Pileus (meteorology)

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Pileus on a Cumulus cloud
Pileus forming over the ash cloud from an eruption of Sarychev Peak

A pileus (/ˈpliəs/; Latin for "cap"), also called scarf cloud or cap cloud, is a small, horizontal, lenticular cloud appearing above a cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud, giving the parent cloud a characteristic "hoodlike" appearance. Pilei tend to change shape rapidly.[citation needed] They are formed by strong updraft at lower altitudes, acting upon moist air above, causing the air to cool to its dew point. As such, they are usually indicators of severe weather, and a pileus found atop a cumulus cloud often foreshadows transformation into a cumulonimbus cloud, as it indicates a strong updraft within the cloud.

Clouds that are attached to pilei are often given the suffix "pileus" or "with pileus". For example, a cumulonimbus cloud with a pileus attached to it would be called "cumulonimbus with pileus".

Pilei can also form above ash clouds and pyrocumulus clouds from erupting volcanoes (see the adjacent image).

Pilei form above some mushroom clouds of high-yield nuclear detonations.


When sheet of altostratus cloud is seen lower down and skirting a cumulonimbus cloud, it is classified as a velum cloud.[1]


Pilei clouds indicate the parent cloud is growing rapidly, has plenty of moisture, and is highly unstable. This means the parent cloud could quickly grow to become a cumulonimbus cloud and continue to grow into a cumulonimbus incus cloud.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Velum". Meteorological glossary. American Meteorological Society. Retrieved May 2, 2014.

External links[edit]