• Dr Alex Baker

How do you know if it's going to rain?

With summer heatwaves giving way to mild autumnal weather, you might have found yourself staring up at the clouds above wondering whether it'll rain or not today. After all, we all know how reliable weather reports are. But how do you know which clouds are going to soak you and which will pass overhead without issue?


This week's video will help you learn to distinguish your cirrus from your stratus, as well as showing you some of the more unusual cloud formations we've spotted on our many flights.

So how do you know whether it's going to rain? Well, each of the main types of cloud outlined in the video have something to reveal about how settled the atmosphere is and how likely you are to see rain.


1. Cumulus clouds


Cumulo (Latin) : Heap, pile


The most atmospherically stable form of cloud, cumuliform clouds are fluffy, like balls of cotton wool. Cumulus clouds are found low down in the troposphere and are unlikely to produce rain unless they join together to form more complex structures. Cumulus clouds are often found in long lines or sheets, and when small indicate clear weather.


2. Cirrus clouds


Cirrus (Latin): ringlet, lock of hair


Found high in the troposphere and the lower reaches of the stratosphere, cirriform clouds are characterised by a thin, wispy structure. While these clouds are too high and too thin to create substantial preciptitation, they often arrive on the front of weather systems, meaning wet or stormy weather might be on the way before too long.


3. Stratus clouds


Stratus (Latin): layer


A stratiform cloud is thick and uniform. Flat, hazy, featureless and low-hanging, this is unfortunately a common sight in Britain. When stratus cloud structures are overhead, some rain is pretty likely. However, this kind of cloud isn't necessarily a sign of heavy precipitation: darker and thicker shades indicate more moisture, but rainclouds tend to have more definition.


4. Stratocumulus clouds


What happens when you cross a stratus cloud with a cumulus cloud? The imaginatively-named stratocumulus cloud is perhaps the most varied category, encompassing many different shapes and sizes of cloud formation. Stratocumulus clouds are larger and broader than cumulus clouds, but more broken up and textured than a stratus. These clouds provide a vital function in climate regulation, dulling the heat of summer days and insulating during the winter months, and are often the sign of a slow change in weather systems.


5. Cumulonimbus clouds


Nimbus (Latin): dark cloud


If the Latin name wasn't a clue enough, these are the big hitters. The elder sibling of the light, fluffy, cumulus cloud, cumulonimbus clouds tower across layers of the atmosphere, heralding thunderstorms and heavy precipitation. If you see a huge pillar cloud, especially one with a flared, anvil-like top, prepare for a dramatic time with thunder and lightning.

There are many variations on cloud shape. Each of the types listed above signifies different conditions when seen at different altitudes, and there are many, many more unusual combinations of cloud type. Nonetheless, knowing these basic five types of cloud are a great start if you want to upgrade your cloud watching and learn some basic meteorology.


When it comes to planning our flights, of course, we rely on quite a bit more data than what the sky looks like. Our flight path simulations draw on over 150 live sources of wind data from across the globe to create an extremely accurate model of moment-to-moment weather conditions, allowing us to precisely calculate flight paths. That's just one of the ways we've managed to secure a 100% success rate for predicting flight paths and recovering every single craft launched. To find out more about how we conduct our launches, get in touch with our team today.

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