Types Of Clouds

Clouds form when water vapor condenses into ice crystals or water droplets. There are many different types of clouds and knowing what to look for could help you to predict weather changes.

What are the 3 Cloud Types?

The 3 cloud types describe how low clouds form in the sky, including High Clouds, Mid-Level Clouds, and Low Clouds.

What are the 10 Clouds Called?

The 10 cloud types are as follows:

  • Altocumulus (Ac) – Mid-Level Clouds
  • Altostratus (As) – Mid-Level Clouds
  • Cirrus (Ci) – High-Level Clouds
  • Cirrocumulus (Cc) – High-Level Clouds
  • Cirrostratus (Cs) – High-Level Clouds
  • Cumulonimbus (Cb) – Low-Level Clouds
  • Cumulus (Cu) – Low-Level Clouds
  • Nimbostratus (Ns) – Mid-Level Clouds
  • Stratocumulus (Sc) – Low-Level Clouds
  • Stratus (St) – Low-Level Clouds

Types of Clouds

We’ve covered the names and types of clouds, but what do these cloud types look like, how do they form, and where do their names come from?

High Clouds

High clouds form in the highest part of the troposphere, which is the lowest part of the atmosphere and sits below the stratosphere. These types of clouds form at between 16,500 and 45,000 feet (3.12 to 8.5 miles).

Cirrus Clouds

  • Height: 16,500 to 45,000 Feet
  • Shape: Delicate, wispy
  • Weather Prediction: Fair weather
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin word for “tuft of hair”.

Cirrus clouds are mainly made from ice crystals. They have a distinctive wispy shape which is created when wind currents twist and contort the cirrus clouds into thin strands.

Cirrostratus Clouds

  • Height: 16,500 to 45,000 Feet
  • Shape: Thin and large
  • Weather Prediction: Rain or snow is on the way
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words for “tuft of hair” and “to spread out”.

Cirrostratus clouds are thin and large, typically covering the sky like a transparent sheet. They are common in winter and usually indicate that rain or snow is coming.

Cirrocumulus Clouds

  • Height: 16,500 to 45,000 Feet
  • Shape: Ripples with small grains
  • Weather Prediction: Fair weather or a hurricane
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words for “tuft of hair” and “heap”.

Cirrocumulus clouds can appear patchy and blotchy, like snow grains dotted across the sky. They usually hint at fair yet cold weather but if they appear in a tropical region then they could be a sign of a hurricane.

Mid-Level Clouds

Mid-level clouds appear at between 6,500 and 23,000 feet (1.2 to 4.3 miles). They are made from ice crystals or water droplets.

Altocumulus Clouds

  • Height: 6,500 to 23,000 Feet
  • Shape: Lots of fluffy ripples
  • Weather Prediction: Fair weather
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words for “height” and “heap”.

Although altocumulus clouds are composed of liquid water, they rarely produce rain and usually indicate fair weather. They may appear as a sheet composed of many ripples and areas of white and gray.

Altostratus Clouds

  • Height: 6,500 to 23,000 Feet
  • Shape: Gray or bluish clouds that cover the sky
  • Weather Prediction: Rain or snow
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words for “height” and “to spread out”.

These clouds can appear as bluish-gray and usually cover the sky. They suggest that wet and cold weather is on the way.

Nimbostratus Clouds

  • Height: 6,500 to 23,000 Feet
  • Shape: Thick and dark covering clouds
  • Weather Prediction: Lots of rain or snow
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words meaning “rainstorm” and “to spread out”.

Nimbostratus clouds are gray, dark, and gloomy. These covering clouds are thick enough to block sunlight and indicate that miserable weather is here to stay.

Low Clouds

Low clouds form at distances of less than 6,500 feet (1.2 miles). Most of these types of clouds are composed of liquid droplets, but they can also form from ice crystals during extremely cold weather.

Cumulus Clouds

  • Height: Lower Than 6,500 Feet
  • Shape: Small fluffy balls
  • Weather Prediction: Fair weather
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin word for “heaped”,

Cumulus clouds are like stereotypical cartoon clouds, usually appearing in a blue sky and looking like little bundles of cotton.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

  • Height: Lower Than 6,500 Feet
  • Shape: Mountains of towers
  • Weather Prediction: Rain, hail, and other bad weather
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words for “heaped” and “rainstorm”.

Cumulonimbus clouds are vast and white/gray and may look like towers, islands, or mountains of clouds. Cumulonimbus clouds suggest that there is a lot of rain or hail on the way and could also hint at tornadoes.

Stratus Clouds

  • Height: Lower Than 6,500 Feet
  • Shape: White fog-like sheets covering the sky
  • Weather Prediction: Gloomy
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin word for “to spread out”

Stratus clouds are thin clouds, so they don’t produce much rain or snow. Typically, they hint at fair weather but it’s likely to be pretty gloomy as well.

Stratocumulus Clouds

  • Height: Lower Than 6,500 Feet
  • Shape: White patches and gray patches
  • Weather Prediction: A storm might be coming
  • Meaning of Name: From the Latin words for “to spread out” and “heap”

These types of clouds appear as patches of white and gray, often with lots of connected patches and gaps in between. They appear in fair weather but could suggest that a storm is coming.

Special Cloud Types

In addition to the types of clouds above, you may notice some other wispy shapes and patterns in the sky, including the following:

Contrails

Contrails are formed by water droplets from jet engines and look like tracks in the sky. They are still clouds (they are formed by water droplets) and they will give you an idea of the moisture levels in the sky.

Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus clouds appear as bulging pouches in the sky and could indicate that bad weather is coming.

Mammatus clouds can form from altocumulus clouds, cirrus clouds, cumulonimbus clouds, and other cloud types.

Orographic Clouds

Orographic clouds are created by the lifting of air from the earth’s topography, including mountains. Simply put, as the air passes a mountain it can ascend and cool, with the water vaporizing then condensing and appearing as a cloud.

Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular Clouds can look like flying sauces and often appear in bizarre and alien forms.

This rare cloud type forms over mountains and tall buildings. It occurs when wind runs perpendicular to buildings or mountains. The air cools as it rises with other air warming and sinking, creating cloud types with varying shapes and a mixture of sharp and smooth edges.