“I don’t know, nothing, I guess,” you might say. Or, “Well, they’re lighter than air, right?”
As a science fiction author, I spend a lot of time with my head in the clouds… and beyond, far, far away. But the understanding the weight of clouds, I believe, has an indirect tie to how interstellar space craft could possibly fly around like they did in Star Wars.
Okay, the answer to the first question, simply, clouds weigh a lot! Clouds are water vapor, whether the thin, wispy clouds way up high, or the layer that blankets the sky and makes for a gloomy day, or the giant thunderheads. It’s all water in various states, ice, vapor, and droplets.
The shocking facts are revealed when calculating rainfall. We watch it on the weather forecast and give it little thought. Let’s say the weather report shows you got one inch of rainfall. You think, that’s quite a bit, isn’t it? But nothing to be concerned with, no floods. But you never think how much water that turns out to be.
Using a rainfall calculator …we find that an inch of rain over a 1 square mile area, say, your neighborhood, comes out to 17.4 million gallons! Holy Buckets! Multiply that by roughly 8 pounds per gallon, and you get almost 140 million pounds! Yeah!!!
The weather forecaster shows radar pictures, not just of your neighborhood, but of your town. Let’s say, 10 X 10 miles, or 100 sq miles. An inch of rainfall computes to 1.74 b-b-billion gallons of water, or nearly 14 billion pounds!
Now, let’s calculate some of the other stats we see routinely in the weather forecast. Let’s say there’s a bad rainstorm that has hit a large area where you live, and let’s say that’s in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, up into Oklahoma (19 counties), or 14,126 sq. miles. An inch of rain comes out to 245 billion gallons, or 2 trillion pounds.
One inch of rainfall doesn’t get our attention, but 4.36 inches of rain. That’s how much the rainfall averaged for the month of May 2015, for the WHOLE COUNTRY. Some areas, like Texas, got a great deal of rain causing catastrophic floods. Other areas, not so much. But multiply that by the total of 3,537,455 sq. miles for the lower 48 states, and that computes to roughly (17,378,560 per inch, per square mile) TIMES 3.5 million square miles TIMES 4.36 inches = 268,034,810,486,528 gallons or 2.1 quadrillion pounds of water.
Where does all this rainfall go? Streams, rivers, ocean, and back into the skies. Also, a great deal just seeps into the ground and holds up in aquifers that span multiple states.
Activists back in the seventies used to run around with their hair on fire that the earth was running catastrophically low on fresh water. Their hysteria didn’t hold up to the facts about everyday precipitation. Sure, some areas experience droughts such as California, but much of that is as much about public policy as it is rainfall.
Using this simple metric reveals gigantic extremes. Areas around the Indian Ocean seasonally get torrential downpours. India, itself, gets 42 inches per year. Cherrapunji, India holds the record for rainfall in 48 hours of 98 inches, or 1.7 billion gallons, or 13.6 billion pounds of water PER SQUARE MILE. Multiply that by the area encompassing the town… well, you get the idea.
The short answer to how much clouds weigh… a LOT.
Yet, they float in the skies! How can that be?
The next important question in our quest for how Luke Skywalker can zip around, bank, and turn in a space craft is…
How much does air weigh? A subject for another day!
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