Puff!

03/03/2015
  • 1 Grand Canyon Clouds 1
    A rare cloud inversion at the Grand Canyon
  • 2 Grand Canyon Clouds 0
    Visitors on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park view the rare weather phenomenon.
  • 3 KH Clouds NOAA
    Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, also called billows
  • 4 Lenticular Clouds NOAA 1
    This lenticular cloud, or "thunderhead," is full of turbulent air.
  • 5 Mam Clouds
    Mammatus clouds are full of raindrops and snow crystals.
  • 1 Grand Canyon Clouds 1
  • 2 Grand Canyon Clouds 0
  • 3 KH Clouds NOAA
  • 4 Lenticular Clouds NOAA 1
  • 5 Mam Clouds

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The Grand Canyon was a bowl full of fog one day last December. Visitors at the top looked out on a sea of thick clouds below the rim. It was a total cloud inversion, which occurs when the colder air in the clouds is pushed and held down by warmer air above.

Almost everyone enjoys watching the clouds. We gaze at lazy shapes floating above us. We look for clues about the weather. Those masses of visible moisture in the sky remind us that weather is indeed wonderful.

Sometimes it appears as if God has painted the sky with breaking ocean waves. These are Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, also called billows. They are named for scientists Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz, who discovered the process by which these clouds form. Winds at the top of a cloud layer are moving faster than winds at the base of the same layer. This causes the top to crash downward in a curling manner. The rolling motion created by this wind shear is quite turbulent.

You will take a second—and third—look at lenticular clouds. One may resemble a huge lens hovering in the air. Another looks like a flying saucer! The clouds form when stable moist air flows over a mountain range.

Perhaps you have noticed bunches of pouch-like clouds hanging from the underside of a larger cloud after a thunderstorm. They are mammatus clouds, and they hold large raindrops and snow crystals. With sunlight reflecting off them, these clouds are a remarkable sight.

We on Earth look up at clouds, those enormous frothy, puffy, dark, swarming masses of moisture, and we are awed. But the prophet Nahum reminds us that the one who created the clouds is deserving of greater awe, for “His way is in the whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet”!