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The Weirdest Clouds: Mammatus Clouds (Tons of Photos)

Updated on April 19, 2012

Weirdest Clouds: Mammatus

What is it?

Mammatus clouds (also known as mammatocumulus or breast clouds) are a uniquely-shaped type of cloud formation often associated with strong storms and tornadoes. Although mammatus themselves do not produce severe weather, the clouds are usually dark and semi-transparent, creating an ominous atmosphere. In fact, this type of cloud formation signifies a weakening storm.

Individual mammatocumulus can be 1 - 3 km in diameter and together often can cover over hundreds of kilometers of sky. The lumps themselves can either be ragged or smooth and usually do not cause precipitation but rather evaporate and eventually disappear.

Image by Eviltomthai
Image by Eviltomthai
Image by ToddMorris
Image by ToddMorris

How do mammatus clouds form?

Often times mammatus clouds form during a thunderstorm. During a thunderstorm there is a strong updraft which draws water molecules up from below. Up in the sky, the water condenses, becoming part of the thunderstorm cloud (anvil cloud). Because of the updraft, the water still rises and rises until it gets to the altitude of 57,000 feet. At this altitude, the water freezes into ice crystals and spreads out side to side. The ice crystals, grouped together, begin to sink because they have a higher density than the air. When the sinking ice crystals reach the bottom of the thunderstorm cloud, they sink a little bit more because of the large clusters of ice, and then stop creating the breast-like pouch clouds: mammatus.

To sum that up into one sentence: mammatus clouds form from cold icy air sinking from the top to the bottom of a thunderstorm cloud.

Image by {MAIRA.GALL}
Image by {MAIRA.GALL}

How rare are they?

Mammatus clouds are far from the rarest type of cloud, but they are uncommon. The clouds are known to form in most places around the world, but only under certain circumstances (described above).

Mammatus facts

Common myth: mammatus clouds do not continue to sink, becoming tornadoes.

They also do not guarantee a future tornado will form.

Image by Blyzz
Image by Blyzz

Mammatus clouds together with cumulonimbus can be very dangerous to fly aircraft through.

Image by Jesslla
Image by Jesslla

On average, individual mammatus pockets last for about 10 minutes.

Image by Blyzz
Image by Blyzz

A whole cluster can last from 15 minutes to a couple hours.

Image by TNLNYC
Image by TNLNYC

Usually composed of ice, some mammatus pouches can contain nearly 100% water.

Image by McAli333
Image by McAli333

In certain circumstances -- if the lumps contain enough ice crystals -- mammatus clouds may cause hailstorms.

Image by pfflynn
Image by pfflynn
Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos http-//
Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos http-//

If you are still interested in more mammatus

In my opinion, the best pictures of mammatus clouds are found here:

Upload your own pictures and earn money

If you are interested in uploading your own pictures and making money from them, consider signing up for Fotolia. Fotolia is a stock photo website where people are willing to pay to be able to use good photos and there is good potential to earn from your photos. The more you upload, the more you will earn.


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