Clouds and their paragliding classification

les nuages et leur classification parapente

Paragliding is an aerial sport that allows you to discover beautiful landscapes and experience unique sensations. One of the most fascinating aspects of this activity is the possibility of flying around the clouds. Indeed, clouds have always held a certain fascination for humans, and paragliders are no exception. In this article we will explore the world of clouds in paragliding, their different shapes and characteristics, and the opportunities and risks they present. Because no, clouds are not necessarily our worst enemies when paragliding; on the contrary!

How do clouds form?

Clouds form when warm, moist air is lifted into the atmosphere and cools. As the air cools, the water vapour in the air condenses into droplets, forming clouds. Cloud formation depends on several meteorological factors, including temperature, pressure and humidity. Topography and altitude are also important factors influencing cloud formation.

What are the different types of clouds and their classification in paragliding?

Clouds in paragliding can take many forms and have different characteristics, so it is important to know what they are in order to know how to use them in our flight. Here are the main types of clouds you may encounter when paragliding:

  • Cumulus clouds: Cumulus clouds are the most common clouds in paragliding and are formed by updrafts that lift warm, moist air from the earth's surface. They are round and white in shape, and usually form at altitudes between 500 and 3,000 metres. Cumulus clouds are valuable indicators for paragliders, as they signal the presence of thermals. Thermals allow you to gain altitude and prolong your flight.
nuages en parapente
  • Cumulonimbus clouds: Cumulonimbus clouds are much larger clouds than cumulus clouds, and are often associated with thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. They can reach altitudes of 12,000 metres and more, and have a characteristic anvil shape. Cumulonimbus clouds can be a risk to paragliders as they are often associated with turbulence, strong winds and especially thunderstorms.
nuage dangereux parapente
  • Nimbostratus clouds: nimbostratus clouds are layer-like clouds, often thick and spread out over kilometres, which form at low altitudes. They are greyish in colour and can often be seen early in the day when the air is moist and the temperature is low. These clouds are the ones we like least when paragliding because they are really the ones that prevent us from flying and are synonymous with rain...
nuages parapente
  • Cirrus clouds: Cirrus clouds are clouds that look very different from other cloud types. They are thin and stretched out, and often have a feathery or filamentary shape. Cirrus clouds are usually seen at high altitudes, and can be an indicator of an incoming cold front or weather change. They can also block the sun and cut off daytime thermal activity.
nuage parapente

Cumulus clouds are ultimately the most interesting clouds for paragliders, as they signal the presence of thermals. Cumulonimbus, stratus and cirrus clouds can also be observed when paragliding, but it is important to be aware of the risks they can represent and how to avoid them.

What are the risks and opportunities associated with clouds in paragliding?

Clouds can represent both opportunities and risks for paragliders. As mentioned earlier, some clouds are indicators of the presence of thermals, which allow paragliders to gain altitude and extend their flight. However, clouds can also be dangerous and inconvenient!

The main risks are the following:

  • Turbulence and strong winds: clouds can cause significant turbulence due to vertical air movements. This turbulence can be very dangerous for paragliders, as it can cause shaking, significant loss of altitude and difficulty in maintaining a stable trajectory.
  • Precipitation: clouds are often associated with heavy precipitation, such as rain, hail or snow. And you should know this, but rain and paragliding do not go together at all. Even if at the beginning of the flight you don't see any problem to fly, some precipitation clouds can develop very quickly and you will have to land as soon as possible to avoid any incident in flight.
  • Masks: clouds can significantly reduce visibility and obscure the view. This can make it difficult to navigate in flight, especially if the paraglider does not have a good knowledge of the flying area.

It is therefore important for paragliders to take these risks into account when flying near clouds, and to know how to avoid these dangers if necessary. It is also recommended that you get some training and information from professionals before you start paragliding. We cover all this theory during our paragliding courses.

parapente aspiré dans un nuage

Sucked into a cloud while paragliding

This is the crazy story of a German paraglider pilot named Ewa Wisnierska...

On 14 February 2007, while flying in Manilla, Australia, the venue for the World Paragliding Championships, the pilot was caught in a storm and more precisely in a cumulonimbus cloud that formed very quickly due to the phenomenon of suction. Rather than land, she tried to avoid the cloud and suffered a brutal ascent to an altitude of almost 10,000 metres; an area without oxygen and where the temperature is close to -50°C...

If you want to know more about this story, read our article on the Maximum altitude record in paragliding - Ewa Wisnierska

Rules for flying safely around clouds

To fly safely around clouds, it is important to follow certain rules. The 2 major rules that go together are the following:

  • Always maintain visibility
  • Never fly into a cloud

And if you see a congestus or cumulonimbus forming rapidly above you, land as soon as possible to avoid any flight incident.

Clouds book in paragliding

livre nuages parapente

And for those who want to know more about clouds and more generally about meteorology in paragliding, the book "Les Visiteurs du Ciel" is the reference in this field for free flight. This manual is an excellent introduction to more complex books. It contains new developments on thermal flight, front formation, climatology, etc. and gives indispensable complements on the so-called small-scale aerology, on turbulence, the French climate, etc. There are theoretical explanations largely illustrated with photos and explanatory diagrams. They are often completed by practical advice with testimonies and flight stories. It is a very interesting book for any paraglider who wants to know more about aerology.

See the book Les Visiteurs du Ciel on the shop

You now know more about clouds in paragliding and their classification. We hope that this article has taught you some things and will be useful for your practice. Look out for more articles on other paragliding topics on our blog!