Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reading the Sky

Photo by Amy Coffman Phillips
How much of fifth grade science can you remember?  What are the different cloud types called?  My knowledge was tested today on the most gorgeous day we've had in months when I was lucky enough to be at the Morton Arboretum with my friend and our kids.  The children's garden was complete chaos with every child in the five surrounding communities all congregating there for the day, so we decided to climb a little hill and sit and watch the clouds.  I have fond memories of staring at the clouds on a pretty day and trying to guess what shape they were making.  My daughter humored me a bit in between trips running up and down the hill and found a snake that the cirrus clouds created (I thought it looked like a spine).  My friend found a stingray made of puffy cumulus clouds.  And I seemed to find mostly fish of different sizes and shapes, a group of cumulus clouds that looked like airplanes flying low, and one space ship.  A psychologist has probably developed a way to analyze what we see in clouds as some type of Warshak test, but I prefer to leave that at the surface.  

I remember learning about cloud types when I was in school and most of the names have stuck with me.  But I found this handy chart on the web as a reference. 

Image courtesy
Reading the sky helps us understand the weather now and in the coming hours.  Today, most of the clouds were low cumulus type with a few wispy cirrus clouds much higher.  I could tell by looking at the sky that there was no chance of rain today.  I think of this day in contrast to the day I was on the prairie as a summer storm rolled in.  On that day, we could see the dark underside of the cumulonimbus clouds as they approached.  We could see the rain falling on distant fields.  But what we couldn't see as the storm approached was how fast it was moving.  It seemed like one moment the storm was still miles away and the next moment it was on top of us as we laughed and ran to our car.  It was powerful and beautiful and an experience that I would love to have again some day.

Photo by Felicia Akman
I think that judging the weather by the clouds is something primal - something we learn early on, if my 4 year old daughter is any indication.  But with today's technology and smart phones, I find myself checking the weather on my phone before I even look outside, mostly because i'm looking for the highs/lows and chance for rain but also because I've become so reliant on the thing that I can't remember how I managed without it.  I wonder how this will be for my kids?  For their kids?  Will we still learn to read the sky or will we rely on more and more sophisticated technology to do it for us with better accuracy?  It is my hope that the technologies we invent will only serve to enhance our experience of the natural world. 

Entry completed for BPCP iSite request to "read the sky."

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