Melanie has a BS in physical science and is in grad school for analytics and modeling. Her research is in computational chemistry. Clouds are large groups of tiny water droplets vapor or ice crystals that cling to pieces of dust in the atmosphere.
Clouds are so important to the earth's weather that meteorologists people who study the weather also study the clouds and their movement.
In fact, without clouds, it wouldn't rain or snow! They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are really low to the ground and some are way high up in the sky. Scientists have developed a system to classify the different types of clouds. Each cloud you see can be put into one of the many categories based on both their general shape and how high up they are in the atmosphere. These are the highest clouds in the atmosphere.
Cirrus clouds are thin, wispy clouds that often appear on days with fair weather conditions and low winds.
In fact, the word cirrus means "curl of hair" in Latin! Because of the freezing temperatures high up in the atmosphere, these clouds are usually made up of ice crystals which give them a bright white appearance. These clouds form in flat sheets, so they aren't as thick as the other types of clouds. Cirrus clouds are also spread out in patches, with large breaks of the sky in between them.
Since these clouds are so far from the ground, they aren't often affected by the changing weather on the earth's surface. Instead, they peacefully float along from west to east. At any one time, there can be different kinds of clouds present. Here you can see puffy cumulus clouds set against a backdrop of cirrus clouds.
Cumulus clouds are bright white and look like big puffs of cotton. The word cumulus is Latin for "heap" or "pile. An easy way to remember this is to think of the word accumulate, which means "to gather an increasing amount.
Cumulus clouds are vertically developing clouds which mean they can become extremely tall clouds. Stratus clouds are thick, gray clouds that look like fog that hasn't touched the ground. In fact, these clouds sometimes are made up of fog that has lifted from the ground. As you may have guessed, these are low-altitude clouds, which means they are really close to the ground. When someone says, "today is a gray and cloudy day", they are usually referring to these thick, uniform clouds.Let's take a look at the different types of clouds in the sky, broken up into four groups — high clouds, middle clouds, low clouds and vertical clouds — and what they can tell us about the weather, both now and what's about to hit.
High clouds form at heights of 15, to 40, feet 4, to 12, meters. These are clouds that you only encounter on the top of high mountains or at the cruising altitude of a jet aircraft. Because at the altitudes at which they form the air temperature is below freezing, they tend to be comprised primarily of ice crystals.
Like Peter Pan, most forms of high clouds lack the ability to cast shadows.
Cirrus clouds are the most abundant of all high level clouds. Cirrus means a "curl of hair. A few scattered cirrus clouds is a good sign of fair weather. However, a gradually increasing cover of web-like cirrus clouds is a sign that a warm front the leading edge of a warmer and more humid air mass is approaching. Cirrostratus clouds look like thin sheets that spread themselves across the sky. When the sky is covered by these icy shreds they give the sky a pale, white appearance.
These clouds can indicate the approach of precipitation. So thin are they that they are translucent, or maybe even a little transparent, so that the sun and moon can be readily seen through them. Also look for a ring or halo surrounding the moon or sun when these clouds are in the sky, sometimes accompanied during the day by colored swatches of cloud called "sundogs," "mock suns," or parhelions. Cirrostratus clouds usually come 12 to 24 hours before a period of rain or snow.
Remember: "Circle around the moon, rain or snow soon. Another form of high cloud is cirrocumulus. These tend to be large groupings of white streaks that are sometimes seemingly neatly aligned.
For most climates these clouds mean a spell of fair weather. However, during the summertime in the tropics, these clouds may indicate an approaching hurricane. The outer fringe of a hurricane, called the outflow boundary, serves as a very important element in hurricane development because the outflow represents all the energy being released by the hurricane.Common types of clouds in beautiful pictures
A powerful hurricane always has good outflow and is accompanied by spiral bands of cirrocumulus flowing out from the center. Middle clouds form at 6, to 20, feet 2, to 6, m. They are comprised of water, and, if cold enough, ice. Middle clouds frequently are opaque and block sunlight, but not always. Altocumulus clouds are grayish-white with one part of the cloud darker than the other; there is a lot of contrast between light and dark.
They are composed of water droplets and can blanket much of the sky in small, puffy, round layers. They resemble the striped patterns of fish scales on a mackerel hence the name "mackerel sky. When that happens, precipitation is sure to follow within 36 hours. The old sailor's mnemonic for these kinds of clouds is "Mares tails and mackerel scales, tall ships carry short sails.
The sun or moon may shine through an altostratus cloud, but will appear like a hazy and rather diffuse ball. Such clouds usually form ahead of storms that produce steady rain or snow. Low clouds form below 6, feet 2, m. These clouds tend to contain chiefly water, but can also be comprised of ice and snow if the weather gets cold enough.How often do you look to the skies early in the morning to see how cloudy or clear the sky is before heading off to work or college?
We even do it subconsciously to validate what we expected the weather to be like for the day. But do you know how much you can really tell from knowing what type of cloud you are looking at? I have to admit, some different types of cloud systems can look almost identical to the casual observer. To be honest, it can even be confusing for some seasoned weather enthusiasts.
And to make things more confusing, you have the odd occasion where you experience light rain or drizzle without a cloud in sight. This phenomenon is called a sunshower or serein.
The aim of this article is to make it as easy as possible for you to learn to distinguish the different types of clouds from each. To make things even more confusing, you will find several different ways used for classifying or grouping different types of clouds together.
The form of classification that makes the most sense and is widely accepted in the meteorological community, is the one we will focus on in this article. This system categorizes clouds according to their height in the atmosphere.
Gallery: Reading the Clouds
There are a total of four main groups with the ten major cloud systems organized within each group. I will name and list the four different cloud groups first, including the ten cloud systems associated with each group. We will then proceed to examine each cloud system with their unique characteristics and features.
As I already mentioned, the main four cloud groups are categorized according to their height, with the ten major cloud systems listed below the category they are associated with:. Now that you have a clear idea what the four main cloud groups are, as well as the ten major clouds and which group they are associated with, we can start to focus in more detail on each group and cloud system. Clouds are c lassified as high clouds when they occur at altitudes of meters 20 feet or higher.
At these heights temperatures are below freezing point, meaning the water moisture in the clouds is in the form of ice crystals or supercooled water droplets. Supercooled water droplets are water that remains in liquid form below freezing point.
The Four Core Types of Clouds
Upon contact with ice crystals or any other object like dust or pollen, however, they immediately freeze into crystal form. Due to the height of these clouds, they don't produce precipitation of any kind on their own. They are, however, sometimes seen as early indicators of stormy weather to follow later.
The clouds most commonly found at this height are Cirrus, Cirrocumulus, and Cirrostratus clouds:. Cirrus clouds are the familiar thin, feathery looking clouds you see high up in the sky on an otherwise clear and sunny day. Some parts of these flaky clouds have an almost transparent look due to their light nature. As is common with many high-level clouds, they always occur in during clear and pleasant weather conditions. However, as I already pointed out, they may be early indicators of stormy weather or warm fronts.
Cirrocumulus clouds are a variation of Cirrus clouds. They are patchy looking clouds which are often arranged in rows.While clouds appear in infinite shapes and sizes they fall into some basic forms.
From his Essay of the Modifications of Clouds Luke Howard divided clouds into three categories; cirrus, cumulus and stratus. The actual division between these regions varies from day to day and season to season.
One effect of these cores of strong wind is the maximum altitude of the tropopause decreases in each region as one moves from the equator to the poles. Generally, as the tropopause's height decreases, the elevations at which clouds occur also decreases.
The exception is for low clouds which are officially said to have cloud bases within the first 6, feet 2, meters of the surface in each region. But even that is not always the case. The base of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds can sometimes be higher than 6, feet 2, meters. During summertime, the base of these convective clouds will be well in to the mid-level cloud range in the non-mountainous areas of the southwest United States.
Cumulus cloud bases have been observed up to 9, feet 2, meters over North Central Texas and thunderstorms, with cloud bases from 11, to 12, feet 3, to 3, metershave occurred near San Angelo, Texas. This happens when, despite the dry lower level of the atmosphere, the atmosphere in the mid-levels is fairly moist and unstable.
The dryness of the lower level is such that parcels of air need to rise up to two miles 3 kmand sometimes more, before the they cool to the point of condensation.
Since the jet stream follows the sun, it shifts toward the equator as winter progresses. Therefore, the polar region expands and the temperate region moves toward the equator. In summer, the Tropical Region expands shifting the temperate region toward the poles while the polar region shrinks. Please Contact Us. The Four Core Types of Clouds While clouds appear in infinite shapes and sizes they fall into some basic forms. Cirro-form The Latin word 'cirro' means curl of hair.
Composed of ice crystals, cirro-form clouds are whitish and hair-like. There are the high, wispy clouds to first appear in advance of a low-pressure area such as a mid-latitude storm system or a tropical system such as a hurricane. Cumulo-form Generally detached clouds, they look like white fluffy cotton balls.
They show vertical motion or thermal uplift of air taking place in the atmosphere. They are usually dense in appearance with sharp outlines.General Education. In this guide, we show you all the steps to becoming a cloud-identifying expert. How many types of clouds are there? Altocumulus clouds are fairly common clouds that look like round white or gray patches in the sky. They are sometimes grouped in parallel lines and have been described as looking similar to tufts of wool or fish scales.
These clouds form a white or gray layer that blankets the sky at mid-level. There are usually no patches of blue sky when these clouds appear, but the sun is often visible as a dimly lit disk behind the clouds although no shadows appear on the ground.
Cirrocumulus clouds are much smaller than most other types of clouds, and they are sometimes called cloudlets. They are found at high altitudes and are made of ice crystals.
They often are arranged in parallel rows. These are transparent, wispy clouds that cover most or all of the sky. The best identifier for cirrostratus clouds is a halo or ring of light surrounding the sun or moon. Wispy clouds located high in the atmosphere are likely cirrus clouds. They are thin and white with lots of blue sky visible. They can occur in fair weather or when a warm front or large storm is approaching.
Seeing them is a sign that a storm is likely on its way. They can be very large, appearing like a mountain sometimes with a flat top. The stereotypical puffy cloud you probably drew a lot of when you were a kid, cumulus clouds are dense individual clouds that are bright white on top and gray underneath. Nimbostratus clouds form a thick, dark layer across the sky.
They are often thick enough to blot out the sun. Stratocumulus clouds are somewhat similar to cumulus clouds but are flatter, thicker, and darker. There is less blue sky between the clouds, and the weather will appear more cloudy than sunny. Image source: Wikimedia commons. Similar to fog but on the horizon instead of on the groundstratus clouds are a gray featureless layer of clouds that cover all or most of the sky. Even meteorologists can sometimes struggle with identifying certain clouds, so it helps to have a few tricks to fall back on.
Use the following four tips to help you differentiate the various cloud types and figure out which type is currently in the sky. Below are the three main cloud shapes along with the cloud names and the types of clouds that fall under them. This is a bit trickier than just deciding on shape and can take some practice to get good at it, but once you can reliably tell where a cloud is in the sky along with its shape, you often have enough info to correctly identify it.
The current or expected weather can help you with cloud identification, since many clouds are associated with a particular type of weather. Both these cloud types have similar wispy shapes, but cirrostratus clouds cover much more of the sky compared to cirrus clouds. Both of these clouds have a puffy shape, but stratocumulus clouds have a more flattened, thicker, and darker appearance compared to cumulus clouds, which look more like puffs of cotton.
These two kinds of clouds look similar, but they are different sizes.The many variations, however, can be grouped into one of 10 basic types depending on their general shape and height in the sky. Thus, the 10 types are:. Whether you're interested in cloud watching or are just curious to know what clouds are overhead, read on to find out how to recognize them and what type of weather you can expect from each. Cumulus clouds are the clouds you learned to draw at an early age and that serve as the symbol of all clouds much like the snowflake symbolizes winter.
Their tops are rounded, puffy, and a brilliant white when sunlit, while their bottoms are flat and relatively dark. Cumulus clouds develop on clear, sunny days when the sun heats the ground directly below diurnal convection. This is where they get their nickname of "fair weather" clouds. They appear in the late morning, grow, and then disappear toward evening. Stratus clouds hang low in the sky as a flat, featureless, uniform layer of grayish cloud. They resemble fog that hugs the horizon instead of the ground.
Stratus clouds are seen on dreary, overcast days and are associated with light mist or drizzle. If you took an imaginary knife and spread cumulus clouds together across the sky but not into a smooth layer like stratusyou'd get stratocumulus—these are low, puffy, grayish or whitish clouds that occur in patches with blue sky visible in between.
When viewed from underneath, stratocumulus have a dark, honeycomb appearance. You're likely to see stratocumulus on mostly cloudy days.
They form when there's weak convection in the atmosphere. Altocumulus clouds are the most common clouds in the middle atmosphere. You'll recognize them as white or gray patches that dot the sky in large, rounded masses or clouds that are aligned in parallel bands. They look like the wool of sheep or scales of mackerel fish—hence their nicknames "sheep backs" and "mackerel skies.
Altocumulus and stratocumulus are often mistaken. Besides altocumulus being higher up in the sky, another way to tell them apart is by the size of their individual cloud mounds. Place your hand up to the sky and in the direction of the cloud; if the mound is the size of your thumb, it's altocumulus. If it's closer to fist-size, it's probably stratocumulus. Altocumulus are often spotted on warm and humid mornings, especially during summer. They can signal thunderstorms to come later in the day.
You may also see them out ahead of cold frontsin which case they signal the onset of cooler temperatures. Nimbostratus clouds cover the sky in a dark gray layer. They can extend from the low and middle layers of the atmosphere and are thick enough to blot out the sun.
Nimbostratus are the quintessential rain cloud. You'll see them whenever steady rain or snow is falling or is forecast to fall over a widespread area. Altostratus appear as gray or bluish-gray sheets of cloud that partially or totally cover the sky at mid-levels.
Even though they cover the sky, you can typically still see the sun as a dimly lit disk behind them, but not enough light shines through to cast shadows on the ground. Altostratus tend to form ahead of a warm or occluded front. They can also occur together with cumulus at a cold front.
Like their name suggests which is Latin for "curl of hair"cirrus are thin, white, wispy strands of clouds that streak across the sky.Not all clouds are created equal. The different types of clouds are named based on their shape and how high up they hover in the troposphere. For instance, the diagram below provides a quick overview of the most common types of clouds based on altitude. A cloud is a visible accumulation of minute droplets of wate, ice crystals, or both, suspended in the air.
Though they vary in shape and size, all clouds are basically formed in the same way through the vertical of air above the condensation level. Clouds may also form in contact with the ground surface, too. The types of clouds can be divided into three levels, each in turn with its own main groups of clouds. All in all, there are ten fundamental types of clouds. Cirrus is one of the most common types of clouds that can be seen at any time of the year. This type of cloud is always made of ice crystals whose degree of separation determines how transparent the cirrus is.
Cirrus clouds lit up long before other clouds and fade out much later. Cirrocumulus clouds are among the most gorgeous out there. These usually form at about 5 km above the surface with small white fluff patterns that spread out for miles and miles over the sky. Cirrocumulus clouds exhibit features from both cumulus and cirrus clouds but should not be confused with altocumulus clouds.
Cirrocumulus cloud comes after cirrus cloud during warm frontal system. Cirrostratus clouds have a sheet-like appearance that can look like a curly blanket covering the sky.
Their color varies from light gray to white and the fibrous bands can vary widely in thickness. Purely white cirrostratus clouds signify these have stored misture, indicating the presence of a warm frontal system. Some of the best cloud pictures involve cirrostratus clouds because the ice crystals beautifully refract light from the sun or moon producing a dazzling halo effect. Cirrostratus clouds can turn into altostratus clouds if these descend to a lower altitude. As a nice piece of trivia, cirrostratus clouds almost always move in a westerly direction.
The sight of them usually means rainfall is imminent in the next 24 hours. They usually appear between lower stratus clouds and higher cirrus clouds, and normally precede altostratus when a warm frontal system is advancing.
When altocumulus appears with another cloud type at the same time, storm normally follows. Altocumulus clouds are common in most parts of the world.
Altocumulus clouds are quite common in most parts of the globe.