Everything To Know About Mammatus Clouds

Have you ever looked up at the sky and seen a cloud formation that made you stop in your tracks? Perhaps you’ve witnessed Mammatus clouds, a unique and captivating sight that leaves many people in awe.

Despite the general label we tend to give to them, clouds, as a type of formation, have an incredible amount of variety to them. You have your classic cumulus clouds, of the small, white and puffy variety, but you also have your cirrus clouds, those thin, feathery, and wispy varieties that form on a warm current.

Everything To Know About Mammatus Clouds

You have your cumulonimbus titans that generate massive rain and thunderstorms. Then there are your altocumulus clouds, the ones that resemble a patchwork of wool or cotton in the sky.

Then you have the strange ones that always seem to look a little odd. Ones that, although you see them often enough in the sky, just have a texture or formation to them that makes them stand out from other kinds of clouds.

We already mentioned a few unique formations, such as the cirrus and cumulonimbus clouds, but a perfect example of just how strange clouds can look sometimes is the Mammatus cloud.

No, it is not a cloud that looks hairy like a mammoth or is big and one that is ‘mammoth’ in size or proportions. They often appear bulbous, almost pouch or ball-like, and can have dark patches that are separated by lines of lighter clouds.

If you’ve seen one, you know what we’re talking about.

But what are the forces behind this particular formation? What exactly are they? How do they form? Is there particular weather that is most often associated with them? 

Well, that’s what we are going to cover in this guide! In this piece, we are going to give a brief overview of what this particular kind of cloud is, how it normally is formed in the sky, and what types of weather conditions can be a sign.

What Is A Mammatus Cloud?

Before we go into any detail on how these particular clouds are formed, or what if any weather conditions they are usually a sign of, we should probably explain what a Mammatus cloud is in the first place.

As we have already mentioned in the introduction, Mammatus clouds tend to appear in small dense clusters of clouds, that can have a variety of textures, from slightly wispy, to jagged, and smooth, grape-like clusters.

These clouds tend to form at the base of a formation for a different species of cloud, though they mostly appear under large, heavier types.

This is the reason that many often appear quite dark, especially if they form under a large species, such as a cumulonimbus formation, especially the anvil cloud variety.

The protrusions often catch a little of the surrounding light, giving them an almost ethereal appearance sometimes, especially during sunrises or sunsets.

Mammatus Clouds

How Mammatus Clouds Form

Mammatus clouds are an intriguing cloud formation that often appears after a thunderstorm. The formation of mammatus clouds is a complex process that involves several factors.

One essential factor is the presence of cold air aloft. This cold air can make the air below it unstable, leading to the development of thunderstorms. As the thunderstorm develops, warm, moist air rises quickly into the atmosphere, carrying with it atmospheric particles and water vapor.

As the warm air rises, it cools and condenses into droplets, creating a cloud. The updrafts within the cloud can be very strong, with wind speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. These powerful winds can cause the cloud to take on a variety of shapes, including the distinct pouches or bubbles that are characteristic of mammatus clouds.

The exact mechanism by which the pouches form is not entirely understood. However, it is believed to be related to the interaction between the rising and sinking air currents within the cloud. As these air currents interact, pockets of air can become trapped within the cloud, leading to the formation of the characteristic pouches.

What Are Mammatus Clouds A Sign Of?

Whatever the reason by behind their formation, we do know that these Mammatus clouds tend to form alongside very large and heavy rain clouds, such as cumulonimbus formations.

Because of this, Mammatus clouds are often seen alongside heavy rainstorms and thunderstorms. People across history have often seen them as a sign of a bad omen, or bad weather ahead.

Who Named Mammatus Clouds?

The name “mammatus” for these curious clouds derives from the Latin word “mamma,” meaning breast or udder, owing to their uncanny resemblance to hanging mammaries.

It was the English meteorologist and clergyman, William Clement Ley, who first gave them this memorable moniker back in the late 1800s. So, the next time you see these pouch-like formations hanging from the sky, you can thank William for giving them a name as unique as their appearance.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. These mysterious clouds are often a sign of bad weather, and that’s all we know for sure right now. But as research continues, the answers may yet present themselves from this cloud formation.

Andrew Capper