Speaking Cloud

The best weather forecast comes from the sky itself. Instead of going online and downloading a grib file, or listening to the WX station on the VHF, simply look up at the sky!

As weather approaches, different cloud formations will appear, telling you exactly what is coming and when. Should the weather patterns change, the clouds will inform you of this and you can relax again.

One of the most vocal clouds is the Cirrus Cloud. Cirrus clouds are wispy, high altitude clouds, usually composed of tiny ice crystals. If you see one or two of these clouds in the sky, they don't really have much to say. If you see the sky filling with these clouds, then you should listen to what they have to say!

Cirrus clouds tend to indicate the approach of deteriorating weather. Cirrus clouds will be blown off the tops of an approaching cold front, or blown off the top of an anvil cloud. Cirrus clouds that are accompanied by alto stratus indicate the approach of a warm front.

When all the cirrus clouds point in the same direction, they are telling you that they are all being blown from an approaching weather pattern. When you see them creep into the sky, they are telling you that in 1 to 2 days, bad weather will approach. If they are alone, it is either a single thunder cloud or a cold front. Either of these cases will cause the wind to shift and begin to blow from the direction the clouds originated. 

In other words, when you see these clouds appear, it is time to make sure your ready to reef or set up your storm sails. As the main weather system approaches, you can quickly set the appropriate sails and wait out the storm. If these clouds are approaching late in the day, it would behoove you to set the storm sails before nightfall. It is always easier to rig the storm sails by day in calm weather, as opposed to waiting for sloppy seas and darkness.

These approaching cirrus clouds are being followed by slightly denser clouds. This usually indicates the approach of a warm front that will probably bring rain and some winds. If we were out at sea, we would ready the rain catching equipment!

By learning to read the clouds, you can prepare your yacht for the weather that you will be experiencing without the need for complicated communication systems or fancy weather forecast subscriptions. This will let you sail farther than your standard communication channels will reach without the fear of coming across foul weather without a proper warning.