Types of Clouds

What are the types of clouds?

Clouds are suspended masses in the atmosphere and are composed of micro droplets or water crystals. These masses, also called hydrometeors, are formed when bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans) evaporate due to the action of sunlight and rise into the atmosphere. When these masses condense, rain is generated.

There are different types of clouds, classified according to their shape, height or development:

According to its shape:

  • Cirriform.
  • Stratiform.
  • Numbiformes.
  • Cumulus.

According to your height:

  • high level clouds: cirrus, cirrocumulus and cirrostratus.
  • mid-level clouds: altocumulus, altostratus, nimbostratus.
  • low level clouds: stratocumulus and stratus.

Vertical Development Clouds

  • cumulus clouds
  • Cumulonimbus.

Types of clouds according to their shape

In 1803, the English meteorologist Luke Howard created the first cloud classification system based on four basic forms:

  • Cirriform: they are high clouds in the form of plumes and composed of ice crystals.
  • Stratiform: These are masses of water that extend into the sky, and often generate light rain.
  • numbiformes: they are characterized by the fact that they generate moderate to heavy rainfall.
  • cumulus: They are made up of water droplets or ice crystals. They circulate slowly, so when they condense they generate seasonal rains.

You may also be interested in the following topics:

  • Condensation.
  • Precipitation.
  • Evaporation.
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Types of clouds according to their height

The International Cloud Atlas, which began publication in 1921, was based on Luke Howard’s system. However, the 1956 edition is considered the most important, since it contains the classification that is maintained until today.

This new form of organization classifies clouds not only by their four basic shapes (and their possible combinations), but also takes into account the height at which they are generated.

According to this classification, clouds can be:

Cirrus clouds

Types of clouds, cirrus

Its name comes from the Latin cirrus, which means curl or curly. They are high-level clouds that are between 6,000 and 18,000 meters high and are characterized by their subtle shapes, with the appearance of white brushstrokes.

Due to their height, cirrus clouds are usually formed by water in a solid state, specifically in the form of crystals. Their presence in the sky is usually indicative that the temperature will drop in the coming hours.


Types of clouds, cirrocumulus

His name is a mixture of the Latin terms “cirrus” Y “cumulus”, which mean accumulation of curls. These are high-stratus clouds made up of small masses of water, which give them the appearance of irregular cotton specks.

On some occasions, the presence of cirrocumulus and cirrus clouds can be an indication of the development of a storm in the next 12 hours.


Types of clouds, cirrostratps

Along with cirrus and cirrocumulus, cirrostratus make up the upper level cloud group. Stratum comes from the Latin stratuswhich means to spread or spread something on a surface.

The above has to do with the appearance of these types of clouds, since they look like a kind of veil or fine cloth spread over the sky, so thin that it allows the formation of shadows on the earth’s surface. In addition, cirrostratus forms a halo around the Sun.

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Cirrostratus forms at heights ranging from 5,000 to 18,000 thousand meters.


Cloud types, altocumulus

Altocumulus are clouds formed by masses of water of medium size and in the form of irregular flakes.

These types of clouds are medium level and form between 2000 and 8000 meters high. They are made up of water droplets, unlike high-level clouds in which crystals are present.

When there is presence of altocumulus, intense rains are usually generated.


Cloud types, altostratus

They are a type of mid-level clouds made up of layers of various densities and irregular shapes, spread throughout the sky.

In the thinnest layer of the altostratus it is possible to distinguish the sun or the moon, as the case may be.

Although they are often confused with cirrostratus, there are two characteristics that allow them to be differentiated: they do not generate a halo around the sun, nor do they cast shadows on the earth’s surface.


Cloud types, nimbostratus

Nimbostratus are the clouds that usually generate rain or snow. These are masses of gray, high-density water that cover the Sun partially or totally, generating little visibility.

The nimbostratus are medium level and are characterized by covering a large part of the sky, hence its name comes from the Latin nimbus (rainy cloud) and stratus (layer).


Types of clouds, stratocumulus

These are low-level clouds that are characterized by having several layers with different levels of density and are grouped in elongated formations, but slightly separated from each other, which allows sections of the sky to be seen.

Stratocumulus clouds form at a height of two kilometers and although they are similar to altocumulus clouds, they do not generate rain or snow. They are dark gray in color and can be seen at sunset.

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Cloud types, stratus

They are masses of water that extend over large sections of the sky and can generate light drizzle. Stratus are good weather indicators and one of their main characteristics is that they look a lot like fog.

Vertical Development Clouds

Clouds of vertical development are called the masses of water that form hundreds of meters above the surface and have a vertical structure. This type of clouds is classified into two types:

Cumulus clouds

Types of clouds, cumulus

They are clouds with a cottony appearance and a white or grayish color, which is characterized by forming in groups relatively separated from each other, which allows a part of the sky to be seen. They are associated with the presence of good weather and are typical formations of the summer months.


Cloud types, cumulonimbus

Cumulonimbus clouds are very dense cumulus clouds formed by water droplets in their lower part and by water crystals in their upper part. These are very imposing clouds that can generate different types of precipitation: from drizzle to thunder storms, passing through snow and hail.

See also Water cycle.