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  • Arushi Srivastava

Do Clouds Have Weight?

Magnificent as they are, clouds are like puffs of white magic that float about in acres of blue. They are the ravishing elements of nature that paint the sky canvas. They seem like giant puffs of cotton that are light as feathers as they drift about in the sky. However, have you ever wondered if clouds have weight? They are made up of a physical substance, water, which is heavy, so clouds must have weight. In spite of their soft and lurid appearance, these aerosols are actually really hefty. Researchers have calculated that an average cloud weighs an astonishing 1.1 million pounds! This humongous weight is about 500,000 kg- which means that at any given time, there are millions of pounds of water that float above our heads.


The methods used to calculate this weight are indeed a matter of curiosity, considering that it is impossible to go up in the sky and get a piece of it for ourselves. Nevertheless, our scientists have managed to accomplish this with simple mathematics. Clouds are made up of a great number of tiny water droplets which add some mass to them. Their density is worked out to be around ½ gram of water per cubic metre. That's about a marble's worth of water in a box large enough for you and a friend to sit in.


The next step to calculate the weight was to work out the size of a cloud which can vary widely. Clouds come in four different types- stratus, cirrus, cumulus, and cirrostratus. A cloud’s width can be estimated by measuring its shadow when the sun is directly over it. The average cumulus cloud is about a kilometre long and roughly has the shape of a cube, so it's as tall as it is wide. Applying mathematics to that, we get a cloud with a volume of one billion cubic metres. That is equivalent to the weight of about 100 elephants or 2500 donkeys!


But now the main question is, if all those elephants or donkeys were hanging out in the sky, they would undoubtedly fall down. So how do several hundred-pound clouds manage to stay afloat in the sky? What’s stopping them from collapsing on our heads at any point? And why isn’t gravity pulling them down? The answer lies in the fact that their weight isn’t all concentrated at one point. It is distributed among trillions of really tiny water droplets that are spread over a vast area. Some droplets present in the cloud are so small that several of them would be needed to make one raindrop. Hence, the effect of gravity on them is negligible. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that a cloud is actually less dense than dry air, so it is buoyant. Even so, these droplets do not always keep floating. When a cloud’s water density increases, the cloud starts falling in minute quantities in the form of rain.


Bibliography:

  1. Macdonald, Fiona. “This is how much a cloud weighs” sciencealert.com. 19 Feb, 2015. Web. 18 Jul, 2022. <https://www.sciencealert.com/this-is-how-much-a-cloud-weighs>

  2. Soniak, Matt. “How much does a cloud weigh?” mentalfloss.com. 4 Apr, 2013. Web. 12 Jul, 2022. <https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/49786/how-much-does-cloud-weigh>

  3. Water science school. “How much does a cloud weigh?”usgs.gov. 7 Jul, 2019. Web. 12 Jul, 2022. <https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/how-much-does-cloud-weigh#:~:text=A%201%20cubic%20kilometer%20>


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