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A cloud is a large collection of very tiny droplets of water or ice crystals. The droplets are so small and light that they can float in the air.
The water and ice that make up clouds travel into the sky within the air as water vapor, the gas form of water. Water vapor gets into the air mainly by evaporation – some of the liquid water from the ocean, lakes, and rivers turns into water vapor and travels in the air. When air rises in the atmosphere it gets cooler and is under less pressure. When air cools, some of the water vapor condenses. As air pressure drops, some water vapor condenses too. The vapor becomes small water droplets and a cloud is formed.
Clouds differ greatly in size, shape, and color. They can appear thin and wispy, or bulky and lumpy.
Clouds are classified into three main groups: cirrus, stratus, and cumulus.
Cirrus clouds usually signal clear, fair weather. Their shape often indicates the direction in which the wind is blowing high in the atmosphere.
Stratus clouds are horizontal and stratified or layered. Stratus clouds can blanket the entire sky in a single pattern. They usually occur close to the Earth.
Cumulus clouds are large and lumpy. Their name comes from the Latin word meaning “heap” or “pile.” They can stretch vertically into the atmosphere up to 12,000 meters (39,000 feet) high. Cumulus clouds are created by strong updrafts of warm, moist air.