By observing clouds, you can often predict the incoming weather. Clouds are classified by their altitude (height in the sky) and their shape. Here are some common types of clouds.
Types of Clouds
Some clouds are as high as a jet; others are near the ground. Some are white puffs and some are grey and lumpy.
Overall, there are three different types of clouds: high, middle, and low.
Bases start above 20,000 feet, on average
Cirrus: Thin, feather-like, 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.
Clouds With Vertical Development
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.
Cloud Types and Pronunciations
One of our readers asked a good question: How do you pronounce these cloud names? See the chart below for a reference.
If you enjoy cloud-watching, have some fun with our “Cloud Shapes: What do you see?” pages.