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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

How to Predict the Weather

Learn to identify three families of clouds and you'll be able to forecast rain, sun, and deadly storms.

by: Lisa Maloney, Photos by Michael DeYoung

Cumulonimbus Clouds
Cumulonimbus Clouds
Nimbostratus Clouds
Nimbostratus Clouds
Cirrus Clouds
Cirrus Clouds

Cloud Quiz
Test your weather-predicting skills with our this photo slideshow.

Nimbostratus clouds
How they form These sheets of gray and white blanket the sky—the quintessential cloudy day (the word stratus is actually Latin for “layer”). They form when a relatively stable air mass (read: not very different in temperature from the air around it) condenses over cooler air.

What to expect Prolonged rain or snow is likely. The lower, thicker, and darker the cloud, the sooner the precipitation.

Warning signs
First, high, faint cirrostratus clouds create a haze across the sky and a halo around the sun, hinting at rain or snow within 24 hours. The cirrostratus might then lower and thicken into altostratus clouds, obscuring the sun’s exact location and suggesting continuous precipitation within 12 hours. If the altostratus clouds descend farther, they become dark nimbostratus clouds, which entirely obscure the sun and often produce steady precipitation that can last hours or days. What to do Gauge if you need to bust out miles to reach a campsite or cross slick terrain (say, a scree field) before the interminable drizzle.

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