They represent weather, the password of the airways.
Did you ever wonder why they were different, how high they were? Clouds have names and personalities. Some of them are harmless, friendly things, valued only for their beauty. Others are wicked, vicious monsters that can tear an airplane apart, wing from wing.
There are four distinct types of clouds and all of them have their own level in our atmosphere.
High clouds belong to the cirrus family. They are never found under 20,000 feet and are made up of millions of tiny ice crystals. Cirrus clouds are think, feather-like wisps of white, painting delicate streaks high across the sky.
When these high clouds lump a little closer together and look more like flakes than feathers, they are known as cirrocumulus clouds.
Third member of the high cirrus family is the cirrostratus cloud, a high very thin sheet-cloud. This cloud covers the entire sky, is a thin veil which does not hide the outlines of the sun or moon, causes halos. Pilots do not worry much about the cirrus clouds.
Middle clouds, belonging to the alto family, are not found under 6,500 feet, nor higher than 20,000 feet. The alto cumulus clouds remind me of wool on a sheep's back. They are globular balls of white to darkish clouds, close together, sometimes touching, making a solid layer of irregular cotton across the sky. Many times found in waves.
Then there is the solid overcast at middle-cloud level, known as the alto stratus. It is a fibrous veil, bluish in color. The sun or moon shows vaguely through alto stratus, like through a ground glass. "The lid is on" when alto stratus covers the sky and the air is usually smooth.
Lowest to the earth of the cloud families are the stratus clouds, which start right on the ground, when we have "fog," and rise to 6,500 feet. Stratocumulus clouds are fairly large, globular masses ranging in color from soft Greg to darker blue. When these clouds turn black, making a low amorphous, rain layer, look out. We are going to have "weather." Those black rolls and balls are called nimbostratus. The low sold overcast, which sometimes extends clear down to the earth in uniform solid gray, is called stratus clouds.
A fourth type of cloud, which we find recurring in mixed form at all altitudes is the cumulus cloud. Cumulus clouds range the airways from 1,600 feet to 20,000 feet and just one of these towering white babies may reach the entire distance. There are two types to watch for: the plain cumulus, virtually harmless in its flatish bottom, domed-top condition. But when it begins to build up vertically, takes on a black color around the bottom and Dr. Jekyl becomes Mister Hyde, it's a cumulonimbus. Cumulonimbus clouds are the beginning of thunderheads, and thunderheads we stay away from.
This towering cloud is the visual evidence of giant upward currents of air, cooling so fast the moisture becomes visible. That is what you see.
What you don't see is the churning, boiling wind inside this cloud, with velocities up to 200 miles per hour.
Ever see those giant hailstones that resemble eggs? They are manufactured inside this powerful cloud. A raindrop starts to fall and freezes. Dropping through the cloud the tiny ball of ice strikes a column of upward rushing air and is carried higher and higher, gathering more ice as it goes. When it becomes too heavy for that particular wind, it falls. maybe it doesn't get to the ground, but it taken back up by a yet more powerful elevator four or five times within the same thunderhead, each time taking on another layer of ice. Finally it becomes so big, so heavy, even a two-hundred mile wind cannot support it, and it falls; usually with severe damage to crops, greenhouses, auto roofs, etc.
Airplanes do not fly within 2,000 feet of thunderheads, either under or beside them. To attempt to go over them is prime foolishness. They are the rogues of the sky. Just stay away from them.
When you find a combination of nimbostratus, solid, rainy-looking, low overcast, with darker cumulus developments, scudding along just below, it's time to land, until the first layer goes by. Generally these clouds are bringing solid rain or snow, and when the first roll cloud goes by, it is accompanied by violent turbulence, gusts and danger to the airman. Never try to fly under these approaching storms. Once the vanguard of the storm passes and it settles down to steady rain, if the overcast is more than 1,000 feet, planes can fly in comparative safety.
Clouds are an interesting study. One thing anyone can remember is the height of the various layers of clouds: high, feather-like cirrus, 20,000 feet; medium-high alto cumulus, sheep-back clouds, 6,500 feet to 20,000 feet; low clouds, the stratus family, are found from the ground up to 6,500 feet; cumulus clouds never under 1,600 feet and may tower upward to 20,000 feet.
Let's get out of this fog!
Gossip We Hear
Elmore Ausherman, one of the town's newest airmen, was shooting landings (practicing) the afternoon of the spot-landing contest. The funny part of it was, that you couldn't tell his student landings from the contestants'.
Next column, we'll attempt to tell you about the Air Scouts, our young and budding airmen.
Indiana's hard-working aeronautics committee had a fine social gathering over the weekend at the Spink-Wawasee, put together by member Morrison Rockhill and helped along by Indiana's flying Representative Hobart Creighton. I am really indebted to the gentlemen of this committee for the encouragement "Sky Writing" has received from them, with kind expressions at hand from Col. Cornish, director and members Rockhill, Howard Clark, Valparaiso, and Guy Henry, Muncie. Thanks, boys, and we are going to tell the folks all about the Indiana Aeronautic Commission one of these days.
Warsaw Daily Times Wed. Sept. 17, 1947