Clouds play an integral part in weather and our daily lives. They influence the weather around us and are essential to our ecosystem. Different types of clouds form at different altitudes and play different roles.
From high-level clouds to low-level clouds, cloud types, cloud species, cloud varieties, and cloud colors – there’s a lot of information to be had on clouds if you look closely enough. We’ve put together an extensive guide on clouds to help you understand their formation, types, and colors better. Read about everything from cloud classifications to cloud types and cloud species.
What are Clouds?
- A cloud is an aggregate of water droplets or ice crystals that form when water vapor condenses in the air.
- Different types of clouds are named based on their shape and how high up they hover in the troposphere.
- There are several types of clouds, ranging from cirrus (stratus) to cumulus (tumulus). Cirrus clouds are high-level clouds made of ice crystals. A stratus cloud is a type of low-level cloud made of water droplets.
- Special clouds can form as a result of human activity or localized conditions, such as aircraft condensation trails. These are clouds that form as a result of aircraft emissions or precipitation, for example.
- Clouds can be carried along by winds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) or can remain stationary while the wind passes through them.
- Not confined to Earth, clouds are also found on other planets, such as Venus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Classification of Clouds
- Luke Howard first proposed the classification of clouds into three main types – stratus, cumulus, and cirrus – in 1802. He developed a system for classifying clouds by their genera, species, and variety. This system is also known as cloud classification.
- Cloud classification is based on their altitude in the troposphere, with three altitude classes: low, mid-level, and high. It is done by noting the type of cloud (e.g., cirrus clouds, stratus clouds) and its altitude above the ground.
- The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has extended Luke Howard’s classifications to make ten main groups of clouds called genera. These are stratocumulus, altocumulus, nimbostratus, altostratus, cirrocumulus, cirrus stratus, stratocumulonimbus, stratocumulonimbostratus, and nimbus clouds.
- Cloud classification is based on types of cloud (stratus clouds vs. cirrus clouds), altitude of the cloud formation above the ground level (high clouds vs. low clouds), cloud shape (fluffy vs. opaque), and weather type of the cloud formation (stormy vs. fair weather).
- In addition to the type of cloud formation and altitude level of cloud formation above the ground level, cloud type can be categorized into four basic types – cirrus clouds (high altitudes with sharp edges and white coloring), stratus clouds (flat or shallow layers of low-level cloud that cover much of the sky), cumulus clouds (impeccably shaped cumulonimbus that reaches the level of rain showers), and nimbus clouds.
9 Interesting facts About Clouds
- Clouds are made of water droplets or ice crystals that are so small and light that they are able to remain suspended in the air.
- Clouds are usually white because they reflect light from the sun.
- Grey clouds appear that way because they become so filled with water that they don’t reflect light.
- Clouds are formed when relatively moist air rises and expands due to lower pressures at higher levels.
- Fog is a shallow layer of cloud that is located near or at ground level.
- Clouds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including cumulus, stratus, and cirrus clouds.
- Clouds play an important role in the Earth’s weather system by affecting precipitation and temperature.
- Clouds can be used to predict the weather, with the type and height of clouds providing information about upcoming weather patterns.
- The study of clouds is called meteorology, and it is a branch of atmospheric science that deals with the study of the atmosphere and its processes.
Cloud Group and Height
Cloud types can be broadly classified into cloud groups depending on their altitude. Cloud groups are based on the type of cloud found in a particular cloud type and include low clouds (CL), cloud medium clouds (CM), cloud high clouds (CH), stratocumulus clouds, cirrus clouds, cumulus clouds, cirrostratus clouds, nimbostratus clouds.
The WMO categorizes cloud types into genera, species, and varieties based on their height in the troposphere. Polar regions of the world tend to have high-level clouds of type CH, while non-polar regions tend to have low-level rain or snow clouds of type CL.
This traditional division between polar and non-polar regions is known as the Arctic Circle in the northern hemisphere and the Antarctic Circle in the southern hemisphere.
Cloud type is one of the most important factors that affect cloud-covered areas. Clouds can be classified according to their altitude in the troposphere, with three main classes: low, medium, and high clouds. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has extended Howard’s classification to create ten main groups of clouds called genera. Additionally, clouds can be classified by their genera, species, and variety using a system of Latin names.
The UK Met Office classifies clouds based on four basic types: cirrus, stratocumulus, cumulus, and nimbus. Cloud type plays an important role in cloud-covered areas, such as weather forecasting, cloud ice characterization, cirrus cloud formation, and many other applications.
Classifying Clouds By Altitude
Clouds can be classified based on their altitude. Low-level clouds, such as stratus or altostratus, typically occur between the altitude of about 500 and 1000 meters (about 1500 and 3000 feet) in the stratosphere. High-level clouds, such as cirrus or cirrostratus, are typically found above 1000 meters (about 3000 feet).
At an even higher level of altitude, cirrus clouds typify the stratosphere. The physical properties of clouds changes with altitude; low-level clouds have low altitudes and tend to be water droplets cloud or ice crystals cloud, while high-level clouds have high altitudes and tend to be air-filled cloud.
High-altitude clouds are clouds found at altitudes of 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) or higher, where the air is generally cold and stable. These clouds are composed of supercooled droplets or ice crystals. High clouds are divided into three main types: cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus.
Cirrus clouds appear thin, feathery, wispy, and hair-like strands. Cirrostratus clouds appear like a veil covering the entire sky. And cirrocumulus clouds look like cumulus clouds on the ground but differ in shape and appearance. Each high cloud type has unique characteristics and can be an indicator of weather systems overhead. They can also be an impressive sight to behold when viewed high up in the sky.
Cirrus clouds form at the highest altitudes in the troposphere and are typically identified by their thin, white, wispy strands. Due to low temperatures and low water vapor, Cirrus clouds are made up of tiny ice crystals. Cirrus clouds do not bring rain but can indicate an approaching storm system.
They can be seen high in the atmosphere ahead of a warm front or over a mountain range. As a cloud type, cirrus clouds do not last long enough to produce rain. However, large amounts of cirrus clouds can indicate an approaching storm system. These clouds are high in the atmosphere and tend to disappear quickly as they move away from an area of warm air or over a steep mountain range.
Cirrocumulus clouds are typically found in a similar altitude range as cirrus clouds. They are generally less precipitation-producing than cirrus clouds and typically have a more broken appearance. Cirrocumulus clouds are part of the high cloud types category. Large-scale fires, volcanic eruptions, and aircraft exhaust can form them.
Certain types of cirrocumulus clouds, such as flammagenitus, cumulus homogenitus, and cirrus homogenitus, can be formed by large-scale fires or other sources of high temperatures. These types of clouds can play an important role in creating weather conditions such as thunderstorm activity and cloud formation.
Cirrostratus clouds are thin, layered clouds that are found in the upper part of the troposphere. They often form a translucent veil that can cover thousands of miles of the sky. Cirrostratus clouds form as a parcel of air slowly rises and uniformly into the upper atmosphere. These clouds are high-altitude clouds, meaning they are found at altitudes above about 20,000 feet.
Cirrostratus clouds typically occur over water bodies or other areas where there is a temperature inversion, which means that the air below is warmer than the surrounding air. This causes cirrus clouds to form as a large parcel of air rises very slowly and uniformly into the stratosphere.
When cirrus clouds form over an area with an inversion, it often indicates that a warm front is approaching and eventually thins out to altostratus and nimbostratus with a lower cloud base as the front approaches.
Stratiformis clouds are low-level clouds that form in layers with a ragged or uniform base. Stratocumulus clouds are thicker and drizzlier clouds, forming taller cumulonimbus cloud towers.
Stratocumulus stratiform clouds typically form when a stratus cloud layer breaks up. Stratocumulus stratiform clouds are the most prevalent type of clouds on Earth, ranging in color from white to dark grey. These clouds typically form when a stratus cloud layer breaks up.
Stratus stratiform clouds cover an average of 7% of Earth’s surface, making them one of the most abundant types of clouds in our atmosphere. They can be found nearly everywhere, from high-latitude regions to mid-latitudes and at altitudes of up to 6,000 meters above the Earth’s surface.
Stratus stratiform clouds are especially important for weather and climate services because they represent an important type of cloud for weather prediction models. They can be identified using satellite imagery and other remote-sensing tools. Their properties can be studied through sophisticated modeling programs such as cloud physics simulators.
Lenticular clouds are a type of wide cloud type found in the genera altocumulus, cirrocumulus, and stratocumulus. These clouds form when the wind blows over a large object like a mountain. They can take on a round shape and are usually seen in places with high altitudes, such as high above the Earth’s surface or high above an ocean.
Sometimes, these clouds appear to have metal or saucer-like shapes. Lenticular clouds are often associated with fair weather or cloudiness and sometimes resemble flying saucers. Stratocumulus stratiform clouds, cumulogenitus clouds, castellanus clouds, and lenticular clouds are the four species of stratocumulus clouds.
Contrail clouds are sometimes known as “condensation trails.” They are cloud-like in appearance, formed by water vapor condensing around the particulate matter coming out of an aircraft’s exhaust. Information about the humidity in the upper troposphere can be determined by observing the behavior of contrails, with persistent contrails indicating high humidity.
These clouds are formed from water vapor that has condensed around particulates in the atmosphere. They can occur at altitudes from 5 to 13 km (16,000 – 43,000 ft) above sea level and can be a unique sight to see as they float over the Earth’s surface.
High clouds are found from 5 to 13 km (16,000 – 43,000 ft) above sea level and include types of clouds such as cirrus clouds and noctilucent clouds. These clouds form at high altitudes due to complex interactions between atmospheric moisture, low-level winds, and geostrophic currents.
They can be seen at sunset or sunrise when they appear billowing up from beneath the horizon. Aircraft condensation trails and Mammatus clouds are other types of high clouds that often result from human activity or localized conditions.
Mid-level clouds form between 6,500 and 20 feet in the sky. They may contain liquid water droplets, ice crystals, or a combination of the two. The temperatures of mid-level clouds range from 0 to -40 degrees Celsius.
Altocumulus clouds are a type of mid-level cloud and are usually made of liquid water droplets. These clouds can be white, gray, or translucent and may appear as sheets or images near the ground.
The type of mid-level cloud you see depends on the types of weather present in that particular region of the world. Mid-level clouds form through convection as the air heats at the surface and rises, then cools. This causes water vapor to condense and form clouds.
Altocumulus clouds typically form between 6,500 and 20,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Altocumulus clouds have a broken appearance, with some of their cloud droplets visible while others are hidden behind cloud droplets of different sizes. These clouds can produce light to moderate rain if they are high enough in the air.
Altocumulus clouds usually occur beneath higher cirrus clouds and above lower stratus clouds. They exhibit “cumulo” type characteristics with convective elements, making them different from stratocumulus clouds that lack convection.
Altocumulus clouds can be found in combination with other types of clouds, like cumulonimbus clouds. These types of clouds often share an altostratus-like base layer and altocumulus-like mid-level cloud cover. Altocumulus clouds can form in different environments and challenge meteorologists to accurately model weather patterns over large areas of the Earth’s surface.
Altostratus clouds form at the mid-level of the troposphere, usually between 6,000 and 20,000 feet. Altostratus clouds typically precede altocumulus clouds when a warm frontal system is advancing, and they often signal the arrival of rain. Altostratus clouds appear in layers and can have a grayish fibrous texture.
Altostratus clouds don’t produce significant precipitation at the surface, but light showers may occur from a thick altostratus cloud deck. However, altostratus clouds are known to produce optical effects such as cloudiness over hills and mountains or cirrus veil over the sea. Altostratus clouds typically do not produce significant precipitation at the surface level. However, light showers may occur from a thick altostratus cloud deck.
Low-Level clouds are low clouds that occur at elevations below 6,500 feet. They are composed of droplet-like ice crystals and water droplets during cold winter weather. Low-level clouds can form stratiform clouds, nimbostratus clouds, cumulus clouds, and cirrus clouds.
- Stratus clouds are generally fair-weather clouds that form over the ocean and the warmest areas of the atmosphere. These types of clouds are often associated with rain or drizzle.
- Nimbostratus clouds are low, flat clouds mostly found over land and overcast skies. They can be seen as foggy patches in fair weather. The base of nimbostratus clouds is usually below 6,500 feet over the British Isles.
- Cumulonimbus clouds are high, thunderstorm-like clouds that form when moist warm air rises quickly through a cloud layer.
The different types of low-level clouds have different appearances, attitudes, and behaviors in the sky.
Low-level cumulus clouds are small clouds that form at altitudes between 1,000 and 5,000 feet. They are formed through convection as the air heats at the surface and rises, then cool, causing water vapor to condense to produce the cloud.
Cumulus congestus clouds are low-level cumulus clouds that exhibit significant vertical development but are not yet a thunderstorm. In general, small cumuliform clouds tend to indicate comparatively weak instability of the atmosphere, while larger cumuliform types are a sign of greater atmospheric instability and convective activity.
These clouds typically appear as puffy cumulus clouds or cumulonimbus clouds with vertical thunderstorm-type development. Low-level clouds frequently lead to severe weather, such as thunderstorms or tornadoes.
Low-level cumulonimbus clouds have a base typically between 2,000 and 5,000ft in height. These clouds are formed when conditions are such that deep convection can develop and may have a huge vertical extent, particularly in the tropics.
Low-level cumulonimbus clouds tend to be more concentrated and intense when they are associated with unstable cold fronts, which often lead to thunderstorm activity.
When low-level clouds form over water, they are known as nimbostratus clouds; these clouds form over the water due to fast-moving air over water. Nimbostratus clouds can be extremely dense, with an average of 1000 cloud droplets per millimeter of precipitation.
Scud clouds are a type of cloud that appears to hang lower in the sky compared to other clouds. They are often described as ragged and wispy, with a loose structure resembling cotton candy fragments.
Scud clouds form when moist air flows over colder air near the ground. They can sometimes be mistaken for tornadoes due to their low-hanging appearance and the points they can form, but they do not produce any winds aside from the ones produced by thunderstorms.
It is important to note that scud clouds can be accompanied by heavy rain and strong winds, which can add to the illusion of a tornado. However, scud clouds do not produce tornadoes; they are a separate meteorological phenomenon.
Stratocumulus clouds are low-level clouds that form a variety of shapes and are often seen over the ocean. Stratocumulus clouds are composed of droplets of water suspended in the air. Stratocumulus clouds can obscure the Sun or moon and produce drizzle, particularly in hilly or coastal areas.
Stratocumulus clouds rarely produce precipitation other than very light rain or snow, so cloud-chasers often ignore them. Stratocumulus clouds tend to be short-lived, lasting only several hours at a time. They can be especially common over land during thunderstorms when they act as anvil clouds that lead to cloud-to-ground lightning strikes.
Low-level clouds are clouds that form in low-level horizontal layers of air. Common types of low-level clouds include stratocumulus and stratiform clouds. Stratocumulus clouds form in high-level, vertical layers of air and may look like broken clouds.
Stratiform clouds, on the other hand, form in low-level horizontal layers of air and display a cloud-like appearance. Stratus clouds are sometimes referred to as stratiform clouds due to their cloud-like appearance. Stratocumulus clouds often cast a veil-like pattern that outlines the Sun or moon. In contrast, stratiform clouds’ cloud-like appearance may sometimes cast a veil-like pattern of its own.
Nimbostratus clouds are low-level clouds that form along the front of a large-scale weather system. These clouds are thick and grey, often obscuring the Sun or Moon. Nimbostratus clouds generally produce steady precipitation, with heavy rain, high cloud base, and thunderstorm-like clouds typically present.
They can form at altitudes of up to 10,000ft and extend from the surface to the upper levels of the troposphere. At their height, nimbostratus clouds are typically made of altostratus or stratocumulus clouds. High-level nimbostratus clouds form in the mid-level of the troposphere; they are usually associated with active precipitation, such as thunderstorms or cloud-to-ground lightning.
Colors of clouds and their meanings
The color of clouds is primarily determined by the color of the light they receive. The Earth’s main light source is the sun, which provides a white light containing all the colors in the visible spectrum. The most common colors of cumuliform clouds are white, grey, and silver, which is named after the Latin words for “heap” or “pile.” These clouds are often seen as an indicator of harmony and balance.
Altocumulus clouds are a trademark feature of a uniform, grey blanket of cloud cover that often fills the entire sky. These mid-level clouds are denser than Cirrostratus clouds found higher up in the atmosphere, so they are less transparent and don’t allow shadows to be cast on the ground.
Cloud symbolism and meaning can be subjective and vary culturally. According to one source, the shape of cumuliform clouds resembling a heap or pile of cotton or other soft material like woolen carpets is often seen as an indicator of harmony and balance in one’s life. However, it’s important to note that the meaning of clouds can differ among different cultures and belief systems.
How do clouds affect the atmosphere?
- Clouds reflect some of the Sun’s energy, or solar radiation, back to space, cooling the air.
- They also act as a blanket, trapping some of the surface’s heat or longwave radiation, leading to warming.
- Clouds redistribute heat energy from warm regions close to the equator to cold regions close to the poles, affecting weather and climate.
- Clouds can have an impact on weather and climate in ways not anticipated by other causes of climate change.
- For instance, they can lead to precipitation or cloud droplet formation, which can affect meteorological conditions such as precipitation and temperature, respectively.
- Also, clouds can influence the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. If clouds cover the Earth for too long, it could result in the warming of the planet. However, if clouds are present too little, it could result in colder temperatures.
- Finally, clouds can have a greater impact on climate change than other factors of climate change, such as greenhouse gases or land use changes. They play an important role in regulating Earth’s temperature by reflecting sunlight back into space and trapping heat or moisture near the Earth’s surface.
Frequently Asked Questions
What cloud is most common?
The cloud type that is most common in the atmosphere is cumulus clouds. These clouds can be identified by their puffy, rounded shape and flat base. They are usually found below 6,500 feet in elevation and are comprised of liquid water droplets.
Also, various types of clouds can be classified according to their height, appearance, and texture. The most common types of cloud groups are cirrus, stratus, cumulus, and alto. Each type of cloud has its own unique characteristics that make it different from the others.
The five main types of clouds are cumulus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus, stratus, and cumulonimbus. Cumulonimbus clouds, although not always severe, have the potential to produce lightning, hail, strong winds, and even tornadoes. They can grow to heights up to 10 kilometers high and form thick thunderstorm clouds.
Different cloud genera are further subdivided into species based on shape and internal structure. For example, cumulus clouds can be broken down into cumulus humilis (stratus-like clouds), cumulus fractus (broken cumulus clouds), cumulus congestus (towering cumulus clouds), and cirrocumulus altocumulus (stratus-like mid-level clouds).
Knowing the type of cloud you’re observing will help you better understand weather conditions in your area and make weather-related decisions accordingly.
What Is The Highest Type Of Cloud?
The highest type of cloud in Earth’s atmosphere is the noctilucent cloud, usually found around an altitude of 31-53 miles (50-85km). These clouds are composed of ice crystals. Since they’re located so high up in the atmosphere, they reflect light from the Sun even after it has set below the horizon.
Lower altitude clouds include cumulus, stratocumulus, stratus, and cumulonimbus clouds, which have the potential to grow into the middle level of the troposphere. Cumulonimbus clouds are unique because they are the only type extending into all three troposphere levels. Still, their cloud base is always in the low level of the troposphere.
What are clouds made of?
Clouds are composed of water droplets or ice crystals, depending on the altitude. These droplets and crystals can be carried along by winds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h).
In general, clouds are classified depending on their type of cloud base. Stratocumulus clouds are usually made up of low-lying clusters or patches of cloud. They have an altostratus base and therefore make up low-level clouds over a large area. They range in color from dazzling white to dark grey and are often not the cause of weather changes.
What Is The Most Dangerous Cloud?
Cumulonimbus clouds are widely considered to be the most dangerous type of cloud due to their potential to produce severe weather, such as lightning, supercells, large hail, strong winds, and even tornadoes which can cause property damage and serious injury.
These clouds form from sustained convection when the atmosphere is primed with warm, moist air. As a result of this convection, cumulonimbus clouds can be tens of thousands of feet tall, with cloud bases as low as 1,100 feet. When the clouds become too tall, their strong updrafts can punch into the stratosphere, creating an overshooting top. This overshooting top indicates potential severe weather development and should be cautiously treated.
What are thunderclouds called?
Thunder clouds are called cumulonimbus clouds. As cumulonimbus clouds tower high, they can reach altitudes of up to 50,000 feet and are capable of producing severe weather such as thunder, lightning, hail, strong winds, and tornadoes.
Cumulonimbus clouds differ from nimbostratus clouds, which are not associated with thunderstorms and only generally produce rain and snow.
How much do clouds weigh?
Clouds can weigh a surprising amount – just one cumulus cloud without ice or rain can weigh an average of 1.1 million pounds, according to some estimates. The weight of clouds is determined by multiplying the density of water vapor in the air by the volume of air occupied by the cloud.
The type of cloud located in the sky also determines their weight, as different types of clouds are located at different altitudes. Low clouds contain liquid water droplets and occur at altitudes of less than 6,500 feet, while high clouds tend to be made of ice crystals and occur at altitudes of over 20,000 feet.
Different types of clouds are given different names based on their shape and height in the sky – for example, Cumulus clouds, which are classic cotton-ball-like clouds, and Stratus clouds, which are thin layers covering the entire sky.
Why do clouds turn gray?
The presence of ice crystals and water droplets in the air usually causes gray clouds. Because of their high altitudes, clouds tend to be very reflective of sunlight and can appear gray in certain conditions. For example, clouds at night turn black or dark gray in a moonless sky or whitish when illuminated by the moon.
During the day, stratocumulus clouds range in color from dazzling white to mid-level gray. This is because of the low angle of the incident light, which further causes the cloud droplets to appear larger and darker in tone. Moreover, being low on the horizon, the Sun gives off a reddish tinge that appears green when reflected off clouds, making them look gray.
Last but not least, smoke particles and pollutants present in the troposphere can also cause yellow-tinted clouds to appear, giving them an overall gray hue.
How fast do clouds move?
Clouds typically move between 30 and 40 miles per hour. However, cloud movement varies depending on the type of cloud and weather conditions. Stronger winds at higher altitudes can cause clouds to move up to 100 miles per hour.
Low clouds, like stratus clouds, are made of liquid water droplets or ice crystals and snow, while mid-level clouds, such as cumulus clouds, are propelled by winds of up to around 150 mph (240 km/h).
Another factor that determines cloud speed is air currents. Warm air rises, and cold air moves downwards, which causes clouds to form when water vapor condenses at high altitudes. These air masses then drift across the sky, carrying clouds along with them, thus affecting cloud movement.
Clouds play an important role in weather and climate. They are formed by water vapor condensing into droplets or ice crystals. Clouds can range from a type of stratus clouds that are flat and look like fog to cumulonimbus clouds, which are thunderstorm clouds that produce heavy rain and lightning.
This article has presented you with cloud types, cloud group types, cloud altitudes, cloud classification types, cloud species types, and cloud variety types. You have also learned about the different cloud colors, their meaning, and how clouds affect the atmosphere. Enjoy reading!