Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why Are Clouds White?

This may sound snotty, but I go through most days feeling superior to my children. They may have more energy than me, but I am a lot smarter.

I don't pick my nose, for instance.

And unlike J.J., when someone passes me a jumbo bag of popcorn, I don't assume that it's mine to keep for the duration of the movie. I realize that sharing is involved.

But kids have a way of turning the tables on you.

At some point, they ask, "Why is the sky blue?" or "Why is the ocean salty?" or "Why are clouds white?"

And suddenly, you're Scooby Doo.

You stammer, "Rhat? Ri ron't know!"

We were eating dinner last night--just the boys and I because Justin was running errands after work.

Richie had brought his swim lesson "certificate of participation" to the table. He takes it everywhere, swelling with pride whenever he lays eyes on it.

Some people argue that kids shouldn't be rewarded just for showing up. Isn't that half the battle, though? If grownups were punished every once in a while for not showing up--to an appointment, a playdate, a party--they would see this. I know I'm guilty of this.

Anyway, the certificate means a lot to Richie--probably because he had a crush on his teacher.

Between bites of pizza, Johnny, asked, "What are clouds made of?"

"Ruh," I started.

But Richie saved me. He looked up and said, "Water."

"That's right," I said, remembering the diagram they showed us in school. Water evaporates from ponds and oceans into the sky, then comes back down as rain.

Or so the theory goes. A more likely explanation is that angels see how bad everybody is acting on earth, and weep. Then they go bowling. Hence, thunder. Team photos are the lightening.

The scientific answer was devastating to Johnny, however.

"What?! Then why are they white?" he asked. "Water isn't white! I thought clouds were made out of cotton."

Richie looked up from his paper and said, "I can't talk about this anymore. I'm reading my certificate of achievement."

So I was on my own.

"And water would fall down," Johnny continued. "I've never seen a cloud fall."

"Clouds fall when it rains," I said.

"But rain is not white!" Johnny said.

"Well, I guess clouds aren't really water, they're water vapor. And that's white."

"Why is water vapor white?!"

Finally, I went to my go-to response.

"Rhat? Ri ron't know!"

Maybe he should ask Don, a local meteorologist.

Justin watches his weather report every morning before going to work. Not that they stop working in the rain. But if it's going to be raining on his head all day, Justin at least likes to know ahead of time.

After seeing him every morning, the boys talk about Don, who Richie calls "Fox News," like he's a family friend.

We went to Science City and there was a big ad of the two Fox meteorologist in the lunch area.

"Fox News is here!" Richie said.

"Remember when Don dressed up like Superman on the news?" Johnny said.

"That was so funny," Richie said.

"Don is so funny," Johnny agreed.

Frankly, I'm surprised that I don't know why clouds are white. Everytime a storm rolls in, meteorologist break into the show in progress. And that's fine. During tornados and floods, it saves lives. But then they start teaching meteorology class. You know--how storm cells evolve and what not. And I guess that's sort of interesting.

But next, they start training me and other viewers on how the Doppler Radar works.

"You see, the red zone indicates blah blah blah, but the blue zone shouldn't be ignored because blah blah blah."

I'm like, "Um, if something happened to you, couldn't the weekend guy fill in? I'm not going to actually have to operate the equipment, am I?"

Anyway, I realize they have to stay on the air while the storms move through the region, so maybe they could fill the time by answering basic science questions kids ask, such as why are clouds white.

In other words, dumb it down, weather guys, so that us parents can continue to feel smarter than our children.


Anonymous mom said...

That is just a great LOL blog. So funny! YOur kids crack me up!

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Ma said...

The clouds are white because the rain and ice crytals inside of them scatter all sunlight, [all the colors of the rainbow], equally creating white light. The blue sky is created by the molecules in the air just picking up the blue in the spectrum. Love, Don p.s. - I looked it up!

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may want to refer to Wikipedia, which is a free webbase encyclopedia. Below is an excerpt on cloud color.

The color of a cloud tells much about what is going on inside the cloud. Clouds form when relatively warm air containing water vapor is lighter than its surrounding air and this causes it to rise. As it rises it cools and the vapor condenses out of the air as micro-droplets. These tiny particles of water are relatively densely packed and sunlight cannot penetrate far into the cloud before it is reflected out, giving a cloud its characteristic white color. As a cloud matures, the droplets may combine to produce larger droplets, which may combine to form droplets large enough to fall as rain. In this process of accumulation, the space between droplets becomes larger and larger, permitting light to penetrate much farther into the cloud. If the cloud is sufficiently large and the droplets within are spaced far enough apart, it may be that a percentage of the light which enters the cloud is not reflected back out before it is absorbed (Think of how much farther one can see in a heavy rain as opposed to how far one can see in a heavy fog). This process of reflection/absorption is what leads to the range of cloud color from white through grey through black. For the same reason, the undersides of large clouds and heavy overcasts appear various degrees of grey; little light is being reflected or transmitted back to the observer.

Other colors occur naturally in clouds. Bluish-grey is the result of light scattering within the cloud. In the visible spectrum, blue and green are at the short end of light's visible wavelengths, while red and yellow are at the long end. The short rays are more easily scattered by water droplets, and the long rays are more likely to be absorbed. The bluish color is evidence that such scattering is being produced by rain-sized droplets in the cloud.

A greenish tinge to a cloud is produced when sunlight is scattered by ice. A cumulonimbus cloud which shows green is a pretty sure sign of imminent heavy rain, hail, strong winds and possible tornadoes.

Yellowish clouds are rare but may occur in the late spring through early fall months during forest fire season. The yellow color is due to the presence of smoke.

Red, orange and pink clouds occur almost entirely at sunrise/sunset and are the result of the scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere. The clouds are not that color; they are reflecting the long (and unscattered) rays of sunlight which are predominant at those hours. The effect is much the same as if one were to shine a red spotlight on a white sheet. In combination with large, mature thunderheads this can produce blood-red clouds. The evening before the Edmonton, Alberta tornado in 1987, Edmontonians observed such clouds — deep black on their dark side and intense red on their sunward side. In this case the adage "red sky at night, sailor's delight" was wrong.

9:41 AM  

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