Cloud Guide: Types of Clouds and Weather They Predict!

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Beautiful clouds with blue sky background. Nature weather, cloud blue sky. Cumulus clouds type
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Learn About the Many Different Cloud Types

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If you’ve ever looked up and wondered, “What type of cloud is that?” this piece is for the budding nephologist (person who studies clouds) in you. By observing clouds, you can predict the incoming weather! See our Guide to Clouds with pictures of common cloud types in the sky and what they mean.

Types of Clouds

Some clouds are as high as a jet; others kiss mountaintops. Some are white puffs, and some are grey and lumpy. Overall, there are three different types of clouds: high, middle, and low

cloud types and how to pronounce them
Credit: metoffice.gov.uk

I. High Clouds

Bases start above 20,000 feet, on average

1. Cirrus: Thin, feather-like, wispy clouds which are strands of ice crystals. 
Weather prediction: A change is on its way!

wispy white Cirrus Clouds in a blue sky
 Cirrus Clouds

2. Cirrocumulus: Thin clouds that appear as small “cotton patches.”  
Weather prediction: Fair, but cold. In the tropics, hurricane potential!

Trivia: Sometimes, this is called a “mackerel sky” based on the folklore, “Mare’s tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails.” These clouds can precede an approaching warm front. Warm fronts can bring veering winds and precipitation. So, a sailor might take in his sails.

spotted Cirrocumulus Clouds in the desert in a blue sky
Cirrocumulus Clouds.

3. Cirrostratus: Thin white clouds that resemble veils that tend to cover the whole sky. They are more common in winter.  
Weather prediction: Rain or snow will arrive within 24 hours!

wispy Cirrostratus Clouds in a blue sky
Cirrostratus Clouds

II. Middle- to Low-Level Clouds

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

1. Altocumulus: Gray or white layers or patches of solid clouds with rounded shapes, and they often appear as fluffy ripples. They are made of liquid water, but they don’t often produce rain.
Weather prediction: Fair and pleasant!

Altocumulus clouds
Altocumulus clouds

2. Altostratus: Grayish or bluish layer of clouds that can obscure the Sun, usually covering the entire sky. 
Weather prediction: Be prepared for continuous rain or snow!

Altostratus clouds with the sun shining through
Altostratus clouds

3. Nimbostratus: Dark, gray, shapeless cloud layers containing rain, snow, or ice pellets. They are often thick enough to block out the Sun. 
Weather prediction: Gloomy with persistent rain or snow

Nimbostratus clouds
Nimbostratus clouds

III. Low Clouds

Bases start below 6,500 feet

1. Stratus: Thin, gray-white, sheetlike clouds with low bases covering the whole sky.
Weather prediction: Fair, but gloomy. They may bring drizzle or snow, but won’t dump too much precipitation because they are so thin.

Stratus clouds over the ocean
Stratus clouds

2. Stratocumulus: Rounded cloud masses that form in a layer. Often, they have a darkish tint instead of bright white.
Weather prediction: Fair weather for now, but a storm might be on its way.

Stratocumulus clouds over a lake
Stratocumulus clouds

IV. Low Clouds With Vertical Development

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

1. Cumulus: Fluffy, white, cotton-ball clouds with flat bases and dome-shaped tops. 
Weather prediction: Fair weather is in store!

Cumulonimbus clouds
Cumulonimbus clouds

2. Cumulonimbus: Large, dark, vertical clouds with bulging tops that can grow to towering heights on hot, humid days.
Weather prediction: These bring showers, thunder, and lightning.

Want to see more cloud pictures? Imagine clouds shaped like jellyfish and flying saucers! See Rare Clouds and Pictures.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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