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Clouds, Those Ever-Changing Beings

The Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki Services and Administration Planner Heini tests the Institute’s courses. This time, Cloud Course.

You may not achieve happiness by reaching for the clouds, but watching them is surely fascinating. It is best when done lying down the grass or on a sandy beach, on a warm summer day. Something akin to that was on offer indoors on the Cloud Course at the Institute. In the 2010s the words ”cloud course” can bring to mind strange associations. At least for me, the first thing that rose to mind was not the sky, but information technology. Luckily this course focused on real, actual clouds. They told the course was aimed at, for example, boaters, bird enthusiasts, landscape painters, cloud buffs and for those interested in weather and meteorology. I do cloudwatching for purely aesthetical reasons and also because the clouds floating across the sky have the same effect on the mind as meditation or mindfulness. I have also experiened mild desperation on a painting course when I thought that my artistry produced clouds in somewhat strange shapes and colours, but my later investigations have shown that those kinds on clouds also exist. In fact, they turned out to be quite decent cumulus clouds.

We watched pictures of clouds on the screen with the guidance of Senior Meteorologist Sari Hartonen. On the first meeting we got acquainted with high and medium clouds, and on the second the lower clouds, according to their altitude of appearance. At the same time we talked about the weather and its phenomena: what the clouds tell us and how we can predict the weather in the next few hours with their help. The main focus was watching pictures at a relatively high speed and in my opinion the course is maybe best suited for a cloud admirer like me. As an aside we also gained a lot of information, which left titillating details in my mind. For example, did you know that clouds are divided into families? Or that the airplane conrails are classified as cirrus clouds? Or that fog is just clouds upon the surface of the Earth? No wonder that in addition to clouds, I also like the fog.

It was interesting to hear that clouds can be deduced to be part of certain families by using a charmingly quaint method, measuring by finger. So a very handy cloud measuring device is always at hand. However, the results are not an exact science, because for one, fingers are of various width, so Hartonen suggested to take this method with a grain of salt. The classification of clouds can sometimes be difficult, because one type can be in transition to another one. Usually there are multiple kinds of clouds floating across the sky. One of the most fascinating ones is an altocumulus, which can sometimes resemble a flying saucer. After the course I now know that the ”UFO cloud” that baffled Sweden was a member of this family.

My personal favourite is perhaps cumulus humilis, a cumulus cloud of lovely weather. Light and carefree, floating across the sky like a cotton ball, not threatening my summer day in any way, but rather adorning it with its jovial appearance. Even though ”humilis” means ”of no or little significance”. For me it has a great meaning as an aesthetic joy of my summer days and a reminder of how unique the Finnish summer and its few hot weather days are. The message of the cumulus humilis is ”carpe diem, you are here for only a moment, as am I”. The most fascinating thing about clouds is their ever-changing shapes and their beauty, their out-of-reachness. While you look away, the cloud has already changed from a poodle to a dragon. You cannot grasp or touch, but you can admire and let your imagination fly. In Hartonen’s words, ”clouds are ever-changing beings” and because of that, oh, so enchanting.

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Written by: Heini