Daytime Temperature and Night Clouds
Name: Nicki R
How does the temperatures during the day effect the cloudiness at night?
This is a very complicated relationship. It depends on the moisture in the air, what
fronts are moving through a given point, the elevation of the place, what is the relative
amount of daylight and night time, whether it is sunny or cloudy during the day -- to
name just a few variables. It would be almost impossible to factor all of those variables
into a single answer.
Surface temperatures do affect some kinds of clouds. But more important is how moist the
air mass is. If a moist air mass is heated by the sun during the day, the warmed air
rises in "bubbles" like bubbles in a pan of boiling water. When these bubbles rise far
enough, the moisture condenses and clouds form. That's why many times, especially in the
summertime, the sky is clear when you get up in the morning, but by noontime, many clouds
have formed. Then, in the late afternoon, the sun does not heat the air as much, and the
bubbles cease, and the clouds dissipate, and the sky is nearly clear again by dark. The
same thing can happen day after day. Sometimes, if conditions are right, these bubbles
can continue to rise, and rain showers, and even thunderstorms can form.
Many kinds of clouds can form other processes than the one I described above, processes
not related to the daytime temperature.
Here is a link that briefly describes the different ways clouds can form.
Wendell Bechtold, meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO
The daytime temperature can affect nighttime cloudiness, but it is more often not a
factor at all.
One example of the affect of daytime temperature is the disintegration of cumulus clouds
as the Sun sets. The Sun's heating of the Earth's surface is reduced as the Sun goes
down and convective cells of rising warm air (which form cumulus clouds) weaken. The
cumulus clouds start decreasing in size and vertical extent and finally disappear after
Warm daytime temperatures can cause a layer of air to rise, giving you stratus clouds.
If this layer is deep enough, the stratus clouds can maintain themselves into the night
and even to sunrise.
Another possibility is for very cold conditions, where the daytime temperature is very
low, but no clouds are present. Particularly if the air has a low amount of water vapor
in it, further, strong radiational cooling at night can reduce the temperature of the air
enough to produce thin stratoform clouds.
However, these situations are not as common as normal cloud forming processes associate
with the presence of fronts, squall lines, etc., which are more dynamic in nature.
David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory
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Update: June 2012