When little susie looked up at the sky and saw soft white clouds with the appearance of goose feathers that somehow escaped from her bedroom pillow, or perhaps saw what looked like wispy strands and tufts from a white mare's tail streaming across the sky, she probably was seeing Cirrus Clouds.
Cirrus in Latin means curl. Cirrus Clouds were so named in the 1800s because they resemble curly hair.
Cirrus clouds are formed high up in the atmosphere. In fact they are typically formed at 20,000 feet or 6,000 meters or higher. Their wispy strand like appearance is due to their high elevation.
Cirrus Clouds are composed primarily of ice crystals. Like all clouds, Cirrus clouds form when a warm front of air meets a cold front of air.
These clouds are typically associated with approaching warm fronts. Cirrus generally move from West to East across the sky and generally move in the direction of fair weather.
The tops of these clouds often reach up to 18,000 and because of this it seems that these clouds are difficult to study. There is some belief that although these clouds do not affect the day to day weather that much, as they do not bring rain, snow, or thunder as much as Cumulus Clouds do, they do perhaps play a role in slowing or speeding global warming depending on their shape and on the shapes of the ice crystals that they contain.
There are some studies that indicate that our actions here on Earth, the industrial pollutants that we produce, increase the number of cirrus clouds . There are some people who believe this to be a bad thing as clouds that are at a higher elevation may trap the incoming solar radiation and limit the amount of heat that can leave the Earth's atomosphere and go back to the sun. There are others who believe that increased Cirrus Cloud cover could also have a cooling effect by reflecting the sun's light before it can go on to lower altitudes and further warm the Earth's surface.
Lately, some websites that I looked at suggested that the scientists who have been studying these clouds by satillites, etc. are a bit puzzled due to the decrease of the formation of these clouds in the tropical regions when they thought that more would be formed due to the heating of the air that happens in that region. They wonder if this means that these clouds are not as likely to be formed by global warming as they thought they would be. They also seem to be puzzled about the presence of water vapors up close to these clouds, something that they never thought could occur... so it seems as if there is room for a lot more research into the nature of Clouds and their effects on the weather and on global warming.