What do the clouds say? Maritime weather

What do the clouds say?

(Sing to the tune of: What does the fox say!)

The waves go “swoosh”,

The sails go “swish”,

The wheel goes “urch”,

And the boom goes “pow”.

But what do the clouds say? Do you want to know? The secret of the clouds is ancient history. Mariners for centuries look to the clouds to direct their sails. You can too. Here’s what the clouds say:

 Cumulus:  Remember, as a kid, laying on the grass and starring up at the clouds? Finding images of teddy bears, angels or birds against blue sky?  Those puffy clouds are called cumulus. The base is flat with a round “heap” on top.  These are referred to as “fair weather” clouds. If they start to gather together, grow taller and form “cauliflower” tops, that’s cumulus congestus and can develop into  thunderstorms. Cumulus clouds that start to flatten on top (due to high wind) become cumulonimbus. If they form an anvil top – watch out! This means severe weather is approaching. (TIP: The anvil points in the direction the weather is moving.)

What do the clouds say

Cirrus – Thin, wispy clouds means, currently fair weather,  but can also indicate a change in weather within 24 hours. The nautical saying “Mackerel sky and mares’ tails make tall ships carry low sails” reminds the sailor to reef in the sails for the coming winds. Mackerel sky refers to the pattern the clouds make. It looks like fish scales. Also known as “sheep clouds” as they look like a heard of sheep in the sky.

What do the clouds say

Fog – Clouds on the ground. Fog is especially dangerous for mariners. Sailboats have to blast on their horn every two minutes! What happens if you’re sailing through fog for hours?

Here are some terms that might help you understand clouds a little bit better:

  • Cumulus – Heap
  • Cirrus – Curly
  • Status  – Spread out, low clouds
  • Alto – High, middle clouds
  • Cirrus – Ringlet, high clouds
  • Nimbo – Rain
  • Congestus – Accumulated


What do the clouds say


Filling up the blue sky, pointing west, chasing rain –




 For more information on clouds:

 NOAA Cloud Classification

Windows to the Universe 

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