☁️ How Fast Do Clouds Move?

High-level clouds such as cirrus clouds can move at a speed of more than 100 mph and can travel more than 2400 miles in a day. Clouds move due to wind and how fast a cloud can move is determined by the altitude at which they are formed. The wind speed increases with an increase in altitude. Therefore, high altitude clouds such as cirrus clouds move faster compared to low altitude clouds such as cumulus clouds.

How fast do clouds travel?

On a cloudy day, whenever we look into the sky, we can notice the clouds moving. But have you ever wondered how fast does a cloud move?

Well, the speed of the cloud varies with different types of clouds. High-level clouds move faster as compared to mid and low-level clouds.

Before we learn about the average moving speed of these clouds, we need to understand why and how do these clouds move?

Why and how do clouds move?

We know that a cloud is an aerosol consisting of water drops and ice crystals, suspended in the atmosphere. Clouds can be divided into ten types based on their height.

High-level clouds (16,500-45,000 feet): Cirrus (Ci), Cirrocumulus (Cc), and Cirrostratus (Cs)

Mid-level clouds (6,500-23,000 feet): Altocumulus (Ac), Altostratus (As), and Nimbostratus (Ns)

Low-level clouds (less than 6,500 feet): Cumulus (Cu), Stratocumulus (Sc), Stratus (St), and Cumulonimbus (Cb)

Clouds move because of the wind. The wind passing through or around the cloud carries them from one place to another. Therefore, the speed of the moving cloud is determined by the speed of the wind.

The speed of the wind increases with the increase in altitude. Therefore, the wind at higher altitudes travels faster than the wind at a lower altitude. There are several reasons for faster wind speed at a higher altitude than the ground level such as

  • Friction at the ground level surface slows down the wind speed while at higher altitudes, there is almost negligible friction resistance.
  • The air density decreases with the increase in altitude. The less-dense air at higher altitudes requires less force and can be moved easily.

Therefore, wind is generally strongest in the upper troposphere.

How fast can clouds move?

Now we know that the clouds move due to wind. The speed of the moving cloud can be determined based on the speed of the wind.

The higher wind speed at higher altitudes causes high-level clouds such as cirrus and cirrostratus to move at high speed. These high-level clouds can move at a speed of more than 100 mph (161 km/h).

The low-level clouds such as cumulus formed at lower altitudes (near ground surface level) can travel at speed up to 10 mph (16 km/h).

How far do clouds travel?

Clouds can cover long distances in a day. The distance traveled by a cloud can be determined by their altitude. The speed of the cloud depends on the wind speed at its altitude. A cumulus cloud that is found at lower altitudes can travel at 10 mph. Therefore, the cumulus cloud can cover about 240 miles (384 km) distance in a day. While a cirrus cloud found at higher altitudes can travel more than 2400 miles (3840 km) in a day which is 10 times more than that of cumulus clouds.

How fast do storm clouds move?

Storm clouds are cumulonimbus clouds (low-level clouds) that can be formed at an altitude of 2,000 to 52,000 ft. During storms, these clouds are also referred to as thunderheads. Due to strong winds at the time of the storm, these low-level storm clouds can travel at speed of 30-40 mph (48-65 km/h).

Image credit: The High Fin Sperm Whale

How fast do cumulus clouds move?

Cumulus clouds are low-level clouds that have flat bases and have a fluffy appearance. They are formed in the altitude range of 1,000–7,000 ft. These clouds are formed near to ground surface where the wind speed is relatively low compared to higher altitudes. Due to low wind speed in this region, cumulus clouds move at low speed (up to 10 mph).

Cumulus clouds (Image credit: Defi22)

Are lenticular clouds really stationary?

Lenticular clouds are saucer-shaped clouds that are formed over hills and mountains. Lenticular clouds are considered stationary clouds. However, note that they are not actually stationary. They appear and disappear so fast that one cannot see them moving. A lenticular cloud is also known as a wave cloud because the cloud is formed at the crest of the wind wave and evaporates back to vapor at the trough of the wave. This process happens so fast that they appear stationary.

Lenticular Clouds (Image credit: Omnisource5)

Do clouds move all the time?

Yes, clouds move all the time due to the continuous movement of air. This continuous movement of air is caused due to energy imbalance in the atmosphere. This energy imbalance is caused because different parts of the earth’s atmosphere are getting heated non-uniformly due to sunlight. This causes air to move and hence clouds also move along with air all the time.  

Read more interesting questions about clouds:

Professor Atom

View posts by Professor Atom
Professor Atom is a science enthusiast and alumni of IIT Bombay. According to him, every question can be solved with curiosity and mind mapping. ( Curiosity = Asking Questions = Learning )

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