do clouds move or do we move

Do clouds move or do we move? So many times, people look up at the sky and wonder if the clouds are really moving or if it is only the earth that is moving.

It looks quite obvious considering you can see clouds drifting across the sky. But is it all that simple?

To get a clear idea, we have to explore the captivating convergence of weather science, celestial studies, and human observation. So, do clouds move?

Yes, clouds move. But we move too, although on the planet’s surface, we don’t feel it. 

Do Clouds Move or Do We Move?

who moves clouds or us

Clouds move and so do we. Both person and cloud are caught in the Earth’s rotational spin.

Held down by gravity objects tend to stay in their expected positions relative to each other. It confuses our perception when they do not.  

They move as the rapid movement of air currents builds into winds trying to equalize air pressure, churning up air currents and forcing them upwards as air masses collide.

They usually move horizontally but in certain conditions, can move vertically for many miles.

Like everything on the planet, clouds are subject to the Coriolis effect, the spin of the earth. It increases their speed as the faster equatorial winds of a jet stream carry them.

Fact: How fast a cloud moves depends on the kind of cloud it is but 120mph is not unheard of.  

Explanation of Earth’s Rotation and Orbit

explanation of earth's rotation and orbit

The Coriolis effect is responsible for our global weather. And the planet’s orbit and tilt give us daily and seasonal temperature and pressure changes which drive the winds on.

The Coriolis effect describes the line an object, such as a plane or cloud takes away from a straight line as it covers long distances above the earth.

It is not a physical force, and the path taken only looks as if it is bending.

Its impact can be seen as water and air as currents deflect away from the equator moving into either the northern or southern hemisphere depending on which side of the equator they formed. 

How Our Movement Contributes to the Perceived Movement of Clouds

our movement affects cloud perception

The Coriolis effect is a visual effect brought on by the earth’s rotation, another is induced motion.

It is a common experience caused by an object’s motion causing another object to feel as if it is moving. You may have seen examples of this in real life.

For instance:

  • You may have sat on the train and wondered if it was moving as the train on the next line pulled out.
  • Another example is how when clouds move at night, it looks as if the moon is moving away in the opposite direction.

These instances are illusions created by misperceiving the relationship between the objects when one is large and the other small even though the clouds are always in motion. 

An Important Consideration

We can observe this easily from a fixed reference point. However, if the observer is also in motion, perhaps traveling in a car, there is no fixed reference.

Therefore, the brain fixes on something else and the actual cloud movement goes misperceived.   

Earth’s Rotation Affecting Perception of Cloud Movement

earth's rotation affects cloud perception

Clouds move because of the wind which can force them to change speed and direction, something we can observe from ground level.

Although they may be at significant speeds high up, the clouds appear to drift slowly against the vastness of the sky.

The Earth’s rotation manifesting as the Coriolis effect, organizes winds into weather systems traveling west-to-east with the rotation.

But at any location, the rotation speed is constant, so it does not impede our perception.

Instead, we are deceived by other factors, such as:

  • The angle of observation
  • The distance from the cloud

These provide a false frame of reference for the observer’s brain attempting to work out the relationship between these moving objects.

Fact: Humans have a poor depth of perception and so don’t have enough information to work out how far away a cloud is especially when its among many others. 

Human Movement Influencing Perceived Cloud Motion

human movement influencing perceived cloud motion

How well we perceive cloud movement depends on how accurately we can compare it against the movement of something else.

Finding a suitable point of reference is not always easy. For instance, you may be in a fast-moving car looking at the clouds on the horizon but to your brain you are stationary cocooned in the car.

Because all matter in the universe is in motion, stationary reference points change all the time.

This allows us to mathematically conceptualize motion and describe how objects move in relation to each other. 

An Important Consideration

When we think about relative motion it is with the understanding that either both objects are moving or one is moving and the other fixed. 

A road surface is fixed and can be a reference point for a car in motion.

But if the Sun were used instead, the roadway wouldn’t be fixed but rotating with the planet. 

More about Clouds Relative Motion with Relevant Examples  

clouds' relative motion with examples

The motion of an object can be described by comparing it to another that can either be moving or fixed.

Therefore, motion in nature can be expressed in relative terms including the movement of clouds but the motion is different for different observers.

The occupants of the cars in front of you will see the clouds move from a different perspective.

One famous example of relative motion uses two boys on a train and another observing from the platform.

The two boys sit together at rest, stationary in relation to one another when with respect to the boy observing the boys in the train, they are traveling very fast. 

Why Do Clouds Move?

Many factors are at play when you describe more about exactly why clouds move.

For instance, it happens due to the following factors: 

Wind Patterns and Their Role in Cloud Movement

wind patterns and cloud movement

The Coriolis effect means winds travel east-west around the globe along the edges of high- and low-pressure systems.

The effect also speeds up the winds at the equator.

Wind patterns and movements are determined by the ever-changing differences in air pressures and temperatures due to the uneven heating of Earth’s surface.

Clouds are driven by winds but also formed by them as moist warm air is forced up with updrafts and drops cooled in the downdrafts.

Fact: The type of cloud that forms due to air pressure and temperature is often used to predict the strength of the wind in approaching systems.  

Effects of Upper-Atmospheric Conditions on Cloud Movement 

upper-atmospheric conditions' impact on cloud movement

Conditions in the upper atmosphere are different from those below. The air is thinner, less humid and there is more direct sunlight.

The winds high up, those of the jet streams, blow unimpeded by topography.

They reach speeds that blast through clouds and dissipate them or carry their tops away.

There were concerns that global warming could see the upper atmosphere dense with clouds that would slow, stall or deflect the jet streams and their rain carrying clouds.

But research is suggesting this might not be the case.

One recent theory puts forward the scenario in which the dryer surface lifts the cloud base thereby reducing the thickness of the cloud layer. 

The Difference between Cloud Movement and Cloud Transformation  

difference between cloud movement and cloud transformation

Cloud movement is different from cloud transformation. Cloud movement describes how clouds travel from where they form and develop at the edge of weather patterns.

Cloud transformation concerns the processes of evaporation and condensation simultaneously taking place between the air and the cloud from when it first forms to when it finally dissipates.

In the atmosphere, water is constantly changing state in response to temperature from liquid to gas, gas to liquid.

This is cloud transformation.

Fact: Gas changes to a solid making snow and ice with the color of the cloud shifting according to the changing ratios of liquid water, ice and vapor.


about moving clouds key takeaways

Do clouds move or do we move? 

The truth is that clouds do move and we move as well. Sometimes, you are moving and you get an illusion that clouds are moving. This has to do with the earth’s rotational orbit.  

This synchronized action highlights the complex connection between Earth and its atmosphere, which is easy to overlook in our daily lives.

Let us set out into the world with a fresh sense of awe for the intricate dance that takes place every day above and below our feet.