Tag Archives: Clouds

The Types of Clouds

The Types of Clouds

Have you ever been watching the clouds move across sky and wondered what you were actually looking at? Do all the names of these clouds seem to sound the same? You are not alone, however, today we are going to alleviate this confusion. Clouds are normally identified by their elevation in the sky and their physical appearance. There are 10 major distinctions of clouds that will cover most patterns you see in the sky. Below are photos and descriptions associated with each cloud type:

Types of Clouds 1

Low Elevation Clouds

  1. StratocumulusTypes of Clouds 2

Below 6,000 feet

Stratocumulus are low lying, white, stretched, puffy clouds that may appear dark in places. These clouds are similar to your average cumulus cloud; however, they are much larger and can appear darker.

  1. Nimbostratus (rain)Types of Clouds 3

Below 6,500 feet

When you see nimbostratus clouds you are almost surely being rained on or will be rained on. These dark, thick clouds lay at mid to low levels because they are weighed down with water concentration.

  1. StratusTypes of Clouds 4

Below 6,000 feet

Like fog, stratus clouds lay very low in the sky and have very little structure. Stratus clouds are great movie days associated with mist, spit, or a light drizzle. Although stratus clouds look like fog, they are higher in the atmosphere, normally lining the horizon.

  1. Cumulus (fair weather)Types of Clouds 5

Below 6,000 feet

If you picture yourself having a picnick on a beautiful day. Now look up. If you are seeing clouds on this beautiful day, you are probably envisioning cumulus clouds.The classic white, puffy cloud with a rounded top and a flat bottom.

Mid Elevation Clouds

  1. AltostratusTypes of Clouds 5

Between 6,000-20,000 feet

Altostratus clouds are reserved for those hazy days when the dark blue-grey clouds seem to engulf the sky. Sometimes the sun or moon will shine through and appear fuzzy.

  1. AltocumulusTypes of Clouds 6

Between 6,000- 20,000 feet

Altocumulus are the classic cotton ball clouds. These puffy, white clouds are the most common mid-level clouds and sometimes signal that a storm is on the way.

High Elevation Clouds

  1. CirrostratusTypes of Clouds 7

Above 18,000 feet

Cirrostratus clouds are spread across the entire sky and almost seem transparent. This wispy cloud formation signals that there is warm weather ahead.

  1. CirrusTypes of Clouds 8

Above 18,000 feet

Cirrus clouds are extremely common year-round on clear days. At their high altitude, ice crystals are spread apart as if they are painted across the sky. Less widely spread as cirrostratus clouds and more

  1. CirrocumulusTypes of Clouds 9

Above 18,000 feet

Cirrocumulus clouds are similar to cirrus clouds in height, however, they appear more splotched than stretched. To elaborate, cirrocumulus clouds are groupings of packed ice crystals (cloudlets) that are more uniform than their sister cirrus clouds.

Both Low and High Elevation

  1. Cumulonimbus (thunderheads)Types of Clouds 11

Near ground level to above 50,000 feet

Cumulonimbus are the clouds most closely compared to what you would imagine a thunderhead would look like. These giant billowy towers are composed of water droplets in its’ base and ice crystals towards the upper levels. Cumulonimbus clouds almost always signal that there is a thunderstorm happening.

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Get Your Head Out of the Clouds!

Ever gazed up into the sky and wondered, what’s in a cloud? Simply put, clouds are giant puffy masses that hang out in our atmosphere made up of tiny air droplets and ice. These droplets are super light, which allows them to float and drift effortlessly across the sky.


Clouds come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, forming all sorts of patterns. Have you ever watched the clouds long enough to see them morph into your favorite animal? Clouds are constantly moving across the sky and often catch the eye of a daydreaming onlooker. Watch them long enough and a whole story will play out before your eyes!


Here at CIMI, some of our favorite clouds to watch are the ones that set right above the ocean as the sun is rising in the morning. The colors turn all types of red, purple, orange, and yellow…it’s truly magnificent!


How are clouds formed?

To understand how clouds are formed, first we must understand the water cycle! Ever heard of it? This never-ending movement of water through the atmosphere is happening all the time through evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. This cycle starts when warm water vapor near the ground starts to rise and eventually cools. This cool air forms humidity, or clouds, and under certain conditions, rain or even snow will fall back down to earth. The process of air cooling below its saturation point forms the clouds you see every day.

water cycle (1)

Do we have names for the different cloud shapes?

Indeed, we do! Clouds are named and classified by their location in the atmosphere. We can thank a man named Luke Howard who created most of these names in 1803, and are still used all over the world when people talk about clouds. When we classify clouds, we use a system created by the World Meteorological Organization that divides them into 10 main groups. We divide them further into three categories: High clouds, Medium clouds, and Low clouds. Lots of fancy Latin names exist within those three categories, try your hand at pronouncing some of those names on the chart below!

cloud shapes and names

See if you can name the different clouds found in the photos above! Or next time you find yourself cloud-gazing, try to put a cloudy name to the giant puffs that you see above you!


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