How Do Clouds Float Despite Carrying Tons Of Water In Them?

Deepthi Reddy
Jan 17, 2023 By Deepthi Reddy
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa
Clouds in blue sky

What is this force that is helping float a bazillion little, tiny water droplets up in the sky?

There is a feeling of wonder felt when we look at the sky. Seeing the strangest of shapes being formed by water droplets or ice crystals floating is fascinating.

Clouds are related to a very engrossing area of science and are the causes of various strange occurrences, some of which will be introduced in this article. Have different shaped clouds made you wonder what are clouds made of?

Clouds are not only wonderful bodies for imagination, but also serve important scientific purposes like affecting the climate. They also serve as heat barriers to the Earth's atmosphere.

The clouds help slightly cool the planet making the rising temperatures bearable for flora and fauna to flourish. But the science behind how clouds float is a lot more complex than we think. What is making these humungous masses of water droplets stay in the sky?

How do clouds float even by carrying tons of water in them? Let us go back and find why and how clouds float in the sky.

If you are enjoying this article, then why not check out these fun articles answering questions and explaining the science behind things you see every day around you, like, how long for duck eggs to hatch? And how many legs does a centipede have? Right here on Kidadl.

The Science Behind The Floating Of Clouds

If the weight of a typical cloud is as much as an elephant, then what's helping it float? Clouds are made of a lot of water droplets or ice crystals, depending upon the temperature.

This infers that typical clouds do contain a lot of water, but that the water is spread across a large area in the form of extremely tiny liquid water droplets and ice crystals. The water droplets are not very big, and the effect of gravity is negligible.

The main reason that the liquid water droplets don't fall, even though they weigh so much, is that each droplet is very small. As a result, clouds seem to float in the air.

Another reason causing clouds to float is updrafts in the atmosphere. When the heat of the sun warms the ground, it creates rising currents of air. Updrafts are upward air currents of warm air that help in keeping the cloud afloat.

But did you know that it is not like clouds are just floating in the sky? They are gently falling through the air but very, very slowly. Ever been in a fog? That's just a cloud on the ground.

Here are a few reasons why clouds don't fall due to gravity: the water droplets are way too small, the force exerted by the warm air traveling upward, cloud and air have different densities, and the settling velocity is very small.

How do clouds form?

Clouds are nothing but water vapor and an invisible gas combined to form liquid water droplets. The water droplets bind to other dust particles in the air and form a droplet around each dust particle. Clouds form primarily through evaporation and condensation.

First, water from various water bodies like oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes is evaporated by the scorching heat of the sun into water vapor, which then rises into the sky. This process is known as evaporation.

At a certain height, the air is cool enough for water vapor to condense into droplets. When this happens, the water vapor transforms either back into water droplets or ice crystals. This is where the process of condensation begins.

After the water vapor undergoes this temperature and pressure change, it starts to condense. For the water droplets to condense faster, it requires a binding molecule called condensation nuclei. Most commonly, dust or pollen acts as nuclei. With these nuclei, the water droplets condense and form clouds.

How do clouds float while carrying water?

A big and fluffy cumulonimbus cloud in the blue sky

Clouds must have weight because water has weight, so then how do clouds float while carrying water? This is because the weight of each droplet of water is so small that it is almost negligible. Clouds are formed when warm air rises. The rising warm air keeps pushing the clouds higher that they don't fall.

The white clouds that we see are condensed water vapor and carbon dioxide mixed in them as well. This means that clouds are lighter than air, and because clouds are less dense compared to air, they can easily float without falling.

Then why don't clouds float into space if they are lighter than air? This is because a cloud is only lighter compared to the air near ground level.

And sometimes, they can even be heavier, which we call fog. Clouds can only float up into the atmosphere where the density of the air is about the same. This proves that clouds lighter than air float, but the heavier ones can't.

What happens when the clouds fall?

Yes, clouds do fall sometimes! Clouds are made of ice crystals or water droplets, usually a mixture of both.

As the clouds take up more and more water droplets, it grows bigger and heavier. It is also true that cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air.

Eventually, when the cloud gets too big, the force that keeps the cloud afloat can't hold it up anymore, and the water droplets get heavy enough to overwhelm the force of rising air; the water droplets fall from the clouds as rain. The rain cools the temperatures down on the ground creating pleasant weather.

Surprisingly, clouds can fall to the ground, not only as rain but in its original form. Sometimes when it is very cloudy or when an airplane cuts into the clouds, a very intricate scientific reaction takes place, and the cloud is cut. This means yes, clouds do fall, it is very rare, but they do.

Rain brings multiple benefits to the Earth. When it rains, it replenishes the groundwater table, waters wild plants and crops, humidifies the air and creates healthy negative ions, and most importantly, redistributes fresh water in the water cycle.

On the whole, we can say that clouds are an important element of the ecosystem.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how do clouds float? Then why not take a look at how many legs do butterflies have? Or why do boats float?


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Written by Deepthi Reddy

Master of Business Administration

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Deepthi ReddyMaster of Business Administration

With an MBA under her belt, Deepthi has discovered her true calling in content writing. Her writing repertoire is diverse, covering travel, movies, pet care, parenting, animals and birds, and more. Her joy of learning and creating has helped her craft well-written and engaging articles. When she isn't writing, Deepthi enjoys exploring new cultures, trying different foods, and spending quality time with her two children aged 7 and 12.

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Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English

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Shruti ThapaBachelor of Arts specializing in English

With a passion for American, British, and children's literature, Shruti is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree at Garden City University, Bengaluru. Her fluency in Nepali, Hindi, and Mandarin demonstrates her linguistic abilities and global perspective. In addition to her literary pursuits, she has a keen interest in non-fiction literature, aesthetics, early childhood education, and Egyptian history. Shruti's research paper 'Bringing Art Illustrations In Education And Pop Culture' showcases her proficiency in these areas and her dedication to academic excellence.

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