Top five clouds spotted by Weather Watchers

2nd November 2020 Last updated at 09:33

I LOVE clouds! There... I said it.

To spend a few minutes just watching them gives you an incredible insight into the fluidity of the atmosphere around us. Once you can "read" them, you begin to unlock the clues to what is actually happening in the skies, and that in turn can tell you what type of weather might be heading your way.

Huge dark cloud over mountains
Gary Aye/Weather Watchers
Fantastic or foreboding, we love your photos of clouds. This dramatic shot shows a cumulonimbus shelf cloud over Inverness in June 2017

My love affair with clouds started at a very early age. I remember sitting in our garden in Glasgow, being captivated by a very large, darkening cloud, and having an overwhelming sense of foreboding. Moments later there was a massive crack of thunder and the heavens opened. Even to this day, I look at Weather Watchers photos of cumulonimbus clouds with the same anticipation. To be honest I love all types of clouds but if I HAD to choose, these would be my top five.

1. Cumulonimbus

Large cloud over water
Mr Bright Skies/Weather Watchers
A large cumulonimbus cloud fans out in Hamstead, Isle of Wight, in February 2018

The best shots of these 'king of clouds' are those which are taken a reasonable distance away and capture near enough the entire cloud - from the dark, angry base already unleashing rain, hail and forks of lightning, to the white, fuzzy, hair-like top. The presence of these in the sky are an indication of how unstable the atmosphere is.

Large white cloud with rain seen underneath
Jimseye view/Weather Watchers
Precipitation is seen underneath a cumulonimbus formation in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Photo taken in February 2018

Columns of air are able to rise rapidly to a great height. The higher they climb, the colder the air around them gets and the water droplets inside the cloud turn to ice. It's the abundance of ice that gives the formation its characteristic 'fuzzy' top, called cumulonimbus capillatus. If that spreads out into an anvil shape at the top (cumulonimbus incus) the storm has reached maturity.

2. Asperitas

A cloud so unusual it was only officially recognised by the World Meteorological Organisation in 2015. Whenever photos of these are sent in you automatically question whether it's real, but having seen asperitas clouds with my own eyes I know they are.

Wavy grey clouds
Oaki de Mooij/Weather Watchers
Waves of asperitas clouds in Bassingham, Lincolnshire. Photo taken in June 2016

To see them is almost like being at the bottom of the ocean staring up at the underside of a choppy sea. It's not fully understood yet how these clouds form, but they are a sight to behold.

Wavy grey clouds above a motorway
Thunder alley/Weather Watchers
The clouds are a rare formation. This was taken near Peterborough in August 2016

3. Altocumulus lenticularis

Another favourite of mine, that could be placed into the odd or spooky categories. This rare formation looks like a lens, an almond, and is sometimes mistaken for a UFO.

Lens shaped clouds over hills
Mark/Weather Watchers
A stack of lenticular clouds in Settle, North Yorkshire. Photo taken in June 2020

Lenticular clouds only occur above, or close to mountains. Air meeting the mountains is forced up, then 'bounces' on the other side. At the top of those bouncing waves you get these unusual shaped clouds forming. They're clearly a public favourite too - these clouds were featured in the winning shot of our Pic of the Season Summer 2020 vote.

Lens shaped clouds over mountains
Donald from Canna/Weather Watchers
Lenticular clouds can take on the shape of the landscape beneath them, which makes for a dramatic shot. This image, showing the Isle of Rum, won the Pic of the Season Summer 2020 vote

4. Stratus

OK, these are not the most glamorous of clouds. They can be ragged and grey, and linked to rainy days, but they also come in many guises. Did you know that fog is actually stratus clouds on the ground? It's when that fog starts to lift and the stratus starts to break up that the photographic magic can begin.

Sea fog by the coast shrouding castle ruins
lauriethecurmudgeon/Weather Watchers
The ruins of Tantallon Castle are shrouded in sea fog in North Berwick. Photo taken in June 2020

Weather Watchers shots can instantly be turned into atmospheric masterpieces of mystery and intrigue, as objects in the landscape appear, disappear or just peep into the shot. A wonderful example is sea fog clawing its way onto shore on a summer's day. Although having spent many a day by the coast in Scarborough with the family, the sign of this approaching always meant one thing - time to get our jumpers on!

Low cloud by the sea
msmcmagic/Weather Watchers
Sea fret and sunshine at Cullercoats in June 2020

5. Altocumulus Castellanus

And finally...these are probably my favourite clouds. I mentioned earlier how clouds can give us clues, well this is a cloud that gives a nod to the potential for thunderstorms later in the day.

Turret shaped clouds over the sea
dorset girl/Weather Watchers
Altocumulus castellanus clouds build up across Lyme Regis, Dorset, in April 2018

Looking a little like castle turrets, they form in the middle layer of the atmosphere. With the air unstable, they can become cumulonimbus clouds themselves, or as temperatures rise on a hot day, act as the catalyst to thunder clouds exploding into life.

Turret shaped clouds at sunset
SteveSwis/Weather Watchers
The fading sunlight accentuates the shape of this formation. Photo taken in Denholme, Bradford, in June 2017

Weather Watchers photos add a piece of the jigsaw to the weather stories we tell. So here's to another five years of watching the skies and following the clues. Thank you, Weather Watchers - happy birthday!