cloud names and formations

Cloud Names & Types

List of all Cloud Names, Cloud Types & Formations

In his 1802 book The Modifications of Clouds amateur meteorologist, Luke Howard, came up with cloud names that are still in use today, albeit with some subsequent extensions by the World Meteorological Organization.

Clouds form when invisible water vapor in the air bumps into aerosols (dust) and condenses into water or ice. When the air is full of water vapor clouds form in one of two ways – either the water in the air increases, or the air cools to condensation (or dew) point so that it can’t hold any more water. Warm air can hold more water vapor.

Why are clouds white? Because their ice crystals scatter the light of the seven wavelengths which then fuse to produce white light. Cloud formations turn grey when they are thick enough to prevent all the light passing through them or when other clouds around cast their shadow.

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Cloud NamesCloud LevelHeight (ft)Height (m)Description of Cloud Types for Cloudspotters
CirrusHigh clouds20,000+6000+Fine, wispy thin clouds made of ice crystals instead of water, which gives them their appearance
CirrostratusHigh20,000+6000+Sheet-like clouds made of ice crystals that can cover the entire sky
CirrocumulusHigh20,000+6000+Small, white clouds that look like fish scales lined up in a regular pattern, like small ripples. Sometimes called “Mackerel sky” for this reason. Called Schaefchenwolken in German which means “little sheep clouds”
AltocumulusMedium6000-20,0002000-6000Gray fleecy clouds
AltostratusMedium6000-20,0002000-6000Thin gray layers of clouds that sometimes bring rain
NimbostratusMedium clouds6000-20,0002000-6000Mostly uniformly dark gray clouds with light to moderate precipitation
StratusLow6500-2000-Gray, low-hanging rain clouds
CumulusLow6500-2000-Fair-weather clouds, cotton ball shaped with flat-ish bottoms
CumulonimbusLow clouds6500-2000-Cumulonimbus can start near the ground but also grow to over 50,000 feet!
StratocumulusLow6500-2000-Common lumpy white to dark gray clouds clumped together as a layer, often accompanied by light rain.

Cloud names usually consist of the following prefixes and suffixes which come from Latin names:

Cloud TypesTranslationDescription
CirrusCurl of hairHigh up and wispy
CirroCurl of hairHigh up and wispy
StratusLayerFlat and smooth
StratoLayer-likeFlat and smooth

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