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Everyone knows about clouds, right? Whether wispy cirrus, puffy cumulus cottonballs, or the towering, threatening cumulonimbus anvils, they are a constant of life. Sometimes you ignore them, sometimes you admire their beauty, and sometimes you keep a close eye on them, especially in Tornado Alley. But how often do you think about these light-as-a-feather things floating in the sky?
If you’re like most people, not very often. I do, however, because I’m BRAG and I think about the things I notice. So how about I lead off with this fact: Clouds aren’t actually light. Take one and compress it down until only the water remains, and those things are massively heavy. How heavy? Again, I’m BRAG, so I’m going to provide an example to illustrate. There’s some math coming up, but don’t run away just yet. It will be in metric, which will make it fairly simple. Go ahead and feel free to skip down to the result if you prefer, but I’m going to show my work so that you can see I’m not just making stuff up when you see the total.
First and foremost, I’ll lay out the premise: Can we all agree that a single rain cloud, perhaps one of many but let’s keep it simple, can put down one centimeter of rain along a path 500 meters wide and 2 kilometers long? Seems conservative to me, and I hope you agree that’s reasonable, because that gives us a total area of one square kilometer. That’s much less than a square mile, so it’s not that big, is it? Now for some easy math:
1km^2 = 1,000,000m^2, because 1,000 * 1,000 = 1,000,000
That’s an awful lot of square meters, isn’t it? But so far the math’s simple, so let’s keep going.
1m^2 = 10,000 cm^2, because 100 * 100 = 10,000
Still simple, right?
Therefore by multiplying those totals together, we have:
1km^2 = 10,000,000,000cm^2
Ten billion square centimeters is an awful lot of those little critters, so I think you can see why I’m keeping this simple by using metric. Now on to the next step, but we’ll be back to this sum, as sure as Terminators.
I chose 1cm of rain, less than half an inch, because multiplying that by the previous total gets us to cubic centimeters. That’s good for some more simplicity, because one cubic centimeter of water equals one gram. And since ten billion grams is hard to grasp, let’s convert that to kilograms.
10,000,000,000g / 1,000 = 10,000,000kg
Still simple enough, but awkwardly large, so let’s convert it to metric tons, which are 1,000kg each:
10,000,000kg / 1000 = 10,000 metric tons
That’s better, but since we Americans don’t think in metric very well, let’s convert that to US tons, the conversion factor being 1 = 2.205.
So that’s 22,050 tons of water. While clouds “float” because their density is extremely low, clouds measured by water weight are very heavy indeed. Also, don’t forget that after such a modest rainfall there’s still going to be a big cloud up there, even if the rain stops falling from it. Don’t forget that that’s just an ordinary rain cloud, either. Imagine an isolated thunderhead, which is a whole lot bigger. I know you’ve seen them, a big cumulonimbus anvil cloud hanging in the sky, so that shouldn’t be hard to do. And if we’re talking a full-on T-storm…
So the next time you are advised by a meteorologist to seek shelter due to an oncoming thunderstorm, take the warning seriously, because those gigantic bastards pack a lot of potential energy from the weight of the water alone. That doesn’t count wind and lightning, but a few hundred thousand tons of water above your head might make you think.
If I do this again, perhaps I’ll take a look at the wind involved in one of those bad boys. Until then, stay safe, because without you, Arrowhead might lack a few screaming maniacs this season. Besides, without y’all, Anthony might put me to work making up for the lost clicks – and without upping my BHQV ration. Y’all aren’t dying to see that happen, are you?