It can be very tempting to simply label every fluffy white cloud in the sky as simply ‘a cloud’, and be done with it.
However, as any meteorologist, or just about anyone with business outside will tell you, understanding different types of clouds, from how they form, to how they dissipate, is a vital area of study that cannot be overlooked.
Whether it is for travel, for agricultural work, or simply just avoiding bad weather, understanding these massive bodies of floating water molecules have far-reaching consequences, especially when they are ignored.
One of the largest, and often most spectacular, formations of cloud that you can see, are cumulonimbus clouds.
These massive and towering features of the sky are some of the biggest out there, even earning the title ‘the king of clouds’. These are the types of clouds that often give rise to thunderstorms, so it pays to know how they work!
In this guide, we are going to explain to you all that you need to know about these clouds (see also ‘All You Need To Know About Asperitas Clouds‘), from what they are exactly, to how large they can get, to how they form, and the kinds of weather they can produce.
What Are Cumulonimbus Clouds?
So, before we go any further into this topic, we should probably explain first what exactly a cumulonimbus cloud is in the first place.
Cumulonimbus clouds are massive, towering cloud structures that extend thousands of meters into the air from their base.
How big, exactly?
Well, considering that the base usually forms somewhere around 700 to 10,000 feet in the air, cumulus clouds can extend to over 39,000 feet into the air! This gives many average cumulonimbus clouds anywhere from 29,000 to over 38,000 feet tall!
The extreme examples of these cloud types can even reach a height of up to 69,000 feet tall, giving them a potential maximum of over 68,000 feet in the biggest cases. They have certainly earned their title ‘king of the clouds’ with sizes like that!
The bases of these clouds are flat, and often very dark as well, which can hag just a few hundred feet above the surface of the Earth.
This base gives way to a massive column of clouds that can extend tens of thousands of feet into the sky, where the cloud tops become puffy and white. (also see ‘Everything To Know About Mammatus Clouds‘)
Cumulonimbus clouds are also the only type of clouds that can generate thunder and lightning too, making them even more unique.
How Cumulonimbus Clouds Form?
Cumulonimbus are created through a process of convection and tend to grow from many smaller cumulus clouds that have found themselves over a hot surface.
The cumulus clouds cluster and become taller over time, storing water molecules and energy as they grow larger and larger.
By the time cumulus clouds are at their apex, they can often have 10 times as much energy as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima!
Colder wind currents, that force less extreme temperatures and clouds to rise higher than they normally would, can also cause the formation of cumulonimbus clouds.
Cumulonimbus Cloud Weather
As we already mentioned, cumulonimbus clouds are the only clouds in the natural world that can generate lightning and thunder. This means that they are the only clouds that can generate thunderstorms.
Cumulonimbus clouds are almost always associated with very extreme weather conditions, such as torrential or heavy rainfall, powerful hailstorms, and, of course, thunderstorms.
You don’t even really need a deeper understanding of these clouds to get a sense of their epic power.
Just standing under the dark shadow of one can often tell a person that this is a dense and heavy cloud that is about to erupt in a shower of ridiculously powerful proportions.
Whilst cumulonimbus clouds cells, smaller clusters within the cloud, tend to dissipate quickly once they start raining, large enough clusters can sustain heavy rainfall for hours at a time.
As you can see, these are a powerful variety of clouds that shouldn’t be messed with. So, if you find yourself outdoors under one, find shelter, and stay put until it has faded.