to go but up. Air continues to lift until it reaches the saturation point.
d. Orographic Lifting. This happens when an air mass is pushed up and over a mass of higher ground such as a mountain. Air is cooled due to the adiabatic lapse rate until the air's saturation point is reached.
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