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Predicting the Weather by the Clouds: A Middle School Science Activity

By Cheryl Gabbert

This is an interesting activity all your students are sure to enjoy. Teach your students how to predict the weather by the cloud formations in the sky. Your students will love learning to predict the weather by identifying the clouds.

Cloud Formations

The following lesson plan incorporates earth science activities that are perfect for students in grades 5-8.

Begin with an overview of the different cloud formations.

Clouds are identified by shape: cumulus-puffy balls of clouds, stratus-long streaks of clouds, or nimbus-which refers to how rain is shaped.

Clouds occur at varying heights: high, middle, low, or vertical growing clouds.

Use these pictures to show your class the different types of clouds, then go over how we can use each cloud type to predict the weather.

High Clouds: cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus.

Cirrus Clouds are those high, feathery clouds you see miles up in the atmosphere. They are made from ice crystals, and indicate fair weather for the most part, although these clouds can foretell a changing front. You might see rain in a few days after you spot these clouds in the sky. Cirrostratus clouds thinly cover the sky in sheet-like sheer clouds. You can see the sun through them. When you spot these clouds, you'll soon discover rain, probably within the next 24 hours. Cirrocumulus clouds are high, large groups of white, streaky clouds. They foretell of fair weather.

Middle Clouds: altostratus and altocumulus:

Altostratus Clouds cover most of the sky with a dark gray or blue cover. When you see these clouds, a rain or snowstorm is probably on the way. Altocumulus Clouds cover the sky in what looks like white or gray small cotton balls. When you see these clouds, look for a storm in the near future.

Low Clouds: Stratus, stratocumulus, and nimbostratus:

Stratus Clouds look a lot like a blanket of grey that covers the whole sky. The blanket is bumpy, not a flat blanket, like the nimbostratus cloud. Both bring rain or snow, and by the time you see them, you may already be getting wet! Stratocumulus Clouds, unlike the other two, do not bring rain. When you see these low lying, puffy gray clouds that do not cover the sky, you can rest assured that your day will be fair.

Vertical Mobility Clouds: Cumulus and cumulonimbus:

Cumulus Clouds are those pretty white and gray cotton ball-like clouds we see doting the sky on a beautiful day. If these clouds are just small and low lying, you'll have great weather. These clouds are fickle, though. If you see them start climbing up higher and higher in the atmosphere, you may soon have a severe change in the weather, namely a thunderstorm. Cumulonimbus Clouds are low at the bottoms, and grow vertically very high. They are dark gray, and full of precipitation. These are thunderhead clouds, and severe weather may be soon to come when you see these clouds.

Predict the Weather Journal

Objective: Students will begin to identify basic cloud formations, and relate them to inclement or fair weather. They will chart responses in a journal, and compare for accuracy.


Pictures of basic cloud formations




Go over the above information on the basic cloud formations. Share pictures with your students. It's best to take pictures with you as you chart daily weather observations in a journal. Go outside each day for 2 weeks. Choose the same time of day. Students will chart the date, time, overall weather, wind (high, low, absent), and cloud formations noted. If there is precipitation, students will chart that as well. Finally, students will predict the weather based on their cloud observations, and chart their entry in the journal.

At the end of the two week time period, go back and check to see if weather predictions were accurate. If students predicted rain in the next 24 hours, check to see if it rained. If fair weather was predicted, did that happen? Chart those observations too.

Evaluation: Teacher will observe student journals for understanding and correct entries.

This earth science activity is a fun one and may someday lead your students into the meteorology field!