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How to Read Clouds When You’re Exploring

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It’s difficult to predict weather in the mountains, where conditions can be hyperlocal and change rapidly. So you need to be able to look at the sky and figure out what the weather’s going to do in the next hour and the next day. Wes Siler has some basic, easy tips on understanding the different types of clouds and what they each mean for your forecast.

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Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] WES SILER: Sorry if I'm yelling. It's really, really windy out here today. We could've known that before we came out by looking at the clouds and seeing how fast they were going, and that's because you can actually forecast the weather with nothing but the clouds. We're going to show you how.


Oh, you got a deer leg. If you're anything like me, you struggle to remember all the different names and types of clouds. There's a bunch of them. An easier way to think about clouds is four different categories-- high clouds, medium clouds, low clouds, and clouds of vertical growth. That's all you really need to know.

So today, up here in the mountains, we have pretty much all high clouds. [? We have some ?] different types of high clouds. We have kind of an all-over spread of clouds you can still see the sun through. Those tend to indicate that wet weather might be on the way in or around. We have some little patchy high clouds that tend to indicate fair weather.

What we also have are some really high clouds with really long tails on them as if the wind is really blowing those crowds away, and those indicate high winds, which we do have. See that high-elevation cloud out there with the long tails coming off the back. There's a whole bunch of those tails. That shows us that there's going to be high wind, which we don't really need clouds for today.

Next up, we have middle elevation clouds. Those are clouds from 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. That doesn't mean anything to you. Clouds that aren't high, clouds that aren't low. They tend to be dark, and they bring weather. So you know weather is inbound if you have nice, dark, middle elevation clouds moving in. You've got rain coming in, you've got snow coming up.

Next we have low elevation clouds. There's two types of low elevation clouds-- light, fluffy ones and dark, constant, widespread ones. The dark ones are around when you have rain and snow. You know, if you have a nice, low cloud all over the sky that's dark, it's probably already raining, it's probably already snowing. But if you have low elevation clouds that are spread out and fluffy like in a painting, those indicate good weather. If you have nice, fluffy, white low elevation clouds, it's going to be a nice day.

Lastly, you have clouds of vertical growth, and that means clouds that start low and go way up to high elevation. If those are nice, big, happy, white, fluffy clouds, the weather is going to be nice. If those are big, dark, angry, [? anvil-shaped ?] clouds, that means thunderstorms are coming in. Watch the clouds. Watch their movement. If they're growing and coming towards you, you need to seek shelter. There's a storm inbound.

And that's clouds. It's really simple. Just keep an eye on them as you're here in the back country, when you're away from your cell phone and don't have a weather forecast. That way you just know what's going to go on that same day, the next day, that night, a little more of a heads up than you might have otherwise. Really simple.

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