Monday, July 17, 2017

Episode 377 (7-17-17): Voices of the Clouds

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:56).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 7-14-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 17, 2017.

This week, we drop in on a group of people using the ancient Latin language to describe visible water hundreds or thousands of feet high. Sound highly suspect? Well, just have a listen for about 25 seconds.

GUEST VOICES - ~22 sec - “Cumulus. Stratocumulus. Altocumulus. Cirrocumulus. Status. Altostratus. Cirrostratus. Cirrus. Nimbostratus. Cumulonimbus.”

You’ve been listening to the 10 basic cloud types, according to the National Weather Service. Since 1802, cloud types have had names from five Latin language roots describing clouds’ appearance, location, or rain potential: cumulus, meaning heap; stratus, meaning strewn or layered; cirrus, meaning curl; altus, meaning high; and nimbus, meaning cloud in Latin but rain in English usage. Meteorologists classify the 10 basic cloud types you heard further into about 100 species or varieties, based on shape, appearance, and internal structure.

Clouds form when water vapor molecules in the atmosphere condense into liquid droplets around particles of soil, salt, or other materials, called condensation nuclei. Condensation occurs simultaneouly with evaporation—the process that turns liquid water back into water vapor—so clouds form when, and where, temperatures are low enough that condensation exceeds evaporation. Cloud formation and type also depend on the amount of water in the air, air pressure, winds, and landscape features. The possibilities range in altitude from low, fair-weahter cumulus or rainy nimbostratus; to mid-level altocumulus or altostratus; to high, icy cirrus, or the tops of towering cumulonimbus thunderheads rising above 30,000 feet.

At any height, clouds tell us about the atmosphere, using signals much older than Latin or any human language.

SOUND - ~2 sec

Thanks to several Blacksburg friends for lending their voices to this episode. We close with some music suitable for a clouds conversation: “Storm,” by Torrin Hallett, a student at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio.

MUSIC - ~14 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463. Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show. In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The cloud types call-out was recorded July 11, 2017, in Blacksburg, Va. Thanks to several Blacksburg friends for participating in this recording.

The thunder sound was recorded in Blacksburg on April 20, 2015.

“Storm,” a movement within “Au Naturale,” is copyright 2017 by Torrin Hallett, used with permission. Part of this piece was also used in Episode 362, 4-3-17, on hail. In 2017, Torrin is majoring in music composition, horn performance, and mathematics in the dual degree program at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. More information about Torrin is available at his Web site,

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Cloud chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA), online at

A Clouds Photo Sampler from Blacksburg, Va.

January 20, 2017, 4:30 p.m.
June 6, 2017, 7:20 a.m.
July 1, 2017, 10:30 a.m.
July 14, 2017, 3:30 p.m.
August 16, 2016, 6:30 p.m.


From the U.S. Geological Survey, “Water Science School/Condensation—The Water Cycle,” online at

“Condensation is the process by which water vapor in the air is changed into liquid water. Condensation is crucial to the water cycle because it is responsible for the formation of clouds. These clouds may produce precipitation, which is the primary route for water to return to the Earth's surface within the water cycle. Condensation is the opposite of evaporation.

“You don’t have to look at something as far away as a cloud to notice condensation, though. Condensation is responsible for ground-level fog; for your glasses fogging up when you go from a cold room to the outdoors on a hot, humid day; for the water that drips off the outside of your glass of iced tea; and for the water on the inside of the windows in your home on a cold day. The phase change that accompanies water as it moves between its vapor, liquid, and solid form is exhibited in the arrangement of water molecules. Water molecules in the vapor form are arranged more randomly than in liquid water. As condensation occurs and liquid water forms from the vapor, the water molecules become organized in a less random structure, which is less random than in vapor, and heat is released into the atmosphere as a result.

“Even though clouds are absent in a crystal clear blue sky, water is still present in the form of water vapor and droplets which are too small to be seen. Depending on weather conditions, water molecules will combine with tiny particles of dust, salt, and smoke in the air to form cloud droplets, which grow and develop into clouds, a form of water we can see. Cloud droplets can vary greatly in size, from 10 microns (millionths of a meter) to 1 millimeter (mm), and even as large as 5 mm. This process occurs higher in the sky where the air is cooler and more condensation occurs relative to evaporation. As water droplets combine (also known as coalescence) with each other, and grow in size, clouds not only develop, but precipitation may also occur. Precipitation is essentially water in its liquid or solid form falling from the base of a cloud….”

“The clouds formed by condensation are an intricate and critical component of Earth's environment. Clouds regulate the flow of radiant energy into and out of Earth's climate system. They influence the Earth's climate by reflecting incoming solar radiation (heat) back to space and outgoing radiation (terrestrial) from the Earth's surface. Often at night, clouds act as a ‘blanket,’ keeping a portion of the day's heat next to the surface. Changing cloud patterns modify the Earth's energy balance, and, in turn, temperatures on the Earth's surface.”

From D.E. Pedgley, “Luke Howard and his Clouds,” Weather, Vo. 58, February 2003, pages 51-55; accessed onlnie at (subscription may be required for access):

“Cirrus, cumulus, stratus—these are cloud names that have been used worldwide for 200 years. They were introduced in December 1802 by Luke Howard…, a manufacturing chemist and amateur meteorologist, in an essay entitled ‘On the modifications of clouds’ that he read to the Askesian Society. In his essay, Howard presented the first practical classification of clouds. In so doing, he wanted to emphasise the usefulness of meteorology, particularly of visual observations of clouds and winds.”


David M. Ludlum et al., National Audubon Society Pocket Guide—Clouds and Storms, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1995.

National Geographic Society, “Clouds,” online at

National Weather Service, “Cloud Chart,” online at; “How Clouds Form,” online at; “Ten Basic Cloud Types,” online at

D.E. Pedgley, “Luke Howard and his Clouds,” Weather, Vol. 58, February 2003, pages 51-55.

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo., online at  This Web site for cloud types includes photos and a 2 min./57 sec. video on cloud types (good for children).

University of Illinois Department of Atmospheric Sciences, “Cloud Types—Common Cloud Classifications,” online at

U.S. Geological Survey, “Water Science School/Condensation—The Water Cycle,” online at

World Meteorological Organization, “Classifying Clouds,” online at

For More Information about Weather Related to Virginia

Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts on news, events, and information resources relevant to weather are available online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( See particularly the “Weather/Natural Disasters” subject category.

Some previous episodes on weather topics are the following:
Fog – Episode 124, 8/20/12;
Hail – Episode 362, 4/3/17;
Rainfall – Episode 338, 10/17/16;
Tropical Storms – Episode 34, 10/29/12 (Hurricane Sandy), Episode 337, 10/10/16 (Hurricane Matthew), Episode 345, 12/5/16 (Atlantic tropical storm season review), Episode 369, 5/22/17 (annual Atlantic tropical storm season preview);
Weather balloons – Episode 152, 3/11/13;
Weather watches and warnings – Episode 106, 4/9/12;
Winter precipitation – Episode 258, 3/23/15 (and water supplies); Episode 300, 1/25/16 (snow terms).

Previous episodes featuring music composed by Torrin Hallett for Virginia Water Radio are the following:
Episode 335, 9/26/16 on the Canada Goose – “Geese Piece”;
Episode 338, 10/17/16, on rainfall measurements – “Rain Refrain”;
Episode 343, 11/21/16, on the Wild Turkey – “Turkey Tune”;
Episode 349, 1/2/17, on the New Year – “New Year’s Water”;
Episode 369, 5-22-17, on the 2017 Atlantic tropical storm season – “Tropical Tantrum.”


The episode may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 English SOLs:

Reading Theme
6.4 and 7.4 – meanings of unfamiliar words (a. word origins and derivations).
8.4, 9.3, 10.3, 11.3, and 12.3 – knowledge of word origins, analogies, and figurative language to extend vocabulary development within authentic texts.

This episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Interrelationships in Earth/Space Systems Theme
2.6 – identification of common storms and other weather phenomena.
4.6 – weather conditions, phenomena, and measurements.

Grades K-6 Matter Theme
6.6 – Properties of air (including pressure, temperature, and humidity) and structure/dynamics of earth’s atmosphere, including weather topics.

Earth Science Course
ES.12 – weather and climate.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOL:

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at