Winter Clouds Don’t ‘Hold In’ the Heat

Earth's solar-powered heat blanket

Earth’s solar-powered heat blanket

267°  Most of us know that in Winter, when it’s cloudy at night, the clouds ‘hold in’ the heat, so it doesn’t get as cold. This concept of ‘holding in the heat has been preached by weather people for years.

It’s not exactly accurate.

A neighbor is finishing up his doctorate program this Fall. His work is measuring the heat (specifically, infrared radiation) absorbed by the atmosphere then re-radiated back to Earth. Nitrogen and oxygen consist of 99% of the atmosphere and they don’t absorb infrared radiation. Only carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor absorb heat. 

This means the clouds absorb the radiation and emit it back to Earth. So when a cloud is passing overhead it is acting like a solar powered heater. You could call it a ‘blanket’ but it is a solar-powered electric blanket that isn’t holding in the heat but is generating it.


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