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New Cloud Type Discovered?

An "asperatus" cloud rolls over New Zealand's South Island in an undated picture.

This apparently new class of clouds is still a mystery. But experts suspect asperatus clouds' choppy undersides may be due to strong winds disturbing previously stable layers of warm and cold air.

Asperatus clouds may spur the first new classification in the World Meteorological Organization's International Cloud Atlas since the 1950s, Gavin Pretor-Pinney said.

Since the last addition to the atlas, the emergence of satellite imagery has pushed meteorologists to take a much broader view on weather and focus less on small-scale cloud formations.

But "the tide is turning back again," in part because the humble cloud is seen as a "wild card" in climate-change prediction, Pretor-Pinney said.

LeMone agreed that clouds are a "big unknown" in climate change, mostly because climate-change models do not provide a high-enough resolution to determine what clouds' impacts will be on a changing world.
—Photograph courtesy Merrick Davies
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