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WeatherTalk: Cirrus clouds are high and feathery

An old folk name for this type of cloud formation is "mare's tails."

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FARGO — Cirrus clouds are the clouds with feathery tails. They are very high clouds, usually 20,000 to 30,000 feet above the ground, where the temperature is well below freezing. Even in summer, these clouds are made up entirely of snowflakes, which is why they look wispy and feathery. Sometimes, cirrus clouds have tails that hang earthward. An old folk name for this type of cloud formation is "mare's tails." This is actually snow falling from the cloud.

We don’t get precipitation from cirrus clouds because they are so high that these snowflakes always sublimate (turn back into water vapor) in drier air on the way down. Although much of the truly spectacular colors and shapes of clouds at sunrise and sunset are made of lower cumulus or altostratus clouds, the presence of cirrus clouds at sunset can add an extra layer, creating an extra dimension in the side-lit display when the sun is low.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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