Environment

If you ever looked up at the sky and wondered how clouds are formed, you might be surprised to learn that the answer could be under your feet. Or all around you, really.

WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew said particularly for the formation of cirrus clouds – those short, detached, hair-like clouds – there needs to be some dust. And a lot of it.

“Basically across our planet we have several billion, yes billion, tons of dust being thrown into the atmosphere from our deserts,” said Andrew. “That makes dust one of the most ubiquitous aerosol particles and for clouds to form you need condensation nuclei, like dust.”

Andrew said not only are cirrus clouds important in forecasting, they play a role in climate change. 

“Cirrus clouds have a net warming effect on our planet. So they trap heat that otherwise would have been released into space and that’s very important for forecasting when it comes to temperatures,” she said. “So when we have the Sahara Desert dust being pushed across the Atlantic Ocean and towards us, that can affect our temperatures in turn if that dust is able to seed enough of those clouds.”

I spoke with Andrew about cirrus clouds and dust for this week’s edition of Science Behind the Forecast. Listen to our conversation below. 

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for WFPL News.