Lessons from Travels: Clouds from Above

by Carl Strang

One of the delights of air travel is the opportunity to view clouds from above. To be sure, there is much beauty to be enjoyed from the play of light on clouds we see from the ground.

Winter sunset

The new perspective from a jet liner adds a different perspective. We’ll follow the common summer sequence, beginning with simple cumulus.

Cumulus clouds are the common puffs we all know and draw as children.

These are simple enough that they look much the same from above.

The mosaic of the ground provides a visually interesting backdrop.

As a summer day passes, solar energy causes an increase in the rising air columns and their moisture content. The cumulus clouds swell as that moisture hits cooler air above and condenses.

They become bigger and more complex in shape.

Now there is more to be seen from the air, as well.

The clouds seem to form a landscape of rounded mountains and valleys.

If conditions are extreme enough, the clouds coalesce, and build high into the atmosphere.

Those who know something of the process, and see this, begin to assess where shelter is to be found.

A full appreciation can be gained from the higher-altitude perspective.

The anvil shape of a cumulonimbus, the cloud of the thunderstorm.

A final lesson comes when one notices that at a typical cruising altitude of only 5 miles, nearly all the clouds are below.  The realization begins to sink in that the breathable, active atmosphere is thin indeed, the barest skin’s thickness when compared to the size of the Earth as a whole. Yes, it is a small enough volume easily to be changed by the actions of billions of technologically leveraged human beings.

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