C. Frontal lifting. As we know when two air masses of different moisture and temperature content collide, we have a front. Since the air masses will not mix, the warmer air is forced aloft, from there it is cooled and then reaches its saturation point. Frontal lifting is where we receive the majority of our precipitation. A combination of the different types of lifting is not uncommon.

7. CLOUDS. Anytime air is lifted or cooled beyond its saturation point (100% relative humidity), clouds are formed. Clouds are one of our sign posts to what is happening. Clouds can be described in many different ways, they can also be classified by height or appearance, or even by the amount of area covered, vertically or horizontally. (MSVX.02.16b)

A. Cirrus. These clouds are formed of ice crystals at very high altitudes (usually 20,000 to 35,000 feet) in the mid-latitudes and are thin, feathery type clouds. These clouds can give you up to 24 hours warning of approaching bad weather, hundreds of miles in advance of a warm front. Frail, scattered types, such as "mare-tails" or dense cirrus layers, tufts are a sign of fair weather but predictive may be a prelude to approaching lower clouds, the arrival of precipitation and the front.

B. Cumulus. These clouds are formed due to rising air currents and are prevalent in unstable air that favors vertical development. These currents of air create cumiliform clouds that give them a piled or bunched up appearance, looking similar to cotton balls. Within the cumulus family there are three different types to help us to forecast the weather:

(1) Cotton puffs of cumulus are Fair Weather Clouds but should be observed for possible growth into towering cumulus and cumulonimbus.

(2) Towering cumulus are characterized by vertical development. Their vertical lifting is caused by some type of lifting action, such as convective currents found on hot summer afternoons or when wind is forced to rise up the slope of a mountain or possibly the lifting action that may be present in a frontal system. The towering cumulus has a puffy and "cauliflower-shaped" appearance.

(3) Cumulonimbus clouds are characterized in the same manner as the towering cumulus, form the familiar "thunderhead" and produce thunderstorm activity. These clouds are characterized by violent updrafts which carry the tops of the clouds to extreme elevations. Tornadoes, hail and severe rainstorms are all products of this type of cloud. At the top of the cloud, a flat anvil shaped form appears as the thunderstorm begins to dissipate.

C. Stratus. Stratus clouds are formed when a layer of moist air is cooled below its saturation point. Stratiform, clouds lie mostly in horizontal layers or sheets, resisting vertical development. The word stratus is derived from the Latin word "layer". The stratus cloud is quite uniform and resembles fog. It has a fairly uniform base and a dull, gray appearance. Stratus clouds make the sky appear heavy and will occasionally produce fine drizzle or very light snow with fog. However, because there is little or no vertical movement in the stratus clouds, they usually do not produce precipitation in the form of heavy rain or snow.

7. FRONTS. As we know, fronts often happen when two air masses of different moisture and temperature content interact. One of the ways we can identify that this is happening is by the progression of the clouds. (MSVX.02.16a)

A. Warm Front. A warm front occurs when warm air moves into and over a slower (or stationary) cold air mass. Since warm air is less dense, it will rise naturally so that it will push the cooler air down and rise above it. The cloud you will see at this stage is cirrus. From the point where it actually starts rising, you will see stratus. As it continues to rise, this warm air cools by the cold air and, this, receiving moisture at the same time. As it builds in moisture, it darkens becoming "nimbus-stratus", which means rain of thunderclouds. At that point some type of moisture will generally fall.

B. Cold Front. A cold front occurs when a cold air mass (colder than the ground that it is traveling over) overtakes a warm air mass that is stationary or moving slowly. This cold air, being denser, will go underneath the warm air, pushing it higher. Of course, no one can see this, but they can see clouds and the clouds themselves can tell us what is happening. The cloud progression to look for is cirrus to cirrocumulus to cumulus and, finally, to cumulonimbus.

Cold Front And Cloud
Cold front cloud progression and air mass flowing over the ground.

C. Occluded Front. Cold fronts move faster than warm ones so that eventually a cold front overtakes a warm one and the warm air becomes progressively lifted from the surface. The zone of division between cold air ahead and cold air behind is called a "cold occlusion". If the air behind the front is warmer than ahead, it is a warm occlusion. Most land areas experience more occlusions than other types of fronts. In the progression of clouds leading to fronts, orographic uplift can play part in deceiving you of the actual type of front, i.e. progression of clouds leading to a warm front with orographic cumulus clouds added to these. The progression of clouds in an occlusion is a combination of both progressions from a warm and cold front.

8. USING SIGNS FROM NATURE. (MSVX.02.16c) These signs will give you a general prediction of the incoming weather conditions. Try to utilize as many signs together as possible, which will improve your prediction. All of these signs have been tested with relative accuracy, but shouldn't be depended on 100%. But in any case you will be right more times than wrong in predicting the weather. From this we can gather as much information as needed and compile it along with our own experience of the area we are working in to help us form a prediction of incoming weather. The signs are as follows:

A. Contrail Lines. A basic way of identifying a low-pressure area is to note the contrail lines from jet aircraft. If they don't dissipate within two hours, that indicates a low pressure area in your area. This usually occurs about 24 hours prior to an oncoming front.

B. Lenticulars. These are optical, lens-shaped cumulus clouds that have been sculpted by the winds. This indicates moisture in the air and high winds aloft. When preceding a cold front, winds and clouds will begin to lower.

C. An altimeter and map or a barometer can be utilized to forecast weather in the field. However, the user must have operational knowledge of the gear.

D. A spider's habits are very good indicators of what weather conditions will be within the next few hours. When the day is to be fair and relatively windless, they will spin long filaments over which they scout persistently. When precipitation is imminent, they shorten and tighten their snares and drowse dully in their centers.

E. Insects are especially annoying two to four hours before a storm.

F. If bees are swarming, fair weather will continue for at least the next half day.

G. Large game such as deer, elk, etc., will be feeding unusually heavy four to six hours before a storm.

H. When the smoke from a campfire, after lifting a short distance with the heated air, beats downward, a storm is approaching. Steadily rising smoke indicates fair weather.

I. A gray, overcast evening sky indicates that moisture carrying dust particles in the atmosphere have become overloaded with water; this condition favors rain.

J. A gray morning sky indicates dry air above the haze caused by the collecting of moisture on the dust in the lower atmosphere; you can reasonably expect a fair day.

K. When the setting sun shows a green tint at the top as it sinks behind clear horizon, fair weather is probable for most of the next 24 hours.

L. A rainbow in the late afternoon indicates fair weather ahead. However, a rainbow in the morning is a sign of prolonged bad weather.

M. A corona is the circle that appears around the sun or the moon. When this circle grows larger and larger, it indicates that the drops of water in the atmosphere are evaporating and that the weather will probably be clear. When this circle shrinks by the hour, it indicates that the water drops in the atmosphere are becoming larger, forming into clouds, rain is almost sure to fall.

N. In the northern hemisphere winds form the south usually indicate a low-pressure system. These systems are frequently associated with rainstorms. "Winds from the south bring s rain in it's mouth."

O. It is so quiet before a storm, that distant noises can be heard more clearly. This is due to the inactivity of wildlife a couple of hours before a storm.

P. Natural springs tend to flow at a higher rate when a storm is approaching. This is due to lower barometric pressure. This will cause ponds, with a lot of vegetative decay at the bottom, to become momentarily polluted.

Q. A heavy dew or frost in the morning is a sign of fair weather for the rest of the day. This is due to the moisture in the atmosphere settling on the ground vice in the form of precipitation and up to 12 hours of continued good weather can be expected.


1. William J. Kotsch, Rear Admiral, USN RET., Weather For the Mariner, 3rd Edition

MSVX.02.17 2/6/05

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment