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Can You Count All the Clouds?

by Derek Stump

Our friend Isabella S. asked us a math question we’d never thought of: how many clouds are in the sky on a sunny day? It’s tricky since the sky is such a big place, and it can also be hard to tell where one cloud ends and another begins. But we can all give it our best guess. Last Thursday was nice and sunny, so we stood in this spot by the Central Park Reservoir in New York City and counted 14 puffy clouds. The next time you have a sunny day, go outside and see how many clouds you can count!   


Wee ones: If you counted 4 clouds yesterday, at least how many would you have to count today to count more than 4? 


Little kids: If you see 1 cloud today, 3 clouds tomorrow, 5 clouds the next day… how many would you see on the 4th day if the pattern continues? Bonus: If you see twice as many duck-shaped clouds as dog-shaped clouds, and 3 times as many cow-shaped clouds as duck-shaped clouds, and you see just 1 dog-shaped cloud, how many cow-shaped clouds do you see?


Big kids: If you’re racing a friend to spot clouds and you’ve spotted 72 in 6 minutes, and they’ve spotted 80 but started 2 minutes before you, who’s spotting more clouds per minute? Bonus: Clouds have different names depending on their height above Earth. An altocumulus cloud is between 6,000 and 20,000 feet above Earth. If you’re taking off in a plane, at how many feet above Earth are you halfway between the lowest and highest altocumulus clouds? 

Answers:

Wee ones: You’d need to count at least 5 clouds! 


Little kids: 7 clouds, because you see 2 more each day. Bonus: 6 cow-shaped clouds, because 1 x 2 x 3 = 6. 


Big kids: You are, because you’re spotting 12 clouds per minute on average! Your friend is spotting 80 clouds in 8 minutes, which is 10 clouds per minute. Bonus: 13,000 feet above Earth. That’s 7,000 feet above the lowest altocumulus cloud and 7,000 below the highest altocumulus cloud. 

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