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Classifying Clouds

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By observing clouds, you can often predict the incoming weather.  Clouds have many characteristics and are classified by altitude and type.



Bases start above 20,000 feet, on average

Cirrus: Thin, featherlike, crystal clouds.

Cirrocumulus: Thin clouds that appear as small “cotton patches.”

Cirrostratus: Thin white clouds that resemble veils.


Bases start at between 6,500 and 20,000 feet

Altocumulus: Gray or white layer or patches of solid clouds with rounded shapes.

Altostratus: Grayish or bluish layer of clouds that can obscure the Sun.


Bases start below 6,500 feet


Stratus: Thin, gray, sheetlike clouds with low bases; may bring drizzle or snow.

Stratocumulus: Rounded cloud masses that form in a layer.

Nimbostratus: Dark, gray, shapeless cloud layers containing rain, snow, or ice pellets.


Form at almost any altitude and can reach to more than 39,000 feet

Cumulus: Fair-weather clouds with flat bases and dome-shape tops.

Cumulonimbus: Large, dark, vertical clouds with bulging tops that bring showers, thunder, and lightning.

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These pictures are great!

By Amy Nieskens

These pictures are great! They are so helpful to see when reading the cloud descriptions.

Did you know that the higher

By Catherine Boeckmann

Did you know that the higher the clouds, the finer the weather? If you spot high, wispy clouds, expect a nice day!

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