QUESTION FOR KIDS: How do clouds help us predict the weather?

Take a little time to watch the sky this spring and summer. You’ll see huge, towering white clouds that look like giant ice cream cones, and you’ll see thin lines of rippling clouds, like the waves in the ocean. Why are there different shapes? Do they mean it’s going to rain? You’re about to find out…
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Materials for this activity:

 

Follow this easy, step-by-step activity:

In this activity, kids learn they can predict the weather just by observing the clouds and wind direction, like farmers and outdoorsmen have done for centuries.

  1. Get comfortable outside and pick a cloud to observe. Look at the shape. Is the cloud flat or puffy? Flat clouds are called Stratus; puffy clouds
    are called Cumulus.
  2. Observe the height of the clouds. HighCirrus clouds are high, thin, wispy clouds. MiddleAlto clouds; they will be either Stratus or Cumulus in shape. LowStratus clouds are the ones closest to the ground and are usually flat and hazy.
  3. Using your observations, add the word for how high the cloud is, to the word for its shape. Now you have the scientific name! An example: Cirrus
    + Stratus = Cirrostratus. (See our activity TIPS for more details.)
  4. Mount the Mini Weather Station as instructed. Note the direction the wind is coming from.
  5. Use the Cloud Chart to compare your cloud type and wind direction findings. The cloud results will tell you if it’s going to rain or not!

Puffy Clouds

A few tips to help you out:

  • Wondering about wind direction? The compass direction — like Northeast (NE) — means that the wind is coming from the northeast and blowing
    southwest.
  • Here’s a way to remember the word “Cumulus” — it’s Latin, meaning a pile or heap. The word “accumulate” means to pile up. Cumulus clouds
    are piled up and puffy!
  • Choose the height in Column 1, and then select one of the shapes in Column 2 or Column 3. Where your answers intersect is the name of the
    cloud!
SHAPE
HEIGHT Stratus = Flat Cumulus = Fluffy
High = Cirrus Cirrrostratus Cirrocumulus
Medium = Alto Altostratus Altocumulus
Low = Stratus Stratus Stratocumulus

Go Beyond the Activity

  • Write down your cloud-based weather predictions in a science notebook. If today’s prediction is for rain in 15–20 hours, set an alarm or make a note to observe if it rains when you predicted. Keep track of how often you’re correct.
  • Use the Mini Weather Station to explore more weather activities with no additional equipment!
  • Want to include younger kids in your cloud activity? Start them using their own science notebook, where they can draw all the things they see in the
    sky: clouds, birds, butterflies, airplanes, electrical wires, and more. Then, use it as a starting point for learning about other science topics like biology, physics, and energy, helping them understand that science is all around us.

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