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What Clouds Have the Greatest Turbulence?



The type of cloud that has the greatest turbulence is cumulonimbus.

More Info: Cumulonimbus clouds are the cloud formations that are primarily responsible for heavy rainfall, strong winds, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.  [1]

Why Are They Called Cumulonimbus?

The name cumulonimbus comes from the Latin words cumulus, meaning “heaping piles”, and nimbus, meaning “giving rain.”  In modern meteorology, the suffix nimbus is used to refer to clouds that produce rain.  [2]

How Are Cumulonimbus Clouds Formed?

A cumulonimbus cloud develops from a low-level cumulus cloud when there is sufficient atmospheric instability, lift, and moisture is present.  Turbulent updrafts within a low-level cumulus cloud causes the warm, moist air within the cloud to rise higher into cooler levels of the atmosphere resulting in the formation of a cumulonimbus cloud. [3]

Energy is released as water vapor condenses into liquid water, fueling strong winds within the cloud.  As the cloud grows taller, the rising air can create an updraft.  Cooling air that sinks within a cumulonimbus cloud can also create a downdraft.  Depending upon the prevailing atmospheric conditions, both an updraft and a downdraft may occur simultaneously. This rapid movement of air within a cumulonimbus cloud is one cause of turbulence. [4]  Cumulonimbus clouds can reach heights of 39,000 feet and higher, and can cause flight disruptions for even large aircraft. [5]



[1] UCR NCR Science Education
Cloud Science

[2] National Weather Service Forecast Office
Mammatas Clouds over Gibsonia PA

[3]National Weather Service National Forecast Office
Cloud Classification and Characteristics

[4]University of Illinois

[5]University of Illinois
Cumulonimbus Clouds

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