Q&A: What cloud types, stratiform or cumuliform, indicate stability or instability of the atmosphere?

Question by Brian B: What cloud types, stratiform or cumuliform, indicate stability or instability of the atmosphere?
I was wondering, in terms of Meteorology, if you have an unstable atmosphere, what cloud type corresponds to instability? If you have a stable atmosphere, what cloud type corresponds to stability? The two cloud types are between stratiform or cumuliform. Please pair them with stability and instability when giving your answer.

Best answer:

Answer by Sturm Vogel
Stratiform develop in a stable atmosphere and cumuliform will develop in an unstable atmosphere. Vertical development is a great indicator of atmospheric instability.

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3 Responses to “Q&A: What cloud types, stratiform or cumuliform, indicate stability or instability of the atmosphere?”

  • Jacob W says:

    SV has it exactly right.

    *

  • Tami says:

    Yep cumuliform = unstable and stratiform = stable.

    A stable atmosphere is one containing an INVERSION, which is a a layer of air aloft that is warmer than the air below.

    When warm air rises, it can only rise if it is warmer than the surrounding air.

    Therefore, rising air that comes in contact with an inversion has nowhere else to rise to.

    So in a stable environment, any cloud coverage will be capped at the inversion layer, making a flat, blanket-like cloud (stratus).

    In an unstable environment, on the contrary, the temperatures aloft decrease with altitude (generally until you hit the tropopause), and this allows warm air to rise, rise, rise, hence the tall clouds.

    You can have cumiliform clouds (small weak ones, called low cloud 1) in a stable environment with enough low level moisture and heating (daytime heating) but they do not get very big because they will eventually hit that inversion, which may cause them to spread out a bit.

  • MILWX says:

    Tami has a spot on description. Should be expected from on of our own… But you can find Cumuloform in a stable environment such as an embeded thunderstorm in a warm front overrunning situation.

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