10 Little Known Cirrus Cloud Facts

Cirrus Cloud Facts

Welcome to this page about cirrus cloud facts.  I’m going to present 10 Little Known but very interesting Cirrus cloud facts!  Read on to find out more about these fascinating clouds.

Fact 1

Did you know that cirrus cloud formation starts with the deposition of ice crystals? Water vapour can condense on these ice crystals (Czico et al., 2013).  Cirrus cloud forms in freezing environments.  Temperatures can be as low as -40 degrees centigrade! (Centre For Atmospheric Science, University of Manchester).  Other particulate matter such as minerals and metals can provide a condensation site for ice crystals.

Cirrus Cloud Facts

Fact 2

Like other some other cloud types cirrus clouds have been spotted on other planets! Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have all had cirrus cloud observed on them.  On other planets the clouds may not necessarily be composed of water.  Chemical constituents may include ice made of ammonia and methane!

Fact 3

Cirrus cloud give rise to many of the atmospheric optics that we know and love. This includes sun dogs and light pillars.  Cirrus clouds are pretty much only composed of ice crystals.

Fact 4

Cirrus cloud, like many weather phenomena has been documented by artists.  Check out this link to the V&A.  You can see a painting called Study of Cirrus Clouds by the British artist John Constable.  Artists like Frederic Edwin Church also captured clouds and weather in a very distinctive manner.

Cirrus Cloud Facts

Fact 5

Did you know that according to Storelvmo & Herger (2014) that Cirrus clouds cover about 30% of the Earth’s surface.  They also are an integral part of the overall energy budget of the Earth.

Fact 6

According to Eleftheratos et al., (2016) there is a positive trend with increasing cirrus cloud cover and increasing global air traffic.  There study looked at the difference between adjacent areas of high traffic and low air traffic.  They found that in Europe, North America, North Pacific and the North Atlantic that cirrus clouds increased by 0.9% per decade over high air traffic regions.  This was figure was relative to the lower ones.

Mackerel Sky

Fact 7

Did you know that a mackerel sky can be composed of two types of cloud? One of of these is cirrocumulus.  The other non-cirrus form is altocumulus cloud.

Fact 8

According to Dowling and Radke (1990) ice crystals present within cirrus cloud have a variety of shapes.  These shapes include rosettes, bullets, plates and columns!

Fact 9

There are also examples of artificial cirrus cloud.  These include cirrus aviaticus.  The common name of these clouds are contrails!

Fact 10

Did you know that cirrus cloud is named after the Latin term for ‘curling lock of hair’!


I have fully referenced this article below.  Please scroll downwards to see links to the original source.  References are in no particular order:

  1.  Clarifying the Dominant Sources and Mechanisms of Cirrus Cloud Formation,  Cziczo et al., 2013, Science Vol 14 Issue 6138.
  2. Centre For Atmospheric Science, The University of Manchester: http://www.cas.manchester.ac.uk/resactivities/cloudphysics/background/classification/ 
  3. A Summary of Physical Properties of Clouds Dowling and Radke, 1990, Journal of Applied Meteorology.  Vol 29.
  4. Cirrus Clouds The Secrets of High Flyers, The Guardian, Kate Ravillous, January 11th 2017
  5. Manmade Changes in Cirrus Clouds from 1984 to 2007: A Preliminary Study, Springer. Kostas Eleftheratos, Gunnar Myhre, Patrick Minnis, Ioannis Kapsomenakis, Christos Zerefos.  Part of the Series Green Energy and Technology.  
  6. Study of Cirrus Clouds, Victoria & Albert Museum.

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