There is something rather comforting about a cloudy day, depending where you live, and observing any kind of cloud over time is fascinating. Clouds are one of the Earth’s most interesting phenomena, but they’re not just pretty shapes — each type tells a story. It is true that no two clouds are alike, and different types of clouds offer clues to what’s occurring in the atmosphere.
One of the ways clouds are classified is by their altitude in the atmosphere:
- Low-Altitude: Below 6,500 feet (includes fog)
- Alto: Between 6,500 and 20,000 feet
- Cirro: Above 20,000 feet (mostly comprised of ice crystals)
Clouds are also classified by their shape and composition:
- Nimbo, or Nimbus: Precipitation-producing cloud
- Cumulo, or Cumulus: Puffy, heaped clouds
- Strato, or Stratus: Flat, wide, layered clouds
Now that you know the categories that define a cloud, let’s have a look at some examples of each type and combination!
Near ground up to 75,000 feet: These types of clouds are capable of producing heavy rainstorms, thunder, lightning, hail, strong winds, and tornadoes.
Above 18,000 feet: These clouds are typically wispy, flat, and appear in sheets. They can also be found over thunderheads.
Above 18,000 feet: Thin, wispy, and curled; often “horse-tail” shaped, these types of clouds are mostly comprised of ice crystals.
Above 18,000 feet: Small and puffy, with a patchy and sometimes wave-like appearance.
From 6,500 – 20,000 feet: Patchy and more puffy than cirrocumulus, scattered, and often seen in bands.
From 6,500 – 20,000 feet: These types of clouds are thin, but uniform in appearance.
Below 6,500 feet: Flat and broad bottoms, puffy on top.
Below 6,500 feet: These beautiful types of clouds are typically puffy and piled up.
Below 6,500 feet: Thin to thick uniform, flat, layered clouds, with undefined edges. Mostly comprised of water droplets.
Below 6,500 feet: Uniform, low, dark, flat clouds that are mostly comprised of water droplets and produce precipitation.
Ground level: Fog is a very low type of stratus cloud which is mostly comprised of water droplets.
Top image via D.L.