Cirrocumulus curl of hair, and ‘cumulus’ means a

Cirrocumulus clouds look like little puffs of hair – or maybe fish, depending on who you ask. These high-floating clouds don’t make rain by themselves, but they can be a sign that rain is coming soon.

The Cloud with Two Names

Take a look at your hair.

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Would you say it looks like a fish?Hopefully not, unless you’re growing scales from your head! But even though hair and fish look completely different, there’s a kind of cloud that looks like both. It’s called a cirrocumulus cloud.

Cirrocumulus Clouds

Cirrocumulus clouds get their official name from the way they look like puffs or wisps of hair. In Latin, ‘cirrus’ means a wisp or a curl of hair, and ‘cumulus’ means a little pile of something. That’s a pretty good description of cirrocumulus clouds: they look like little wispy clumps or piles of hair. Sometimes they’re a little puffier, like little rabbit tails or clumps of wool, and sometimes they’re a little more extended, like human hair.

Each individual clump or pile is called a cloudlet, and together all of the cloudlets make up a cirrocumulus cloud.Cirrocumulus clouds form very high in the air. In a cirrocumulus cloud, the cloudlets are usually lined up in a regular pattern.

They can be in straight lines or in curved lines, depending on how the wind is blowing. Because there are spaces between the cloudlets, you can see the sun shining through a cirrocumulus cloud.When the cloudlets are arranged in more of a rippling pattern, they sometimes look like fish scales. This is especially true when the sun shines just right and makes them look silvery, like the skin of a fish. That’s how cirrocumulus clouds got their other name: ‘mackerel skies,’ after the type of fish called a mackerel.

In this picture, the wavy lines of a cirrocumulus cloud are rippled like fish scales.

Cirrocumulus Clouds and Weather

Rain doesn’t fall to the ground from cirrocumulus clouds, but some kinds of cirrocumulus clouds can tell you that it’s going to rain soon.

For example, if you see a bunch of cirrocumulus clouds in rippling lines coming from the west, it’s likely to rain in the next day or two.

What’s In a Cirrocumulus Cloud?

Cirrocumulus clouds are made of two things: ice crystals and supercooled water.

  • Ice crystals are frozen water droplets.

  • Supercooled water is actually below the temperature where water would normally freeze, but it got stuck during the freezing process and never turned into ice.

Where Cirrocumulus Clouds Come From

High up in the air, the wind can get really strong. Cirrocumulus clouds form when strong winds meet another type of cloud called a cirrus cloud. The strong winds pull the cirrus cloud in different directions and turn it into puffy cirrocumulus clouds, just like a wind might blow your hair around and get it tangled up into little knots.

The cloudlets in this cirrocumulus cloud look more like puffballs or tufts of fur than fish scales, showing why they have two names!
Cirrocumulus cloud

Sometimes, airplane trails can also make cirrocumulus clouds.

If you watch an airplane fly across the sky, you’ll see that it leaves two white streaks of water vapor in the sky. If the wind is right, it can take those water droplets and blow them into puffy cirrocumulus clouds.

Lesson Summary

Cirrocumulus clouds are also called ‘mackerel skies’ because in the right light they can look like fish scales. Cirrocumulus clouds are made up of many puffy cloudlets arranged in lines across the sky, and they form when the wind blows cirrus clouds or airplane trails into a different shape. They don’t make rain themselves, but they can be a sign that rain is coming.


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