Ice Clouds


Photo by Roman.

No: for real. These are ice clouds and it has nothing to do with it being winter. Up where these clouds float, water shivers and freezes, becoming cakes of floating ice crystals — which is, come to think of it, exactly what they would be if they were spread upon the surface of the beach or of the lake rather than tens of thousand feet above. Now listen for the crunch-squeak of giant feet walking in the snow above…

When you consider that part of my Dad’s job was to take weather readings at the local airport, I grew up remarkably ignorant of meteorology, even to the point of not realizing just how ignorant I was. Things haven’t improved much. I can tell you that the clouds in the photo are cirrostratus / cirrocumulus but I wouldn’t insist upon it as that level of confidence requires a kind of pattern recognition that is not one of my strong points, as I discovered when I tried to learn to recognize different woods by their grain (8th grade shop class, if you must know).

Those of you with a smattering of Latin should catch a distinct whiff of biology in the terminology and you’re right. The practice of cloud nomenclature largely stems from the work of 18th / 19th centuries “industrial chemist and amateur meteorologist” Luke Howard who did indeed borrow from the Linnaean. There’s only been one book-length biography of Howard that I know of, Richard Hamblyn’s 2001 The Invention of Clouds. I think I may reread it rather than simply reshelving it.

Author: rmichaelroman

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