A Cumulus cloud is made up of water, its white opague appearance is because the water is in the form of countless tiny droplets.
The tiny droplets consist of around 10,000,000,000 per cubic metre, each only a few thousandths of a millimetre across. And this array of innumerable tiny surfaces scatters the light in all directions, giving the light its diffuse, milky appearance as compared with the surface of a container of water. It is like the rough faced of etched glass compared with a smooth pane: all the minute angled surfaces of the roughened glass make it look white as they scatter the light every with way.
According to ancient Hindu and Buddhist beliefs Cumulus clouds are the spiritual cousins of elephants, which is why the elephants are worshipped with a view to bringing rain after India’s scorching summer heat. ‘Megha’, meaning cloud in classical Hindi, is the name used to address elephants in these prayers. The Sankrist creation myths describe how elephants created at the beginning of the time were white, had wings to fly, could change their shape at will and had the power to bring rain.
Although they have now lost these magical powers – they present day descendants of those early Uber-elephants are still believed to have an infinity with the clouds especially the albino ones. It is somewhat alarming to learn that eight elephants weigh about as much as the water droplets in a medium-sized Cumulus- a Cumulus mediocris – would if you added them all together. For though the droplets in a cumulus cloud are extremely small , there are one hell of a lot of them. Given that elephants don’t tend to fly these days., how exactly does the water equivalent of eighty of them rise to form a Cumulus?
There is a clue in the cloud’s tendency to appear on a sunny day. For when the sun is shining – currents of air known as thermals or convection currents start to form as it enters the ground. These rising plumes of air are the light turbulence you feel as you pass through Cumulus in an aeroplane. They are the reason why hang gliders and eagles will head towards this type of cloud knowing that it is a celestial signpost for the up draughts that give them lift.
Thermals are the invisible spirits that give life to the Cumulus. They bring it into being flowing through it, animating it. To understand the formation of thermal convection currents is to glimpse the soul of the Cumulus’s life. It’s a lot like the movement of the blobs of oil in a lava lamp. The mixture of oil and coloured water in the lamp moves upwards by the same process of convection of air on a sunny day an although the lamp contains liquids rather than gases the principle is the same as the Cumulus cloud.