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Cloud watching 101

Posted on April 30, 2019 at 6:00 am

Cloud Watching

By Abra Cole

Springtime in the Inland Northwest is peak cloud watching time.

Simple steps for cloud watching:

  1. Put away your wristwatch and prepare your imagination.
  2. Find a good spot, either sitting or lying down, with a good view of the sky.
  3. Talk about what you see: Shapes, colors, creatures, or other things in the sky.
  4. Make it a game to see who can come up with the silliest descriptions!

Advantages of cloud watching:

  • It can be done at a moment’s notice.
  • No equipment is needed (although a blanket and picnic are always a good addition).
  • It can be as simple as pointing your eyes at the sky, or you can make it a complex game. It’s up to you!
  • It’s free!
  • It’s an all-ages, inclusive sport.

Let your imaginations run free. Challenge each other to find the best description of a particular cloud (before it changes!) or make up stories about the creatures you see up there. You can also talk about other things besides clouds you might see such as planes, birds, trees, or bugs!

In Spokane and surrounding areas, we are lucky enough to see a variety of cloud types. Just this morning I saw a beautiful lenticular cloud cluster along with a unicorn cloud on my way into the library. The most common types of clouds (and the best for imaginative cloud viewing) are cumulus and cumulonimbus. Cumulus clouds are fanciful fluffy clouds that cheerfully roll across the blue sky. Cumulonimbus form towering columns that result in the impressive thunderstorms we sometimes see.

There are several great online sources for cloud identification. Both NASA and UCAR Center for Science Education have printable versions you can take outside with you, as well as other learning resources and games.

The Spokane Clear Sky chart helps us decide when it is good to go cloud watching. Technically, it’s designed to help know when the night sky is clear enough for star gazing, but it is also useful in identifying daylight conditions as well. At first glance, it seems complicated to use, but the guide below the chart will help you identify the pertinent columns for ideal cloud watching conditions.

Another idea for enjoying cloud watching is to take a sketchbook with you and make sketches of the clouds you see and discuss. If you find that cloud watching is your passion, create a cloud journal. You can keep track of your days with nothing but the clouds you saw in the sky and drew on the page.

After you’ve spent some time with your head in the clouds (pun intended!), the fun doesn’t have to stop there. You can also make drawings and paintings of the clouds you recall seeing. You can whip up a batch of shaving cream cloud paint (recipe below) and create your own sky pictures with three-dimensional cloud effects.

More ideas include writing an ode to your favorite fleeting fluff in the sky (a poet I am not!). And you can read books about clouds. Three of my favorite titles that can be found in our library collection: It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw, Little Cloud by Eric Carle, and Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld. For informational reading check out the 551 shelves in both kids and adult sections for nonfiction book titles to learn more about the types of clouds, how they are formed, and why.

Whether you’re experienced in the art of cumulus considering or just dabbling, now is the time to get out there! Stretch out in a patch of spring grass, breathe in the fresh air, and just lay there to take it all in.  

BASIC CLOUD PAINT RECIPE

Ingredients

  • Shaving cream (or Cool Whip for a less permanent alternative)
  • Paint
  • Dab or two of Elmer’s glue

Combine ingredients and use with a paintbrush while still fluffy.

Abra Cole

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