Nephology? For Real, Mr. S.?

Cirrus uncinus ice crystal plumes showing high...

Cirrus uncinus ice crystal plumes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The study of clouds. Not to be confused with nephrology, the study of kidneys. Specifically, on our oddball and rather twisted Grade 7 curriculum, nephology was the third subject esoterica that Mr. S., my redoubtable home room teacher, had us learn. That’s right. We learned to classify and identify clouds. It was also a great excuse to get out of the classroom on a sunny day.

For budding meteorologists, I guess that made sense. For the 99% of us who had not contemplated a career in said field, it made very little … at that time. But in the name of curiosity, mind-expanding possibilities, and a passing grade, we soldiered on with the subject.

At the very least, it answered the question: why does it rain? for me. Basically (and to paraphrase and credit the Discovery Channel): warmed water evaporates into vapor which rises into the air, which then cools and condenses into clusters of water droplets and crystals (clouds) that attract more water to themselves. When clouds are sufficiently heavy with these droplets and crystals, gravity pulls them down as raindrops. To the joy of many a farmer and gardener.

Cumulus clouds

Cumulus clouds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My previously un-enlightened 10-year-old self figured that if a cloud looked dark, foreboding and ragged (particularly at the edges), that was reason enough to open the umbrella or run for cover; a crack of thunder or flash of lightning was not a necessary inducement to get the legs and brain moving.

Being a nephological neophyte, I would often look to the skies, just to see if I could spot bunnies or horses or birds. That used to be the extent of my fascination with clouds, and it was the equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot test. A place and palette to indulge the imagination and get into flights of fancy. Did discovery of the scientific underpinnings of clouds take away from their fluffy white cotton candy wondrousness? Oh, not really.

Who knew cloud formations had names? And yet, cirrus, cumulus, fractus, stratus, and cumulonimbus are still lodged in my brain to this day (the last one in particular, when abbreviated to nimbus, for its ability–some might say versatility–to be sarcastically used as an insult, or as a synonym for the rather angelic halo). Thankfully, there are only eight major cloud types to learn about … not eighty. None of clouds I learned about had the metaphorical silver lining, although the cirrus cloud comes close.

Layer of cirrocumulus stratiformis clouds

Did you know that people who photograph clouds are called nepholographers? I have been accused, one might say, of engaging in such behaviour — but only when the sky figures into the greater picture — literally and proverbially. Say, when mountains and flying birds are involved.

And apropos of nothing … cloud computing is something entirely different. I still find that technology to be a rather ethereal concept to grasp. Pun intended. For which Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, singing, “Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud” is probably not a good way to learn about it.

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3 thoughts on “Nephology? For Real, Mr. S.?

  1. I too learnt the names of clouds at school and for some reason it stuck with me also. I didn’t know the name nephology so have now added that to my repertoire. I still love looking at clouds and seeing what images they conjure up. There is a whole world of beings up there.


Your comments are like chocolate for my soul ... I can never get enough of them! Bonus brownie points for witty comments! I love a good turn of phrase. :)

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