Clouds are formed when air containing water vapor is cooled below a critical temperature called the dew point and the resulting moisture condenses into droplets on microscopic dust particles (condensation nuclei) in the atmosphere. The air is normally cooled by expansion during its upward movement. Upward flow of air in the atmosphere may be caused by convection resulting from intense solar heating of the ground; by a cold wedge of air (cold front) near the ground causing a mass of warm air to be forced aloft; or by a mountain range at an angle to the wind. Clouds are occasionally produced by a reduction of pressure aloft or by the mixing of warmer and cooler air currents.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.