Despite Looking Soft and Fluffy, Clouds Are Really Heavy

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Despite Looking Soft and Fluffy, Clouds Are Really Heavy

 

On sun-drenched afternoons with skies just barely painted melted orange-gold, one enjoys the pleasant activity of tracking the clouds in the heavens. It’s a calming exercise that everyone has done at least once in their lives. Maybe you’re in a tower, in a glass-encased office so high up, the lightning rod could almost touch the sky, watching clouds roll past. 

Wherever we are, we’ve always looked at clouds and marveled at how soft they looked. 

Well, for all the softness they exude, it’s important to note that these beautiful wisps of white are actually pretty heavy. 

Of course, common sense tells us that this is the case, what with clouds carrying rainwater and snow until such a time that they release it into the world. But how heavy is it exactly? 

 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

 

Mentalfloss, a website that delivers smart, fun, and shareable content in an upbeat and witty environment, reports that researcher Peggy LeMone at the National Center for Atmospheric Research once wondered about it, too, particularly when she was still very young. 

The first thing LeMone does to measure the weight a certain cloud is solve for its density. Scientists do this by estimating the weight of a cloud most people see on a nice day. For reference, scientists estimate that a typical white and fluffy cloud has at least half a gram per cubic meter of water.

Next, they estimate how big a cloud is. Again, on a nice day, a cloud can be about a kilometer across and roughly cubical. Anyone can measure a cloud provided that they are able to observe the shadow it casts on the ground when the sun is directly above it. Now that there is a rough guess of its water content per cubic meter and the size of a cloud, LeMone’s calculations reveal that each kilometer-wide long and kilometer-wide cloud contains actually contains about 500,000,000 grams of water. 

 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

 

Still a little lost? That’s about 1.1 million pounds of water, or the equivalent of about 100 elephants. 

The question now becomes, if these clouds are as heavy as 100 elephants--which we can all agree is a lot of elephants--how do they just float so freely in the sky without falling? Even though these clouds weigh a lot, the droplets they contain aren’t concentrated in just one area. Instead, they are spread out across the cloud. “Some of these droplets are so small that you would need a million of them to make one raindrop,” Mentalfloss writes.

 

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