What are Arcus Clouds and how are they formed?

Sometimes, clouds have quite odd sizes and shapes. Arcus clouds are no different, but they could potentially portend the arrival of something much worse.

Arcus clouds are low-lying accessory clouds that spread out horizontally, usually from the edge of a more significant storm system like a thunderstorm. These strikingly beautiful cloud patterns frequently resemble shelf or roll clouds.

Many cloud forms can result in some of the most spectacular images when the circumstances are correct. However, some clouds are so strikingly beautiful and breathtaking that a photograph cannot do them credit. One such illustration is the arcus cloud.

What is an Arcus Cloud?

It is obvious that arcus cloud formations are the reason for some of the most breathtaking sights that can be seen from the surface of the earth. This climatic event, however, offers more than simply a picturesque sight.
The overview provides a concise but misleading explanation of what an arcus cloud is and how it originates. A more comprehensive definition of this type of cloud formation is necessary for comprehension.

Arcus clouds have a cloud base that is low-lying and forms at a height of around 2 kilometers (6500 feet).

The two fundamental divisions of arcus clouds are Shelf Clouds and Roll Clouds. As a result, arcus clouds may have a wedge shape or resemble horizontal tubes (depending on whether a shelf or roll cloud develops).

The two main types of clouds that contribute to the formation of arcus clouds are cumulus and cumulonimbus. Notably, the many magnificent arcus formations are produced by the strong updrafts and downdrafts of cumulonimbus clouds.
Contrary to the cumulonimbus clouds that form the base of many of them, arcus clouds themselves grow and spread out in a horizontal fashion.

Arcus clouds are widely used as a warning of approaching thunderstorms and severe weather, even though they don’t directly threaten humans with precipitation or strong winds.

How does an Arcus cloud form?

Although shelf and roll clouds, two different varieties of arcus clouds, have different traits and ways in which they evolve, they share a common genesis.

The following steps can be used to summarize how arcus clouds originate in general:

– Strong updrafts and downdrafts in the stormcloud are characteristics of thunderstorms. Arcus clouds are mostly caused by the powerful downdrafts that are present near a thundercloud’s leading edge.
– Downdrafts carry cold air to the ground, where it spreads out horizontally in front of the storm system after being cooled by altitude and precipitation.
– Quickly covering the ground, the heavier cool air pushes underneath the warmer moist air, pushing it into the atmosphere.
– Arcus clouds are formed as a result of condensation that occurs as the warm air rises and cools, giving them their distinctive shape and properties.

– This process results in the production of the well-known wedge-shaped shelf clouds or the spherical cylindrical-shaped roll clouds, depending on the particular meteorological circumstances and location.


It is clear that the variables influencing the formation and evolution of arcus clouds all follow a similar pattern. However, there are significant differences between the two types of arcus clouds in terms of their physical features.

Roll clouds have a cylindrical, tube-like structure, in contrast to shelf clouds, which take on their well-known ragged, wedge-shaped shape. Roll clouds form apart from all other clouds, while shelf clouds continue to grow at the leading edge of a storm cloud.

This article’s main goals were to define an arcus cloud and describe how it forms.

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