11 New Cloud Types Named—First in 30 Years

Without personal technology, such as smartphones, these new clouds might have never been added to the International Cloud Atlas.

When satellites first began taking photos of our Earth it revolutionised the way we saw our atmosphere, providing images on a grand scale from above. Now the advent of personal tech, such as smartphones, is giving us a new perspective on the sky from below.

This increased use of technology is what prompted the World Meteorological Organization to add 11 new cloud classifications to their International Cloud Atlas, a globally recognised source for meteorologists. A far cry from simple white puffs, these 11 new cloud types roll, dip, and menace their way across the skies.

Mammatus clouds telling of an extreme weather system near Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, USA.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID R. FRAZIER PHOTOLIBRARY, ALAMY

Sunlight shining from the horizon strikes the underside of mammatus clouds.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GUDRUN SCHULZE EBBINGHOFF, STOCKIMO, ALAMY

Evening light from a setting sun gives these mammatus clouds an ominous look.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER TSAI PHOTOGRAPHY, ALAMY

Clouds near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, sag heavy with moisture.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID R. FRAZIER PHOTOLIBRARY, ALAMY

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, believes that this democratised access to photographing and sharing images will help create a sense of interconnectivity and appreciation for how we treat our atmosphere.

See a time-lapse of the newly classified asperitas.

"People may wonder 'Does it really matter to have these Latin names for clouds?'" said Pretor-Pinney.

"To learn the names of different recognisable characteristics is to become more in tune with the sky. It counters the pressures of the digital world because when you gaze at the sky, it distracts you from pressures on the ground."

These 11 additions are the first updates that the atlas has received in 30 years, and much of the change can be attributed to citizen scientists who can share and discuss clouds by uploading photos to the Atlas's site.

2017 is the first year that the renowned atlas will be published entirely online, but a hardbound version will follow later this year.

Asperitas, Latin for roughness, is the cloud type that has citizen scientists most excited and has been a special victory for the UK-based Cloud Appreciation Society. This photo, first spotted in 2006, captured their attention for its inability to be described by existing cloud types.

Marked by small divot-like features that create chaotic ripples across the sky, asperitas were championed by enthusiasts who noticed they did not accurately fall under existing categories. "It stood out slightly, it looked like turbulent waves, as if you're looking at the ocean from below," said Pretor, who had been vying for the new classification for nearly a decade.

Other clouds that formerly went by more colloquial names, such as the wave-like Kelvin-Helmoltz cloud, and fallstreak holes, will now be recognised with the Latin names fluctus and cavum, respectively.

The International Cloud Atlas was first created in 1896 and has been a resource of cloud types and photos that have helped train meteorologists for decades.

A paper publishing in May by the Royal Meteorological Society will look at asperitas cloud formations through photos taken by citizen scientists. They plan to reveal what sort of distinct weather patterns create these turbulent clouds.

Pretor-Pinney hopes that a renewed interest in cloud watching will help people find moments of reflection and quiet in a hectic digital age, saying, "This interest of naming the clouds helps connect us to this atmosphere and connect us to this world, by understanding more, knowing more, and caring more."

Header Image: Asperitas clouds have been spotted for over a decade, but they were only added to the International Cloud Atlas recently. They are noticeable from the rough divets that break their surfaces. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAMY

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