It's not really fog, mist or haze. I used to think that it's mist, but from what I've read here, it turns out that it isn't.

It's the white smoke-like fog that is close to the ground. I've seen it recently above a couple of small ponds (and ground) in a damp forest. It was almost as white as smoke, you can barely see through it, but it is close to the ground, from 20cm to a meter or so.

Since it isn't fog (which is a cloud that you can see, say from a mountaintop, and if it's not mist (which is more like 'rain'), then what is it?

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    I think it is 'vapour' and the process is called evaporation. propertiesofmatter.si.edu/water_cycle.html
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:46
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    What specifically makes you say that it is not fog or mist? Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:54
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    It's called "fog" or "mist". Technically, "steam" and "water vapor" describe the completely transparent gaseous form of water, whereas "fog" or "mist" is little droplets of liquid water suspended in the air.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:56
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    From all that you describe it really is either fog or mist. You should give a photo of what you're describing for us to tell further. Or more context.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 20:41

6 Answers 6


Some kind of radiation fog (ground fog is a synonym):

Radiation fog is formed by the cooling of land after sunset by thermal radiation in calm conditions with clear sky. The cool ground produces condensation in the nearby air by heat conduction. In perfect calm the fog layer can be less than a meter deep but turbulence can promote a thicker layer. Radiation fogs occur at night, and usually do not last long after sunrise, but they can persist all day in the winter months especially in areas bounded by high ground such as the Vale of York in England. Radiation fog is most common in autumn and early winter. Examples of this phenomenon include the Tule fog.

Ground fog is fog that obscures less than 60% of the sky and does not extend to the base of any overhead clouds. However, the term is usually a synonym for radiation fog.

[ Wikipedia ]

*Burnaby Outdoors – birds, nature, parks* - George Clulow

Burnaby Outdoors – birds, nature, parks by George Clulow

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    Thanks - that is exactly what I asked about. "Radiation fog" sounds like something you'd see at a power plant though (probably with a light green glow!), so I'm gonna go with "ground fog" instead. Either way, that's exactly what I had in mind!
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 15:20
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    You're welcome! I hear you; usually we don't think like that though for a car radiator or when saying the sun is radiant; it's the heat radiating really, but not necessarily irradiation! I found this in context with radiational which feels less "nuclear". But indeed, ground is what sets apart what you described, more so than technical origin or density only, as it happens to connect that origin casually to "where" the phenomenon is observed, which is convenient. Thanks!
    – user98955
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 9:40
  • Radiation fog is the correct technical term. In old monster movies, like Frankenstein, they mimiced it using titanium tetrachloride: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_screen#Titanium_tetrachloride Commented May 1, 2020 at 20:21

Who said it wasn't called "mist"? I live in a climate where this is a daily occurence during the spring and fall seasons. It may not technically be mist falling from the sky, but if you were sitting in a canoe on this lake, you would experience this lazy cloud (that's what I call it, 'cause it's lagging behind) as just that.

In my experience,the words "mist on the lake," are quite common in written and spoken expression.

"Fog" is used when one is engulfed in the stuff, and a view of the distance is obscured.

"Haze can be natural, but is usually used to refer to an anomaly - such as smoke, or spray paint, or hairspray - temporarily hovering in the air. It is not as dense as what we call "fog".

Also, "a haze on the lake" might be something (like oil or gasoline) on the surface of the water. (US)

  • Well, seems like it needs an additional word for precision. When writing, precision is important.
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 15:21
  • +1, Old Bag - in my neck of the woods it's, prosaically, "mist."
    – user98990
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 15:27
  • @Jack this is precisely what mist means. I don't see how you can get more precise than that. Your readers are far likelier to understand mist than ground fog.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 11:12

I would say that fog or mist actually do seem to be the most likely candidates, especially if you are going for general language use.

From OED:

fog, n.2


a. Thick mist or watery vapour suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earth's surface; an obscured condition of the atmosphere due to the presence of dense vapour.

From OED:

mist, n.1


a. A natural phenomenon consisting of a diffuse cloud of fine water droplets suspended in the atmosphere on or near the ground so as to limit visibility (but to a lesser extent than fog); such droplets viewed collectively as a substance or medium. Also fig. and in fig. context.
In meteorology mist is now distinguished from fog as being less opaque, with visibility of at least one kilometre, and from haze, which is due to solid particles not water droplets.

  • Also from the OED, consider: vapour 2b. An exhalation rising by natural causes from the ground or from some damp place; freq., a mist or fog; steam 4. An exhalation or watery vapour rising from the earth or sea. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:09
  • Unfortunately, I don't have access to the OED. But out of curiosity what does it have for haze? In my Chambers Dictionary it says: n. vapour, mist or shimmer due to heat, often obscuring vision; mistiness
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:38
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    @Mari-Lou: The OED says haze 1a. An obscuration of the atmosphere near the surface of the earth, caused by an infinite number of minute particles of vapour, etc. in the air. In 18th c. applied to a thick fog or hoar-frost; but now usually to a thin misty appearance, which makes distant objects indistinct, and often arises from heat (heat-haze). Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 14:36
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    @PeterShor Regarding steam, to me it seems the most natural to use in the context of hot vapour (such as when boiling water). As for vapour, to me that sounds overly scientific if casually describing the local weather conditions. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 14:43
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    @Mari-LouA Indeed, in modern use haze is the thinnest. Also, as is noted in the quoted definition of mist, in some contexts haze is used specifically for mist-like conditions caused by other particles than water. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 14:50

One possible name is for the phenomena is haze

haze a slight obscuration of the lower atmosphere, typically caused by fine suspended particles.

ODO tells us that haze is a probably a back-formation of hazy, an early 17th century nautical term meaning 'foggy'.

The Online Etymology Dictionary appears to state that the terms haze, fog and mist are practically interchangeable.

The English differentiation of haze, mist, fog (and other dialectal words) is unmatched in other tongues, where the same word generally covers all three and often "cloud" as well, and this may be seen as an effect of the English climate on the language.

But perhaps a more accurate name for it would be sea smoke

enter image description here

Sea smoke, frost smoke, or steam fog, is fog which is formed when very cold air moves over warmer water. Arctic sea smoke is sea smoke forming over small patches of open water in sea ice.

It forms when a light wind of very cold air mixes with a shallow layer of saturated warm air immediately above the warmer water. The warmer air is cooled beyond the dew point and can no longer hold as much water vapor, so the excess condenses out. The effect is similar to the "steam" produced over a hot bath or a hot drink, or even an exercising person.

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    It's not haze. See Ngram. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:42
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    I don't recall ever seeing "sea smoke" over a pond.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:57
  • Then perhaps you saw steam fog, or frost smoke, it appears they are fairly synonymous...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:58
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    @PeterShor See Ngram so haze can and does rise :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:13
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    haze rising is also recorded
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:15

I believe we both share a love for nature.I have seen this phenomenon many times before myself.This site has many photos of this phenomenon, http://sense-of-place-concord.blogspot.com/2013/09/walden-mysts.html, just to make sure we are talking about the same thing.

I think this morning phenomenon is called water vapor.This link gives an accurate explanation under the heading why does water vapor rise from ponds on cold mornings?

At normal surface atmospheric pressure, water evaporates.
Even ice cubes in a freezer will evaporate. 
The vapor is not hot enough to be steam, as from a kettle or heated pot, 
but it is water vapor, 
and the lower air temperature cause the vapor to condense enough to be visible.


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    Water vapor is a gas and is transparent. Fog/mist is tiny droplets of liquid water.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 12:58
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    @Peter Shor Interestingly USATODAY.com uses "water vapor": "as air near the surface is heated, water vapor rises, cools and condenses into clouds."; usatoday30.usatoday.com/.../archives-clouds-precip.htm
    – Babel
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 14:06
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    @Peter Shor (March Ho) U.S. Geological Survey site uses the term water vapor:" evaporation is the process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor. Evaporation is the primary pathway that water moves from the liquid state back into the water cycle as atmospheric water vapor." Please see: water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycleevaporation.html
    – sojourner
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 14:23
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    @Peter Shor Well sir as of (what other kinds of vapour rise from ponds on cold mornings?) A tragic phenomenon occurred in Cameroon in the mid 1980s, where lakes seemed to be killing people.In August 1986, Lake Nyos released a cloud of carbon dioxide (CO2) which hugged the ground and flowed down surrounding valleys to suffocate thousands of local villagers and animals.A third lake, Lake Kivu, on the Congo-Rwanda border in Central Africa, is also known to act as a reservoir of carbon dioxide and methane.Please see lakescientist.com/lake-facts/extreme-lakes
    – sojourner
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 14:51
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    The OED defines water-vapour n. the invisible aqueous vapour present in the atmosphere. and vapour 2b. An exhalation rising by natural causes from the ground or from some damp place; freq., a mist or fog. So water vapour is a scientific term meaning an invisible gas, while vapour is a not-necessarily-scientific term which can mean mist or fog. Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 16:17

"Sea smoke" is the common term in New England although it implys salt water. I would prefer "pond smoke" for fresh water. A term like "will-o-the wisp" sounds more appealing, but I believe it describes a nocturnal phenomenon.

  • It would be great if you could provide some references (links and definitions) to flesh out your answer. We're really looking for heartier answers with research and supporting references. Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 21:14

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