Kirill Ignatyev via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0
Kirill Ignatyev via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Meet Asperitas, the Newest Addition to the Cloud Atlas

Kirill Ignatyev via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0
Kirill Ignatyev via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Cloud-spotters, rejoice! After years of lobbying, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has granted Asperitas formations a spot in the official cloud canon. The change is part of an update to the International Cloud Atlas released for World Meteorological Day on March 23.

The first iteration of the cloud atlas, published in the late 19th century, laid down the scientific standards for the monitoring and measurements of clouds and other meteorological phenomena. It formalized the system of taxonomy introduced by an amateur cloud-spotter in 1802, which mirrored the classification of plants and animals by sorting clouds into 10 major types, or genera, then splitting them further into varieties and species.

The last edition of the atlas was published in 1987. The clouds may not have changed since then, but the world has, and the WMO wants to keep up. The new edition will be all-online and include measurements and data from 191 different countries and territories. It will also feature one new species—the volutus, or tube-shaped cloud—and five supplementary features, including asperitas.

The inclusion of asperitas is a point of pride for Cloud Appreciation Society founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney, who says members have been sending in photos of asperitas-covered skies for more than a decade.

“Ever since we first noticed distinctive turbulent waves of cloud back in 2006 in images sent from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, US, we have argued that this formation did not easily fit within the existing naming system,” CAS noted on its website. “So we are very pleased that now, almost ten years later, asperitas is finally being accepted as an official classification by the World Meteorological Organisation.”

The taxonomy of clouds may sound fluffy to laypeople, but experts like WMO secretary-general Petteri Talaas take it very seriously. “If we want to forecast weather, we have to understand clouds,” he said in a statement. “If we want to model the climate system, we have to understand clouds. And if we want to predict the ability of water resources, we have to understand clouds.”

The theme of this year’s World Meteorological Day was—you guessed it—Understanding Clouds.

Spotted something spectacular? Check out the CAS website or the WMO’s submission guidelines to share it with the cloud-loving world.

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Why Does the Sky Look Green Before a Tornado?
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A common bit of folklore from tornado-prone parts of the U.S. says that when the skies start taking on an emerald hue, it's time to run inside. But why do tornadoes tend to spawn green skies in the first place? As SciShow's Michael Aranda explains, the answer has to do with the way water droplets reflect the colors of the light spectrum.

During the day, the sky is usually blue because the shorter, bluer end of the light spectrum bounces off air molecules better than than redder, longer-wavelength light. Conditions change during the sunset (and sunrise), when sunlight has to travel through more air, and when storms are forming, which means there are more water droplets around.

Tornadoes forming later in the day, around sunset, do a great job of reflecting the green part of the light spectrum that's usually hidden in a sunset because of the water droplets in the clouds, which bounce green light into our eyes. But that doesn't necessarily mean a twister is coming—it could just mean a lot of rain is in the forecast. Either way, heading inside is probably a good idea.

For the full details on how water and light conspire to turn the sky green before a storm, check out the SciShow video below.

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New Contest Will Give Kids the Chance to Become Weather Channel Meteorologists for a Day
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iStock

Not every kid dreams of being an on-air meteorologist, but for young ‘uns obsessed with storm forecasts and local weather reports, a new contest presents a unique opportunity to live out their dreams. The Mini Meteorologist Contest, sponsored by Lands’ End, will give four kids a chance to present a weather report on The Weather Channel this summer.

The nationwide contest is open to future meteorologists in the U.S. and Canada ages 6 to 16. To enter, they just have to write an essay between 50 and 500 words long on why they love learning about science and weather and why they’d like to be a meteorologist for a day. Four winners will receive a trip for them and their parents to The Weather Channel’s headquarters in Atlanta. They’ll have the opportunity to report the weather for the show on July 12, which happens to be National Summer Learning Day.

The essays will be judged based in equal parts on creativity, grammar, and the entrant’s love of meteorology. The only rules for the essays are that they can’t mention any products or brands other than Lands’ End or The Weather Channel (so no essays about how L.L. Bean inspired your love of cloud formations, kids) and has to be the child’s original work. Kids who are chosen as semi-finalists will have their on-air presentation skills judged in a Skype interview.

Should they win, they’ll get an inclusive trip to Atlanta with media training, a tour of The Weather Channel headquarters, and a $500 Lands’ End gift card to get just the right weather-reporting wardrobe.

The deadline for entering is May 21. Essays can be submitted here.

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