The Little Cloud That Could... But Why?

Science Center Objects

As a child, you heard about "The little engine that could", but what about "The little cloud that could"? You can see in this picture a small, solitary little cloud in an otherwise totally clear sky. What is it about that tiny spot in the sky that allows that cloud to form?

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The Little Cloud That Could... But Why?

Single, small cloud in the sky

Late October in Atlanta, Georgia is the peak of autumn, often with cool, crisp days, clear blue skies, and trees full of fall colors. A perfect time of year to, well, take off work early and go home and lay in the hammock. Which is just what I was doing when I looked up and noticed this tiny white cloud floating all by itself in an otherwise totally blue sky.

If you read our page about condensation and the water cycle, you will have a better understanding of why clouds form. Clouds form in the atmosphere because air containing water vapor rises and cools. Water vapor in the air condenses into cloud particles under certain conditions, forming visible clouds.

For a little cloud to form, certain meteorological conditions must be present. But what was so unique about that area of maybe a few hundred square meters that would allow this lonely cloud to form? How could the weather conditions be right for cloud formation in the one very tiny section of the sky, but not a few hundreds yards above, below or next to it?

The answer is—we don't know! Likely a difference in humidity or the concentration of vapor or maybe a spot of warmer or colder air? So, we can't provide an answer, but if any of you who are weather experts have the knowledge, please contact us with a scientific answer and we'll post it here.