Have you ever looked at the sky and wondered what types of clouds you are seeing?

Clouds come in many shapes and sizes and occur at various heights above the surface. There are ten main cloud types. These cloud types are categorized into three groups (low/middle/high) based on how high the cloud is above the surface.  

What are low-level clouds?

Low-level clouds are not given a prefix and occur below 6,500ft. These clouds consist of liquid water droplets. The two main types of low-level clouds are cumulus clouds which grow vertically, and stratus clouds which grow horizontally.  

Cumulus clouds are puffy white clouds that often are referred to as cotton ball-like clouds. These clouds can be associated with either fair or stormy weather.  

Cumulonimbus clouds are thunderstorm-producing clouds.  

Stratus clouds are uniform and flat and produce a gray layer of clouds. These clouds do not let any sun through and may produce precipitation.  

Stratocumulus- A combination of cumulus and stratus clouds.  

What are mid-level clouds?

Mid-level clouds use the prefix “alto” and occur between 6,500ft –20,000ft above the surface. These clouds may be composed of liquid water droplets, ice crystals, or a combination of both. The three main types of mid-level clouds are altostratus clouds, altocumulus clouds, and nimbostratus clouds.  

Altostratus clouds are stratus clouds that produce a gray layer of clouds in the mid-levels of the atmosphere. These clouds can be a precursor to rain.  

Altocumulus clouds are similar to cirrocumulus clouds but are lower in the atmosphere. These clouds are often associated with fair weather.  

Nimbostratus clouds are thick, dense stratus clouds that produce steady rain or snow.  

What are high-level clouds?

High-level clouds are clouds that occur over 20,000ft above the surface. High-level clouds use the prefix “cirro” which means curl of hair. These clouds often appear wispy and feathery and are made of ice crystals. The three main types of high-level clouds are cirrus clouds, cirrocumulus clouds, and cirrostratus clouds.  

Cirrus clouds are thin wispy clouds high in the atmosphere. Cirrus clouds are often the first sign of an approaching weather system.  

Cirrocumulus clouds are thin, patchy, sheet-like clouds that usually appear in long rows.  

Cirrostratus clouds are thin clouds that form a widespread veil-like layer across the sky.