Types of Clouds

Learn About the Many Different Cloud Types

August 18, 2017
Classifying Clouds

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


High Clouds

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.


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 Pronunciations

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

Reader Comments

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types of clouds

Good Morning,

Regarding the types of clouds which form in the sky, would someone please explain why we have multiple planes going over day and night leaving long trails which morph into clouds and completely block out the sun. I have been told this is normal contrail activity but I cannot believe this. Thank you for any info.


Noreen, They're not normal, They are called ch em trails, You'll have to do your own research on them.


show pronunciation of cloud names.

cloud pronunciation

The Editors's picture

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!