Identifying The 10 Types Of Clouds: Pictures & Chart (+ 14 Seldom Ones)

Have you ever been advised to concentrate on the ground? This article is then directed at you.

The grand appeal of the clouds above is hard to dispute, whether you’re an budding meteorologist or a serious storm chaser.

However, how much do you know about the various types of clouds, even if you enjoy watching the clouds go by?

We’re here to introduce you to the wonderful world of clouds, from towering cumulonimbus to wispy cirrus. The 10 most common and 14 most unusual forms of clouds will be discussed in this article. We’ll also explain how clouds develop, so that you can impress your pals with your cloud identification skills.

10 Main Types of Clouds

We strongly suggest reading through our section on how clouds are classified and how they form before checking out this list of the various forms of clouds if you’re new to the world of cloud spotting.

Since we know you’re interested in learning more about these magnificent clouds (we are!), we’ve put our list of the various cloud types first in this article.

Nonetheless, before diving into the many cloud types, we strongly suggest familiarizing yourself with some basic cloud classification principles. It will aid you to better comprehend and recall the many cloud forms if you do this.

1. Low-Level Clouds

We’ve organized the clouds here based on where you’re likely to find them in the atmosphere, since there are so many different sorts. Our low-level clouds, which may be found between the Earth’s surface and 7,000 feet (2,000 meters) above the ground, are situated first on our list. Clouds of the following types may be found:

1.1 Cumulus (Cu)

On sunny days, white or light grey puffy, mound-shaped clouds are common. Because they occur at low levels in the atmosphere, there are numerous distinct types of cumulus clouds, the majority of which are made up of supercooled water droplets rather than ice crystals.

The Latin word cumulus means “heaps,” and these clouds often appear to be lumps of cotton floating in the sky.

That being said, it’s difficult to use cumulus clouds to Forecast the weather because there are so many different subtypes. Although some cumulus clouds, such as cumulus humilis, are fair-weather clouds, others may be the forerunners to thunderstorms or even tornadoes.

Cumulus clouds are fascinating to watch, whether you use them to foretell the weather or not. During a free afternoon at your campsite, they frequently form into quirky formations that make them ideal for cloud spotting.

1.2 Stratus (St)

Stratus clouds are huge, horizontal clouds named after the Latin prefix “strato,” which means “layer.” When the sky looks grey and dreary, these clouds are often to blame. They are light to dark grey in color.

Since Stratus clouds have little characteristics, all you can say about them is that they are uniform and flat. Yet, stratus clouds may be classified into several subgroups, such as the stratus fractus, which produce jagged outlines.

Stratus clouds develop when a huge amount of air is lifted as a single unit from the ground. Stratus clouds usually lack features because of their uniform shape in a large geographic area due to this upward motion.

Stratus clouds may be caused by a thermal inversion, according to weather forecasting. Anticyclones are frequently co-associated with them. Additionally, when warm fronts are moving overhead and creating stratus clouds, a moderate drizzle is expected.

1.3 Stratocumulus (Sc)

Stratocumulus clouds are a kind of low-level cloud that bridges the gap between stratus and cumulus clouds. These clouds have a flatter, layered look, similar to what you’d see with a stratus cloud, since they’re puffy and lumpy like cumulus clouds but frequently form into groups, waves, or lines.

Over the ocean, stratocumulus clouds are common, but they only produce very light rain or snow. Stratocumulus clouds may appear at the onset or conclusion of severe weather from time to time, but this isn’t a reliable rule for predicting the weather.

Yet, crepuscular rays are a popular characteristic of stratocumulus clouds. Crepuscular rays are a type of sunlight that is scattered off of particles or water vapor in the atmosphere. Broken layers of stratocumulus clouds, especially at sunrise and sunset, are particularly susceptible to this effect.

Because they look similar, stratocumulus clouds are often misdiagnosed as altocumulus clouds. Stratocumulus clouds, on the other hand, appear to be rather larger in the sky due to their low height.

1.4 Nimbostratus (Ns)

The cloud type nimbostratus is linked to active precipitation and is made up of the Latin terms “nimbo-”, which means precipitation, and “strato-“, which means layer. Low-level clouds are the most common kind, but they are mostly mid-level clouds that form in the troposphere’s mid-level. As a result, depending on your source, you may categorize it differently.

The greyish color of nimbostratus clouds makes them seem thick and widespread. A nimbostratus cloud is most likely to blame if you observe outside and it appears drizzly, dreary, and overall awful.

Among occluded or warm fronts, most nimbostratus clouds will develop along a frontal boundary. Since the rising mass of warm air behind these fronts provides the lifting energy required to generate these widespread clouds, this is why they grow.

Thunderstorms, on the other hand, are linked to nimbostratus clouds. They are, instead, primarily responsible for rain, snow, and other forms of precipitation. They do not generate lightning on their own.

2. Mid-Level Clouds

All of the cloud types that commonly occur in the lowest layers of the atmosphere have been discussed at this point. In other words, we’re prepared to ascend to the mid-level clouds, which range from 7,000 feet to 23,000 feet (2,000 meters to 7,000 meters) above sea level. Here are the key points to consider.

2.1 Altocumulus (Ac)

The altocumulus clouds you see at a somewhat higher height than the cumulus clouds in the lower levels of the troposphere are similar to those seen there. They appear as vast areas of puffy clouds that may spread across the sky.

The development of moist pockets of air is one method by which these clouds may develop. When altostratus clouds break up, they may sometimes form as well.

Altocumulus clouds are generally linked to pleasant weather, as a rule. They don’t usually create rain on their own, although they may generate virga (see below). As a result, these clouds are nice to see, and they seldom suggest impending severe weather.

2.2 Altostratus (As)

Altostratus clouds develop at the troposphere’s mid-level, much as altocumulus clouds do. These clouds likewise develop layers, similar to low-level stratus clouds, as the suffix “-stratus” implies.

The clouds that make up altocumulus are typically water droplets and ice particles, which are fairly thin. Cirrostratus clouds, which develop in the troposphere’s higher layers, descend to a lower level.

Altostratus may be seen preceding an approaching weather system on rare occasions. These clouds are often seen in front of a warm or occluded front, which may imply that rain is imminent.

The optical effects that these clouds often create should be remembered with altostratus. Cloud iridescence and coronas are two of the more common optical phenomena that you may observe with altostratus, so keep an eye out for them if they’re in the sky.

3. High-Level Clouds

There are three types of clouds that you should watch out for once we reach the top level of the troposphere. These cloud types are nearly always made up of ice crystals because to their high elevation. Since they are so high above the Earth’s surface, they appear to be quite tiny to the human eye.

Here’s what you need to know right now.:

3.1 Cirrus (Ci)

Cirrus clouds are lovely clouds that develop at the greatest altitudes in the troposphere and are known for their characteristic wispy formations.

Because they appear like thin, white hair threads, these clouds are quite simple to spot. At sunrise and sunset, they may also become bright pink or orange.

The lifting of a dry air parcel causes cirrus to form. The little moisture that remains in the air parcel transitions straight from water vapor to ice crystals in a process known as deposition since this air is extremely dry and because the air is extremely cold in the upper troposphere.

Cirrus typically indicate impending change in the weather when they develop ahead of a warm front. Precipitation, on the other hand, does not drop from cirrus clouds in the same manner that rain or snow does. It evaporates long before it reaches the ground.

3.2 Cirrocumulus (Cc)

Cirrocumulus clouds are a high-level cloud formation that is usually a sign of fair weather. They make beautiful little specks of white tufts in the upper troposphere.

Cirrocumulus clouds are made up of hundreds or even thousands of cloudlets, which are tiny cloud puffs. When grouped together, these cloudlets are mostly made up of ice crystals and appear to be a fish’s scaly skin. As a result, some individuals refer to these clouds as a mackerel sky.

Cirrocumulus clouds are often associated with pleasant weather, as we’ve said. Turbulent eddies inside the upper atmosphere break up a layer of cirrus clouds, which causes them to form in a variety of ways.

3.3 Cirrostratus (Cs)

The upper part of the troposphere is home to cirrostratus clouds, which are extremely thin and layered clouds.

These clouds, which cover much of the sky, appear to be a transparent veil. On a clear day, they may span thousands of kilometers in any direction, creating a little amount of cloudiness.

Cirrostratus develops when a big piece of air moves exceedingly gradually and evenly into the upper atmosphere. If you witness these clouds in the sky, it might be a good idea to keep an eye out for some precipitation in the coming days since they may sometimes signify that a warm front is on the way.

4. Clouds With Vertical Development

Despite the fact that most clouds are found in a specific layer of the troposphere, one cloud type refuses to behave according to expectations. One of the few cloud types with significant vertical development is the cumulonimbus cloud.

As a result, the cumulonimbus might grow to be so tall that it covers most of the troposphere. Here’s a closer look at this peculiar sort of cloud:

4.1 Cumulonimbus (Cb)

The cumulonimbus is a truly spectacular atmospheric phenomena that has been sometimes referred to as the “king of clouds.”

During periods of sustained convection in the atmosphere, these clouds develop. Strong updrafts may cause cumulonimbus clouds to grow from a little cumulus into a towering monster of a cloud when the atmosphere is prepared with warm, moist air.

Cloud bases as low as 1,100 feet (335 m) may be seen in cumulonimbus clouds, which may reach tens of thousands of feet in height. These cumulonimbus clouds may become so tall that their strong updrafts actually punch through the stratosphere, producing an overshooting top.

Cumulonimbus clouds, on the other hand, may cause dangerous weather. These clouds may produce damaging straight-line winds, significant hail, lightning, and tornadoes. So, if you spot one on the horizon, take shelter while riding out the storm to avoid being hit by it.

Other Special Clouds

Our eyes can’t see some of the other clouds that exist. Here are the remaining special clouds you should be aware of!

1. Upper Atmosphere Clouds

Certain clouds may develop at higher elevations than the typical bulk of clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere, which develop in the troposphere (the lowest layer). Clouds of two distinct types exist in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, as is known. The following are a few examples:

1.1 Noctilucent Clouds (NLC)

Noctilucent clouds are the world’s highest clouds, only existing in the mesosphere at an height of 31 to 53 miles (50 to 85 km) above the Earth’s surface. These clouds are entirely made up of little water crystals and are also known as polar mesospheric clouds.

The dust, water vapor, and very cold temperatures are all thought to come together in the mesosphere to produce these clouds.

Researchers are still investigating how dust and water vapor reach the upper atmosphere, as these particles are mostly found in the troposphere. Volcanic explosions or possibly meteors are two possible sources of dust, although further investigation is required to verify this theory.

Furthermore, at temperatures below -184ºF (-120ºC), ice crystals can only develop in the mesosphere since it is unusually dry.

As a result, it is extremely unlikely that such conditions will exist in the mesosphere at the same time: very cold temperatures and adequate dust and water vapor. This means that any time a cloud spotter witnesses a noctilucent cloud, they are witnessing a one-of-a-kind occurrence that will undoubtedly be worth remembering.

Yet, noctilucent clouds are typically colorless or extremely pale blue, making identification difficult. Remember that. Throughout the summer months, when they are most difficult to see, you will only notice them between 50 and 65 degrees north and south in latitude.

1.2 Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSC)

The polar stratospheric cloud, or PSC, is a stunning cloud formation that occurs predominantly in the polar regions and is our second form of upper-atmosphere cloud.

These clouds develop in the stratosphere from 6 to 15 miles (10 to 25 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, and are commonly referred to as nacreous clouds or mother of pearl clouds. The gorgeous rainbow colors of these clouds, which resemble mother of pearl’s brilliant iridescence, are the source of their common names.

Small quantities of moisture and dust enter the stratosphere on particularly frigid evenings in the polar regions, causing polar stratospheric clouds to develop. These, on the other hand, are thought to be rather uncommon, and you are more likely to observe them in Antarctica than in the Arctic.

These clouds are lovely, however scientists have lately discovered that they are actually harmful to the ozone layer. In fact, by interacting with nitrogen and chlorine atoms in the atmosphere, the development of these clouds help to promote ozone destruction in the stratosphere.

2. Special Clouds

The clouds in this section don’t quite fit into any one category, unlike the other clouds we’ve talked about so far. Several are shaped or formed in ways that make them difficult to classify elsewhere, and they are unique.

Moreover, the World Meteorological Organization has classified many of these clouds as “additional cloud characteristics” rather than clouds in their own right. But, in informal conversation, you’ll often hear individuals refer to the occurrence as clouds, so it’s definitely worth understanding if you want to do a lot of cloud spotting.

2.1 Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus clouds are a lovely cloud formation that you may occasionally observe ahead of a storm. They are one of our favorite clouds.

Mammatus clouds are not a distinct cloud type, but rather a additional characteristic of clouds. However, since we refer to them as a kind of cloud on a regular basis, we’ll go over them in further depth.

On the underside of a cloud, these clouds tend to develop into rounded pouches, similar to cow udders. They are somewhat unique in the world of clouds because they form as a result of sinking air. Mammatus are one of the few clouds that develop when air lowers toward the earth, rather than when it rises.

Mammatus are typically only visible for around 10 to 15 minutes at a time and may be seen on the base of cumulonimbus clouds. Be forewarned, though: if you do encounter these clouds, severe weather is likely to follow. As a result, if you see mammatus on the horizon, get inside until heavy rain, hail, strong winds, or even tornadoes reach your area.

2.2 Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds (lenticularis) are lentil or almond-shaped clouds that develop in the lower to middle regions of the troposphere and are one of the most recognizable kinds of clouds. These clouds are technically a kind of altocumulus, stratocumulus, or cirrocumulus cloud and frequently resemble flying saucers.

When the wind blows across a huge item like a mountain, lenticular clouds develop. This moisture may condense as it is pushed up and over the mountain’s summit if there is adequate moisture in the air when the wind blows over it. Clouds may develop in this lens-like form above a mountain’s summit when this occurs.

Yet, in low light, lenticular clouds may seem eerily like a spacecraft. As a consequence, it is thought that misidentified lenticular clouds are causing reported UFO sightings.

2.3 Arcus Clouds

Arcus clouds, also known as frontage clouds, are a kind of supporting cloud that appears at the head of a cumulonimbus.

These clouds, which resemble foreboding ahead of an approaching thunderstorm, are well-known for their big, arch-shaped development. They’re most often seen associated with different types of convection, such as a cold front or a sea breeze, near the leading edge of a gust front ahead of a thunderstorm.

2.4 Roll Clouds

Roll clouds are a kind of arcus cloud that is linked to the gust front of a thunderstorm. Roll clouds, on the other hand, have a long, tube-like form that differs from arcus clouds.

When arcus clouds move overhead, they may seem to be rolling across the ground. When the thunderstorm dark skies follow closely behind, this can make them look quite dramatic.

Roll clouds are rather unusual, for the most part. Yet, certain regions of the globe, such as northern Australia, are recognized to have them.

Roll clouds are actually rather common in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia. Morning Glory clouds are a common occurrence in this part of the world between September and November, and they’re often referred to as such.

2.5 Cap Cloud / Plieus

Cap clouds are a kind of cloud that develops above another sort of cloud. They’re an example of an accessory cloud. Under cumulus or cumulonimbus clouds, these clouds, known as pileus (Latin meaning “cap,”) tend to develop.

Cap clouds are largely transient in nature. They develop when there is a big updraft and considerable moisture in the atmosphere. As a result, severe weather may be on its way to your area if you witness these clouds.

Pileus clouds seem to be rainbow-colored in certain cases. Cloud iridescence, which is a really stunning sight, is the optical phenomena that produces these rainbow hues.

2.6 Billow Clouds/Kelvin-Helmholtz Clouds

Billow clouds (also known as Kelvin-Helmholz clouds) are a very uncommon atmospheric event, and they’re arguably the coolest kind of cloud on our list. These clouds are so stunning to observe because they seem exactly like ocean waves.

Large wind shear in part of the atmosphere causes billow clouds to develop. A change in speed or direction of a parcel of air over a certain distance is referred to as wind shear.

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, which is a more complicated physical idea than we can discuss here, is what causes these clouds in particular. Yet, all you have to do is observe billow clouds in the sky and predict that the weather must be exceedingly turbulent and turbulent.

2.7 Contrails

The contrails that emerge from the planes that pass above are a form of cloud, believe it or not. The term contrail refers to a phrase that means “condensation trail,” which gives you an idea of how these magnificent clouds form.

Commercial aircraft and jets typically cruise in the troposphere, which contains contrails. As the water vapor in the atmosphere condenses around the particles expelled from an airplane’s exhaust, they form.

The humidity in the upper troposphere may be learned by studying contrails. Contrails that dissipate almost immediately after formation, for example, suggest that the upper troposphere’s humidity is extremely low. In addition, it seems to be quite humid in the upper troposphere because persistent contrails that stay around for a few minutes.

This may not seem like much at first glance, but conditions in the upper troposphere might be signaling that more cloud formation is on the way in the near future.

2.8 Asperitas

The asperitas is a stunning cloud with a wavy pattern that was originally included to the International Cloud Atlas in 2017.

We do know that these clouds have a wave-like pattern on their underside, but we don’t know much about them. As a result, it seems like there is an upside-down ocean with swaying waves above you in the sky.

The majority of most aspiratas clouds are black and opaque. At the lowest to midlevels of the troposphere, they frequently develop alongside stratocumulus or altocumulus clouds.

We don’t know why these clouds develop, but we do know that they are prevalent over the Great Plains in the United States. Thunderstorms, while they aren’t responsible for precipitation, are also linked to them.

2.9 Pyrocumulus Cloud

Pyrocumulus clouds are another name for flammagenitus clouds, which are quite unusual.

Convection starts as a result of extreme heat, which results in these clouds. A volcanic eruption or wildfire, for example, may produce pyrocumulus clouds.

Although little is understood about these clouds, it is believed that the heat from these forest fires and volcanic eruptions causes convection in a restricted region. As a result of this convection, enormous billowing clouds develop that, in many aspects, resemble juvenile cumulonimbus clouds.

Because of the high quantity of ash or smoke in the fire or volcanic eruption that generated the cloud in the first place, most pyrocumulus clouds are grey or brown in hue.

Some pyrocumulus clouds may either help a fire spread farther or hinder its spread depending on the other atmospheric conditions at the time. Large flames may generate tough, prolonged convective cells, which may ultimately produce cumulonimbus flammagenitus clouds if they continue to spread.

Meteorologists are still debating whether or not these cumulonimbus flammagenitus clouds should be classified as their own cloud type. Additionally, convective cells inside cumulonimbus flammagenitus may grow so large that they cause thunderstorms, such as those that occurred in the Philippines during the 1991 Pinatubo volcanic eruption.

2.10 Funnel Cloud

A funnel cloud is a type of cone-shaped feature that develops from the base of certain types of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds. It is also known as a condensation cloud. When a revolving column of air extends outward from the bottom of a cloud, usually due to extremely powerful updrafts and downdrafts of air, these funnel clouds develop.

You may be wondering how different funnel clouds are from tornadoes after seeing a picture of one. Indeed, since they’re (virtually) the same thing, funnel clouds and tornadoes appear to be a great deal alike.

If a funnel cloud touches the Earth’s surface or creates a cloud of debris beneath it, it may be classified as a tornado, according to the National Weather Service. As a result, all funnel clouds are tornadoes, but not all tornado are funnel clouds.

To be sure, if you spot a funnel cloud on the horizon, seek cover immediately. Funnel clouds on their own are a indication of severe weather, even if they do not touch the ground and do not develop a tornado. Until the storm passes, seek out a safe haven in a basement or first-floor area with no windows.

3. Other Cloud Features

We’ve covered the various kinds of clouds so far in this article. Despite this, there are a fewClouds in the sky that you may observe but that aren’t officially categorized as such.

Here are some additional cloud characteristics that you should be familiar with to ensure that you’re correct in all of your cloud spotting operations:

3.1 Fallstreak Hole

Fallstreak holes, sometimes known as “hole punch clouds,” are enormous circular openings that develop in altocumulus and cirrocumulus clouds. Because they stick out from the generally homogeneous cloud layers that surround them, these holes are immediately apparent.

When a plane flies through an altocumulus or cirrocumulus cloud layer, it creates a swath of holes.

Ice crystals that have developed on the plane’s surface during flight may be carried with it as it goes through these layers. Before they evaporate lower down in the troposphere, these ice crystals attach to water droplets in the cloud layer and freeze, grow, and precipitate out. A hole known as a fallstreak is left behind by these falling ice crystals.

The presence of storm holes does not imply that severe weather is on the way. If you spot one on the horizon, there isn’t much to be concerned about. However, they are quite uncommon, so if you get the opportunity to take a picture of one before it vanishes, do so!

3.2 Virga

In very arid situations, such as the desert, virga may be seen on clouds. In dry conditions, virga are large wisps of water or ice that fall from a cloud, and they are also known as precipitation trails or fallstreaks.

Precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before it ever touches the ground is represented by these virga. As a consequence, the cloud’s water droplets appear to land on the ground, although the virga stripe eventually ends when all of the moisture goes away.

Since they pass overhead with little fanfare, most clouds with virga are nothing to be concerned about. Nonetheless, microbursts, which are short downdrafts of high-velocity air that may cause severe damage in a matter of minutes, may be created by certain clouds with virga.

So, if you see virga coming out of a large cumulus cloud, keep an eye out for any rapidly changing weather conditions.

Cloud Classification

It’s now time to discuss how clouds are classified, since you’re acquainted with the various forms of clouds. Indeed, if you understand how clouds are classified, it will be significantly simpler to recall the various cloud types and spot clouds in the great outdoors.

As a result, in this section, we’ll explain the two most popular cloud categorization systems according to the American Meteorological Society. As a result, you’ll have a better idea of how scientists classify clouds to assist you in your cloud-watching efforts by understanding the diverse organizational approaches they use.

Classifying Clouds By Altitude

Clouds are classified based on their typical altitude in the sky, which is the first kind of cloud classification system you’ll encounter.

You might not realize how much more there is to our atmosphere than meets the eye when you look up at the sky. The atmosphere is made up of many layers, each with its own particular features.

In fact, there are five layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, which are as follows:

  • The troposphere is the lowest level of the atmosphere, extending up to 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) from the Earth’s surface. Since the troposphere contains 99% of the atmosphere’s water vapor, almost all of our clouds develop in this layer. The troposphere has various sub-layers, which we’ll talk about later.
  • The stratosphere is the second atmospheric layer, stretching from the top of the troposphere to about 31 miles (50 km) above the ground. Around 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) above the ground, this layer includes the ozone layer. The top half of the jet stream is located here, as well as passenger jet cruising altitude. Temperatures in the stratosphere, however, rise strangely as one climbs higher.
  • From the top of the stratosphere to 53 miles (85 km) above the ground, the mesosphere is a layer in between. This area is home to some of the lowest temperatures in the atmosphere, since temperatures decrease with height here. The mesosphere has a fraction of the air pressure that we have on the ground.
  • From the top of the mesosphere to a distance of approximately 311 to 621 miles (500 to 1,000 km) above the ground, the thermosphere exists. Temperatures in the thermosphere rise with height, much like in the stratosphere. In reality, they can reach temperatures of up to 3,632°F (2,000°C). In the thermosphere, several satellites circle the planet. The aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights) may also be seen in this layer of the atmosphere.
  • Exosphere – The exosphere is normally regarded to be the very last remnant of the Earths’ atmosphere before outer space truly begins, despite the fact that some scientists dispute this. This layer is thought to end at 62,000 miles (100,000 km) above the Earth’s surface, but there is no set upper limit.

Sure, you may be curious why we spent so much time talking about the top layers of the Earth’s atmosphere when clouds are mostly found in the troposphere.

The truth is that having a accurate conceptual picture of the Earth’s atmosphere in your brain is necessary to comprehend clouds and correctly identify them. This stuff isn’t complicated to understand, but having a solid understanding of the atmosphere’s layout is beneficial.

So, now that we understand what we’re talking about, let’s concentrate our attention on the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere.

The troposphere is where the majority of the clouds we see develop. In reality, changes in the Earth’s troposphere account for the majority of our weather. Despite this, the troposphere consists of many layers, each of which is the birthplace of distinct cloud types.

So, keep in mind that these layers are not set in stone in the sky. The troposphere layers will fluctuate depending on prevailing atmospheric conditions, and there is no clear-cut boundary between them.

Nonetheless, the various cloud heights can offer you the following:

The troposphere is where the bulk of clouds develop. In reality, changes in the Earth’s troposphere account for the majority of our weather. Despite this, the troposphere contains numerous layers, each of which is used as a breeding ground for various cloud types.

Remember, however, that these layers in the sky are not permanent. The troposphere layers will fluctuate in response to changing atmospheric conditions, and there is no clear dividing line between them.

However, the following is what each cloud height may provide:

  • Between the ground and 7,000 feet (2,000 meters) above the ground, low-level clouds develop.
  • Between approximately 7,000 feet and 23,000 feet (2,000 m to 7,000 m) above the ground, mid-level clouds may be found.
  • High-Level Clouds – High-level clouds range from approximately 16,000 feet to 43,000 feet (5,000 meters to 13,000 meters), although they are mostly above 23,000 feet (7,000 meters).
  • Finally, there are certain clouds that don’t neatly correspond to these tropospheric layers. Clouds With Vertical Development These clouds have “vertical growth,” which means that they spread across numerous layers of the troposphere, similar to towering thunderstorm clouds (more on them later).

Classifying Clouds By Genera, Species & Variety

This second method for categorizing clouds by genus, species, and variety is an improvement of the simplified approach of categorizing clouds based on their height in the troposphere in many ways.

Howard’s cloud categorization system, on the other hand, offers more specific criteria for naming and identifying various cloud forms. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has subsequently included it as part of its cloud atlas.

This method employs a Latin nomenclature to identify clouds, much as the taxonomy of creatures and plants does. Clouds identified by this method have a genus, species, and maybe a variety (subspecies), with a few notable exceptions. Here’s how it works:

Cloud Genera

Clouds are generally categorized into genera, much as plants and animals. Yet, compared to the various types of lizards, there are substantially less cloud genera, hence the cloud naming system is easier to remember.

The genera that are often referred to as “basic cloud types” in Howard’s cloud categorization scheme are as follows:

  • Cumulus
  • Cumulonimbus
  • Stratus
  • Stratocumulus
  • Nimbostratus
  • Altostratus
  • Altocumulus
  • Cirrostratus
  • Cirroculumulus
  • Cirrus

At the beginning of this article, we went over each of these cloud types in depth, so there’s no need for us to go over it again.

Yet, it’s worth noting that most cloud spotting aficionados simply call clouds by their genera rather than attempting to identify them. Getting comfortable with identifying these 10 genera is a fantastic place to start when it comes to determining a cloud’s species.

Cloud Species

Most clouds may be classified into many species, in addition to the 10 genera we discussed above. The following species and their defining traits are included:

  • Fine, hairlike whisps in fibratus clouds. Cirrus and cirrostratus clouds are the most common types of clouds found.
  • Uncinus is a genus of fibratus with curving hooks at the end that are similar to thin fibratus wisps. Only Cirrus species have been discovered. Mares’ tails or fish hooks are two terms used to describe these clouds.
  • Castellanus – Clouds with tower-like protrusions that resemble castle defences. Stratocumulus, cirrocumulus, altocumulus, and cirrus are the most common genera.
  • Spissatus – Fine, tiny clouds that collect together into thick clusters, similar to a feather. Only the genus cirrus has this cloud.
  • Little, puffy tufts and wispy tails characterize floccus clouds. These clouds, which include stratocumulus, altocumulus, cirrus, and cirrocumulus in their ranks, are characterized by virga as a secondary attribute.
  • Nebulosus – Cloud tufts, whisps, and other features are all absent from this homogeneous cloud. The genera stratus and cirrostratus produce Nebulosus clouds, which appear like a fine veil over the sun.
  • Stratiform clouds are clouds with horizontal layers, which is derived from the Latin word strato (layer). Stratus, cirrostratus, stratocumlus, and altostratus have all been named after the stratus cloud.
  • Lenticular clouds are any sort of broad, smooth cloud that forms a spherical form, akin to the lens of a pair of eyeglasses. The genera altocumulus, cirrocumulus, and stratocumulus are mostly known for their lenticular clouds.
  • Fractus clouds are small, located under the bases of other clouds, and have ragged, irregular forms. The genera stratus and cumulus are the most common.
  • Humilis clouds have flat bases and cotton candy-like tufts, and are commonly referred to as fair-weather clouds. Only the genus cumulus contains them.
  • Mediocris clouds are huge and puffy, with considerable vertical development. Only the genus cumulus is home to these clouds.
  • Calvus is a towering cloud with a huge, spherical, and fluffy peak. Only cumulonimbus species may be found in this genus.
  • Capillatus clouds are huge and have a largely flat, anvil-shaped summit, as opposed to calvus clouds, which are later-stage versions. Only the genus cumulonimbus contains these clouds.
  • Congestus clouds – Tall, puffy clouds that resemble cauliflower heads. Only found in the genus cumulous.

Clouds are identified by placing their genus name first, followed by the species name, much as plants and animals are. As a result, you might get a cumulus congestus or cirrus fibratus cloud.

You can create a type of cloud by pairing a genus and species name together. It’s sort of like a mitch-and-match system.

Some genus and species name combinations, however, either don’t exist or have only been seen in limited numbers in the wild. A cumulonimbus fibratus, for example, does not exist; instead, you may have a cumulonimbus calvus or a cumulonimbus capillatus. Yet it takes time and practice to figure out which genera and species names go together.

Cloud Varieties

Some clouds may be classified further by variety, in addition to genera and species. When it comes to categorizing animals and plants, these variants are similar to subspecies. A cirrus fibratus radiatus cloud, for example, or an altocumulus lenticularis duplicatus cloud might be present.

Cloud species aren’t linked to all of the different cloud genera, much as they aren’t linked to all cloud types. Several cloud types deal with the opacity of the cloud, whereas others deal with the cloud pattern or texture.

There are a variety of primary cloud types that you may come across:

  • Curved, twisted, and knotted cloud wisps form inortus. Cirrus is the genus in which it belongs.
  • The wave-like features of Undulatus form. Only Stratus and Stratocumulus genera have this species.
  • Patchwork clouds with frayed edges, holes, and other broken features that cloud their transparency are known as Lacunosus. Altocumulus and Cirrocumulus are two genera that include this species.
  • Vertebratus clouds have a thick central region with fibrous strands extending out on either side. Cirrus is a genus of moths.
  • ParallelCloudBands – A cloud pattern with Radiatus. On the horizon, they frequently appear to be converging. Stratocumulus, Altostratus, Cirrus, and Altocumulus are some of the genera found here.
  • Clouds with two or more huge, horizontal layers that merge together to build a big structure are known as duplicatus clouds. Cirrus, Altostratus, Altocumulus, and Cirrostratus are all found in the genus cirrus.
  • Opacus – Clouds that are very thick and obscuring a lot of the sunlight behind them. While it does not encompass inherently opaque cloud genera like cumulus and cumulonimbus, it is found in the genera stratus, stratocumulus, altostratus, and altocumulus.
  • Semi-transparent clouds layers are known as Perlucidus. Stratocumulus and altocumulus are two genera that include this species.
  • Cloud layers that are thin and mostly transparent. Stratocumulus, stratus, altostratus, and altocumulus are all members of this genus.

Supplementary Features & Accessory Clouds

Finally, any extra characteristics or accessory clouds that a cloud might have may be used to classify it.

Supplemental attributes and supplementary clouds, on the other hand, are not always a component of the cloud. Similarly to how humans change their looks by wearing a new outfit, these characteristics and extras simply alters the look of a cloud rather than its structure. A jacket has little impact on who we are as people, but it does influence how we look and are perceived.

Nonetheless, the cloud’s supplementary characteristics and companion clouds are not always a part of it. These characteristics and add-ons merely change a cloud’s look rather than altering its structure, much like if we put on a new outfit. The clothes we wear don’t change who we are, but they do affect how others perceive us.

Nonetheless, interesting atmospheric phenomena, such as large downdrafts of air or low humidity in the atmosphere, are frequently represented by supplementary features and accessory clouds. Thus, if you want to comprehend the current weather conditions, paying attention to them is important, despite the fact that they do not alter the genera, species, or variety of a cloud.

There are several extra features, including:

  • Incus are linked with mature cumulonimbus clouds and are sometimes referred to as “anvils.”
  • The precipitation is evaporating before it hits the ground, as indicated by Virga – Wispy, which falls from the bottom of clouds.
  • A cumulonimbus cloud at the front of a gust front has arcus clouds, which are big, robust, arch-shaped clouds. A shelf cloud is a term used to describe this phenomena.
  • Cumulonimbus or cumulus clouds have cune-shaped clouds that descend from the cloud’s base. A funnel cloud is the more modern term for this phenomena. These clouds may turn into tornadoes when they touch the ground.
  • Pileus are tiny accessory clouds that attach to the top of cumulonimbus or cumulus clouds, and they’re commonly referred to as “cap clouds.”
  • Mamma (mammatus) are prevalent on cumulonimbus, altostratus, altocumulus, stratocumulus, cirrocumulus, and cirrus clouds. They are shaped by large udder-shaped protuberances.
  • Velum is a kind of large, thin horizontal accessory cloud that extends out from the main cloud in a veil-like manner. Cumulonimbus and cumulus clouds may produce these phenomena.
  • During periods of precipitation, paninus – ragged-looking accessory clouds that develop on the bottom of certain clouds.
  • Any cloud that is actively reaching the ground is called praecipitatio.

It’s worth noting that many of these extra features and accessory clouds are referred to as their own kind of cloud, despite the fact that they aren’t stand-alone cloud genera or species.

People might refer to “mammatus clouds,” as we did in our list at the outset of this article, for example. Although mamma is technically classified as a type of cloud, it is commonly referred to as its own sort of cloud in non-scientific settings.

As a result, in our list of stand-alone cloud types, we’ve included many of these supplementary features and accessory clouds.

How Do Clouds Form

Understanding how clouds form can help you better understand how to use clouds to track changes in the weather while you’re outside, despite the fact that cloud spotting is a worthy activity in its own right. In addition, when you’re out in the mountains, understanding how clouds form can help you impress your friends.

As a result, we’ll show you four of the most popular approaches to cloud development in this section. While each occurrence of cloud development is unique, when you observe clouds in the sky, there’s a good chance that one or more of these four activities are occurring.

There are a few important meteorological principles that you should understand before we get into the specifics of how clouds form. These are all things that you are probably aware of, but it’s crucial that we’re all on the same page before we discuss cloud development. There are four principles to keep in mind:

  1. Cold air descends as hot air rises.
  2. High-pressure air moves to low-pressure air.
  3. Moisture can be held in cold air less than in warm air.
  4. Water vapor condenses when air rises in the troposphere, cooling it.

It’s worth noting that air doesn’t technically “hold moisture,” as we said in principle number three, despite what we wrote. This is the most convenient way to describe what’s going on in the atmosphere without having to go into a lot of complicated physics that isn’t relevant to this piece.

This is a simple way to grasp certain advanced meteorological principles, while you will not hear a meteorologist discussing about “air retaining moisture.”

So, why not start by looking at the four methods of cloud development?

Surface Heating

Surface heating is the first cloud formation technique we’ll discuss. All we have to remember is that the sun heats up the Earth’s surface every day when it rises, and we’ll be able to figure out how this process works.

The air above the Earth’s surface rises in relation to its surroundings as the planet heats. Any water vapor in the air mass condenses as the air rises and cools. Eventually, we get a cloud when enough moisture condenses into water droplets. And that’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

This process of cloud formation through surface heating occurs on a regular basis because the sun rises every day.

You may have seen this process in operation if you ever glanced up into the sky during the afternoon on a bright day. Surface heating is most likely to blame when puffy cumulus clouds develop in the afternoon of a typical bluebird day.

Nevertheless, this surface heating process can result in severe weather when it is coupled with other favorable atmospheric conditions. Indeed, on a warm summer day, clouds generated by surface heating might progress to cumulonimbus clouds, which may lead to single thunderstorms.

Low Pressure

You’ll be able to understand how cloud development through low pressure works once you comprehend how clouds emerge as a result of surface heating.

Air in a area of little pressure tends to ascend in the atmosphere, just as it does when it is heated by the sun. As the air in this parcel of air warms, the water vapor inside it will condense into water droplets, producing a cloud.

Air that is forced upward through a area of low pressure, like air that has been heated at the Earth’s surface, will rise, cool, and condense into a cloud.

Thus, you may anticipate clouds in the forecast whenever you hear a weather forecaster discussing a low-pressure system.

Orographic Lifting

Changes in the temperature or pressure of an air parcel have been the two different sorts of cloud formation we’ve talked about until now. Yet, cloud development and weather as a whole are both influenced greatly by the surface of the Earth.

Imagine, for example, a huge mountain range like the Rocky Mountains in the western United States. The mountains will force the air to be pushed up the western slope of the range if the wind is blowing from the west and encounters the western slope of the Rockies.

Just like what we saw with the development of clouds via surface heating and low pressure, as the air is pushed up the windward side of the mountain, it rises, cools, and condenses to generate a cloud.

Orographic lifting is the scientific term for when the topography of the land drives air to a higher height, which is an example of upward forcing of the air. On warm, sunny days in the summer months, this process frequently results in stratus clouds and lenticular clouds.

Lifting Along A Front

Lifting along a front is our fourth and final method of cloud formation. You’ll first need a thorough understanding of what a weather front is in order to comprehend how this process operates.

Maybe you’ve heard meteorologists talk about “approaching cold fronts,” but what exactly is a front, anyway?

The boundary between any two air masses is what a front is essentially. Our troposphere is made up of huge clumps of distinct air, each with its own temperature and moisture content and that is routinely moving around the Earth’s surface. Even if you don’t observe these air masses if you gaze up into the sky, they are there.

Air masses from the Gulf of Mexico, for example, are warm and wet, as are those from other subtropical seas. Other air masses are cold and dry, such as those that form over the frigid tundra of Arctic Canada.

A front is the point where two air masses of differing temperatures and moisture contents collide. A warm front is defined as a procession of warm air moving over a procession of cold air. A cold front, on the other hand, is what happens when a heap of chilly air advances across a heap of warm air.

Let’s return to the clouds now that you have a better understanding of what a front is.

As a result, an advance of one air mass onto another leads to a front. For an air parcel, this frontal boundary serves as an invisible wall that drives air higher into the troposphere at the bottom of the frontal boundary. The air rises, cools, and condenses into a cloud as it moves upwards.

It’s worth noting that as a consequence of this cloud development, certain fronts, such as cold fronts, are more likely to cause severe weather.

Cold air behind a cold front swiftly pushes the warm air in front of it high up into the atmosphere since it is denser than warm air. Cold fronts are typically linked with lines of big thunderstorms and cumulonimbus clouds because this warm, moist air has already been primed for a storm.

Clouds FAQs

Here are our answers to some of your top questions about clouds:

Is Fog A Cloud?

Fog is a cloud that occurs at ground level, technically speaking. The only distinction between clouds and fog is that fog comes into contact with the ground, since both clouds and fog are essentially condensed water vapor.

Yet, unlike all the other types of clouds, fog is not usually classified. Instead, different kinds of fog are often characterized as separate atmospheric events.

What Are The Big Fluffy Clouds Called?

Cumulus clouds are the kind of clouds that appear overhead and are massive and fluffy. The puffy, cotton candy-like form of cumulus clouds is what most people picture when they think of a fluffy cloud, so these are the ones that come to mind.

What Is The Highest Type Of Cloud?

The highest level of cloud in the Earth’s atmosphere is noctilucent clouds. The mesosphere, which ranges from 31 to 53 miles (50 to 85 km) above the Earth’s surface, is home to these clouds. These clouds, on the other hand, are exceedingly uncommon and are only visible in the summer months at high latitudes.

What Is The Most Dangerous Cloud?

The most dangerous clouds are undoubtedly Cumulonimbus clouds. Many cumulonimbus clouds will produce lightning, substantial hail, strong winds, and even tornadoes, all of which might cause property damage or serious injury.

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