This blog is for those of you who don't like shooting clear skies, and hate getting up early and driving somewhere only to be faced with an empty sky. It's also written from the Australian perspective.
You can consider me a cloud and weather obsessive. When I first started shooting landscapes and seascapes I went out every weekend hoping for some clouds in the sky, but soon got frustrated with many mornings wasted on an empty sky.
I love clouds. Clouds add colour. Clouds add texture. Clouds add drama. I firmly believe they are an integral part of any good quality landscape or seascape image. If you want to capture a big colour bomb sky, then you'll be chasing the fairly rare conditions of just high cloud and a clear horizon. High cloud will generate the deep reds and oranges you see at sunrise and sunset. After shooting for almost 10 years now, I can tell you that they don't happen that often ! A more detailed explanation of how clouds impact on sunrise/sunset can be found here : http://www.spc.noaa.gov/publications/corfidi/sunset/
First up, stop reading weather forecasts on Mondays. No weather forecast can be relied upon beyond 24 hours. Weather is a fickle thing and can change suddenly. If you're reading a long range weather forecast on Monday to plan for a shoot on Saturday, you're wasting your time. You may as well just toss a coin. It'll be as accurate. ;)
My routine is to start looking at the forecast on Thursday to get a sense of what the weather is doing. Of course time of year can be a deciding factor. By midday Friday I'll start considering if I'm going to shoot or not based on what cloud forecasts are saying. By Friday night I'll make a decision as to whether or not I'm going to travel somewhere and shoot. So below is a list of the resources I use to give myself the best available information before making a decision on whether or not to get out of bed at stupid o'clock.
Cloud Free Night
The first site I check is Cloud Free Night (http://www.cloudfreenight.com/map.view). This is an Australian site and since I've been using it and comparing it to other sites I've found it to be the most accurate. It has an easy to use interface and gives cloud breakdowns at each level (low, mid, high) as well as wind & jetstream directions. This is useful especially if you're planning on doing long exposures.
Secondly I check WeatherZone (http://www.weatherzone.com.au). This site has a good cloud percentage forecast, along with rain, wind, dew point and humidity forecasts. The best way to use the site is to make it location specific, so all you need to do is use the search function to input your desired location. Once that page has loaded, about half way down you'll see a "48 hour forecast" link. Clicking on that will give you the more detailed forecast. I find it's easier to bookmark these pages for multiple locations, that makes it easier to check up and down the coast when chasing cloud.
The third site I check is Windy (https://www.windy.com). Again this site (once you've zoomed into your desired location) will give you total cloud cover and can break it down into low, medium and high cloud bands. Obviously it also shows wind information, as well as ocean swells and currents.
A fourth site I still use but less regularly is WindGuru (https://www.windguru.cz). As this is an international site I don't find it as accurate as Cloud Free Night but it's still useful for comparison purposes. It also shows wind data along with all 3 levels of cloud forecast.
If you're a seascaper like me, then knowing what the tides and swell are doing is essential. For this I go to WillyWeather (http://tides.willyweather.com.au/) which provides excellent tidal and wave data, ensuring you have a good idea what to expect when you arrive at your location. There's no excuse to get caught out by tides and waves if you take the time to research how the ocean will be at your shoot location.
That's it ! I hope you've found this blog useful. If you have other resources you use to predict good cloud for sunrise & sunset, please post them in the comments below. The more information we have as photographers the better. :)