Say you're in an ascending airplane as your 10 year-old son asks you: "Dad, why are these clouds wavy?" Now, say you know a little about gravity waves and the formation of wavy clouds(Maybe I should be linking to As instead? Are these wiki pages basically talking about the same thing?). How would you go about explaining it to your son?

PS. I'm looking for a simple and fluid explanation that would be able to give some intuition for the phenomena.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You gave the link to the wiki page. Haven't you answered your own question? $\endgroup$ – resgh Nov 30 '12 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Read the PS part. $\endgroup$ – Deiwin Nov 30 '12 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ What PS part? I searched the wiki article and I couldn't find it. $\endgroup$ – resgh Nov 30 '12 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ I meant the PS part of the question. The question wasn't about how to explain these phenomena, but rather how to explain them simply, so a 10 year-old would get it. $\endgroup$ – Deiwin Nov 30 '12 at 14:35

The wavy clouds and altostratus undulatus links describe specific types of cloud formation. I would guess that your son is asking why all clouds don't have smooth surfaces, so his question is more general.

Assuming this is the case, the clouds are wavy simply because the air flow in and around them is turbulent. If you pour Pernod into water you get a wavy white cloud for exactly the same reason.

If I'm wrong and your son is asking about specific cloud formations, then the waves are not that different in principle from waves on water. Waves on water are an oscillation at an interface, specifically the water/air interface, while the waves in clouds happen at the interface between layers of air at different temperatures and/or moving at different speeds.

  • $\begingroup$ The son is fictional. I was asking about the second case. $\endgroup$ – Deiwin Nov 30 '12 at 14:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.