There are too many questions that quickly come to your mind and make you puzzled once you see these clouds with mammae such as What are they called? How are they composed?, why do they appear?, why are they formed in that magnificent shape? and other questions that need answers. These clouds are really unique and are considered to be one of the mysterious natural phenomena on earth that are not common and are not seen in different places around the world because they need specific factors and a special environment that leads to their appearance in the sky.
This unusual phenomenon is known as “Mammatus clouds” and it can also be called “mammatocumulus clouds”. These words mean breast clouds, mammary clouds or clouds with mammae. The origin of the word mammatus is Latin as it is derived from the word mamma which means breast or udder. The term mammatus clouds is also used as a meteorological term to describe a natural and unique phenomenon and to refer to ball-shaped patterns or cellular pouches that are hung under the base of a cloud.
The mammatus clouds phenomenon usually appears when there is a strong thunderstorm and the unique shapes that are formed and look like balls or round puffs are more related to anvil clouds. Mammatus can be found hanging from different clouds such as cirrus clouds, stratocumulus, altostratus, altocumulus, volcanic ash clouds and cumulonimbus clouds.
These magnificent mammatus that are beautifully shaped basically consist of ice or a combination of ice and liquid water. There are also other mammatus that are composed of liquid water only as the main substance. The main factors that are responsible for forming these unique mammatus are moisture, sharp gradients in temperature and momentum that comes across the anvil cloud and sub-cloud air boundary.
The way in which the mammatus are formed differs from one cloud to another as you can find them in the shape of clusters of lobes or like a field of lobes that extend to cover hundreds of kilometers. It is not necessary for these lobes or mammatus to be in the same size. The average diameter of a single mammatus lobe ranges from 1 to 3 kilometers and the length is about 0.5 kilometer. The cluster of lobes can last for about 15 minutes to few hours while just a single lobe can last for about 10 minutes.
These mammatus can be seen in the United States and they are more common in cumulonimbus clouds. The appearance of these mammatus in cumulonimbus clouds is an indication that there will be a severe thunderstorm or it may come to be stronger to find a tornadic storm. The cumulonimbus clouds with mammatus have bad effects on the aviation and that is why aviators take all the necessary precautions to avoid these clouds and their mammatus.