Question from Regina: We all know that clouds are full of water. That’s why it rains, right? lol
My question is how do clouds float with all that water inside them?
Rick’s answer: I love this question, Regina. Thanks for asking it!
Yes, clouds are indeed full of water, and lots of it!
In fact, I did some research on this topic and all the experts seem to agree that a giant thunderhead like the ones that deliver powerful storms can easily contain more than two billion pounds of water!
The thing is, all that water isn’t in one huge glob like the water in an your bathtub or swimming pool. Instead, it’s dispersed throughout the cloud in the form of gazillions of tiny water droplets or crystals.
The water droplets or ice crystals in most clouds are so lightweight and have such a small surface area that they won’t easily fall to the ground.
Therefore, they “float” in the air much like the dust you see “dancing” in a dark room when light comes streaming in through a window.
What’s more, those minuscule water droplets are spread out over a very wide area.
How wide an area, you say?
Well, clouds are massive. Even the “small” ones you see floating overhead at times are a LOT larger than they appear to be from our vantage point on the ground.
Now, here’s the kicker: Some clouds do in fact fall to the ground…
The water droplets and ice crystals in clouds tend to grow in size as the clouds move over the planet below.
Once a water droplet or ice crystal grows too large and too heavy to “float” it falls to the earth as rain, snow, sleet or hail.
In other words, parts of the cloud fall to the ground!
Of course the explanation I gave above is a very simplistic one. After all, I’m not a scientist or meteorologist.
There are actually many factors that determine how a particular cloud floats and when (or if) it will lose water via some form of precipitation.
That, in a nutshell, is what makes clouds “float” in the air.
If you’d like to read a more detailed (and more scientific) explanation I recommend that you read this article over at Scientific American.
And if you want an even more scientific explanation, check out this short video: