Types of Clouds

Classifying Clouds


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By observing clouds, you can often predict the incoming weather.  Clouds are classified by their altitude (height in the sky) and their shape.

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. 


High Clouds

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.


Middle Clouds

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.


Low Clouds

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 Pronunciation

One of our readers asked a good question: How do you pronounce these cloud names? See the chart below for a reference.

Credit: www.metoffice.gov.uk

If you enjoy cloud-watching, have some fun with our “Cloud Shapes: What do you see?” pages.


The 2009 Old Farmer's Almanac

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show pronunciation of cloud names.

cloud pronunciation

Great question! We added the pronunciations by cloud type above!

Did you know that the higher

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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