The Cloudspotter’s Guide

Clearest guide to clouds

If weather is your religion, this book is good news. It’s the best cloud identification guide I’ve seen. It’s excellence comes in part because great photos of each cloud species have been selected from the world-wide fan club for clouds called the Cloud Appreciation Society. (They also have a great online gallery of unusual cloud photos.) Additional goodness stems from the enthusiastic, clear and lyrical descriptions of the author, who is Chief Cloud Appreciator. Better than anyone else, he’s made the reasons behind cloud differences clear to me. I’ve become more of a cloud connoisseur, able to read the weather a bit better. Finally much of the charm of this book comes from its handsome presentation; the welcoming design is a throwback to an earlier era of bookmaking with clear tables and clear figures.

In short, this is the clearest guide to clouds I’ve encountered.

— KK

The Cloudspotter’s Guide
Gavin Pretor-Pinney
2006, 320 pages
Available from Amazon

Cloud Appreciation Society

Sample excerpts:

We pledge to fight ‘blue-sky thinking’ wherever we find it. Life would be dull if we had to look up at cloudless monotony day after day. We seek to remind people that clouds are expressions of the atmosphere’s moods, and can be read like those of a person’s countenance.


This rare Cirrus formation is known as a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave cloud and can form in the region between shearing winds, moving in different directions.


The mamma cloud formations, sometimes known as ‘mammatus’, are named after the Latin for ‘breasts’. As described earlier, these can appear on the underside of a number of different cloud types – Cirrus, Cirrocumulus, Altocumulus, Altostratus, Stratocumulus, and Cumulonimbus – and at their most dramatic look like a field of smooth, globular udders.

They are at their most impressive when wed to a mighty Cumulonimbus. Forming on the underside of its incus, mamma appear when the top of the anvil cools, by radiating heat up into the atmosphere, and parts of it sink into the air below. When this air is relatively warm and humid, some of its water vapour condenses into cloud droplets as it mixes with the cold air. The process is like the reverse of convection currents forming into Cumulus clouds: rather than air warming at the ground level and rising to forum clouds, here air is cooling at the top of the troposphere and sinking to form them.

Mamma tend to be far less dramatic on the other cloud types. On the whole they are only plump, full and abundant when there is a mighty thunderstorm in the vicinity. The more powerful the Cumulonimbus, the more buxom the mamma.*


With a population of just 178, Burketown sits in one of Australia’s most remote shires. But every September and October, a small group of individuals journey from all corners of the country for the appearance of a remarkable and dramatic cloud called the Morning Glory. Clouds don’t usually have names, nor are they normally linked to a particular location, but then the Morning Glory is no normal cloud. Looking like a huge white roll of meringue, it stretches up to 600 miles (about the length of Britain) and sweeps over Burketown at speeds of up to 35mph. The visitors who come to marvel at this beautiful and awe-inspiring meteorological phenomenon are an intrepid group of glider pilots, for whom the cloud promises the most unique and thrilling flying conditions of anywhere in the world. Each year they come to this sleepy town in the hope of ‘soaring’ the Morning Glory, an exhilarating gliding adventure that can only be described as cloud-surfing.


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