All Cloud Names and Classifications

Even though we see clouds every day in the sky, we don’t always know why they are there. Most people don’t know that there are different types of clouds and that each one of them can have different effects on the environment and even on human beings.

There is a lot to know about clouds. That knowledge helps us understand many of the world’s natural processes and why some weather conditions occur. Learning about new things is one of the best activities you can do in your life. Send this page to a friend or a relative to help them learn something new today!

How Are Clouds Classified?

As we mentioned before, clouds are classified in a number of ways. There are many types with different names. Regardless of that, there are three main cloud forms, which are: high clouds (CH), medium clouds (CM), and low clouds (CL).

If a cloud gets to the ground or is closer to the earth’s surface, it’s called fog. Fog is not so common in some cities, but it can happen anywhere.

High Clouds (CH)

High clouds are usually above 20,000 feet. There are no clouds at a higher level than them, so they can’t always be seen by people. However, if someone sees them, high clouds can seem smaller than they are.

Medium Clouds (CM)

Medium clouds are not as high as high clouds. They tend to be between 6,000 and 20,000 ft but not above that. They are more visible and are in the middle of where high clouds and low clouds form.

Low Clouds (CL)

These are the closest to the earth’s surface. People can see these clouds with no trouble. They tend to be at 6,500 ft or below. Clouds that form or appear below them could be called fog since they are almost on the ground. Yet, clouds coming from the fog are not considered low clouds.

Other Cloud Types

There are other types of clouds that are not as common as the ones mentioned before. Regardless of that, they appear sometimes if the right weather conditions meet. Among them, there are vertical clouds, clouds that have different colors, and even clouds below low clouds.

What Are the Types of High Clouds?

As said before, clouds vary depending on their classification. The different types of high clouds are:


You can identify these clouds by their form. They tend to look like thin filaments and can get yellow or red before sunrise and after sunset. Cirrus clouds are thick enough to block the sun, so they may do it at times.


Cirrocumulus clouds are formed with smaller clouds called cloudlets. They are a sign of fair weather. If you see them, you can expect to have good weather for the day. Like cirrus, cirrocumulus clouds are formed by ice crystals.


These clouds are almost translucent, but they can cover a considerable distance in the sky. They are thin and look layered. Cirrostratus clouds can also produce halos.

What Are the Types of Medium Clouds?

After talking about the clouds at the highest altitude. The medium clouds are following. They are:


Altocumulus clouds look similar to cirrocumulus and cumulus clouds. That’s because the three of them are formed by small cloudlets that create a complete altocumulus cloud. Yet, what differentiates them is their altitude since, like other types of clouds, altocumulus is a sign of good weather.


These mid-level layered clouds are formed by both water droplets and ice. Since altostratus clouds are easy to notice, you can detect if rain is coming by seeing their color. They tend to get darker when a storm or rainy weather is about to happen.


Nimbostratus clouds are a layered-like type of cloud that is often associated with rain, snow, and other types of precipitation. They tend to group and form a big extension of clouds that don’t allow you to see the sky. That’s why they are mostly seen when rain is coming.

Since they bring active precipitation, they are gray and of dark colors in general. Nimbostratus clouds are considered low-level clouds for some people but are mostly classified as medium clouds.

Although nimbostratus clouds often cause precipitation, they don’t produce any type of lightning by themselves, so you don’t need to worry about that when seeing one.

Low clouds

What Are the Types of Low Clouds?

The last classification for clouds is low clouds or low-level clouds. They are the ones that are easier to see by people since they are the closest to the earth’s surface. Regardless of that, clouds caused by fog are not considered low-level clouds. The low clouds are:


Stratocumulus clouds look like puffy groups of clouds that form a bigger structure. They often appear above oceans and bodies of water. These clouds don’t cause severe weather conditions such as lightning or things of the sort, but they can produce precipitation in form of a short rain or snow.

These clouds often appear after severe weather ends, so they don’t tend to precede dangerous situations such as blizzards or heavy rain.


Stratus clouds are known for looking like a flat parcel that covers the sky. These clouds tend to form light horizontal layers that may get dark gray depending on the weather. They don’t have many features or associated clouds, so stratus clouds tend to look the same most times.


This type of cloud is one of the most popular worldwide. Cumulus clouds are big, puffy, and tend to be far from each other. They are often seen on sunny days and clear skies in general. These clouds can have different forms and shapes, so they are subclassified under other types of cumulus clouds.

Those subclassifications are used to describe the weather, so knowing them can turn out to be useful in the future. These are definitely among the best clouds for cloud spotting.


Unlike other types of clouds in this article, cumulonimbus clouds are a clear sign of danger. That’s because they are prone to produce severe precipitation such as heavy rain or hail. These clouds are often called thunderstorm clouds since they are associated with lightning and thunder.

They tend to be of dark colors. With a flat form, cumulonimbus can cover the sky and make it look darker, so it’s easy to notice when a storm is coming by looking at them.

Dangerous clouds

Cloud Species

Altitude is not the only scale used to classify clouds. There are also different clouds, each one representing different characteristics that make identifying clouds easier. Even if they are the same type of cloud, many clouds can vary depending on their species, sometimes looking completely different than other ones of the same classification.

Regardless of that, it’s essential to know the species to identify them correctly. Considering that, here are the main cloud species:

  • Floccus: They are often formed by groups of little puffy clouds that get together to form a bigger cloud.
  • Castellanus: Castellanus clouds are also called tower and turret clouds since they look similar to those constructions.
  • Fibratus: Fiber-like clouds.
  • Uncinus: Similar to fibratus clouds, uncinus clouds are hair-like. However, you can tell they’re different since uncinus clouds are curved.

Regardless of that, each cloud is different from the other. That means there are tons of species and subclassifications. Those subclassifications also vary depending on the type of cloud you study at the moment.

Cloud Varieties

As said before, there are many ways to study clouds. People can use species, genera, and varieties. Naturally, those subclassifications divide clouds by different things and specific characteristics.

Unlike cloud species, clouds can have several cloud varieties associated with them. There are nine cloud varieties. Here is a list of them:

  • Translucidus: Translucent layers attached to clouds.
  • Opacus: Like translucidus, opacus represents layers. Yet, they are thick layers that can even block the sun.
  • Radiatus: These varieties form parallel bands and strips that are close to each other.
  • Inortus: They are interlaced and entangled clouds.
  • Duplicatus: Clouds with multiple layers that tend to merge to create a single and bigger cloud of a different form.
  • Undulatus: Undulatus clouds have different waves.
  • Perlucidus: Similar to translucidus, perlucidus clouds have different layers that are almost translucent.
  • Vertebratus: They have a fishbone appearance, which makes them look like a skeleton.
  • Lacunosus: They have several edges. This cloud variety also looks perforated.

Supplementary Features Clouds

Clouds can be associated with supplementary features and accessory clouds. Those are not specific parts of the cloud’s main body, but attachments from other clouds that make them different and cause considerable changes. Some of those features appear depending on the weather conditions.

Supplementary features are also an interesting subject to study. Some of them are often to appear. Recognizing them is not that difficult, since they tend to look the same all the time. Some supplementary features are:

  • Virga: It shows that precipitation is evaporating. This feature is wispy and goes to the bottom of clouds.
  • Pannus: This feature looks ragged. Some say that it looks like a cloud in precipitation periods.
  • Tube: The tube feature has the shape of a cone. This one is common in cumulonimbus clouds.
  • Incus: Incus is also associated with cumulonimbus, so it tends to be confused with tube features. Yet, it’s not difficult to differentiate one from another.
  • Arcus: This is often called a shelf cloud. The arcus feature is large arc-shaped, so they are one of the easiest to notice.
  • Pileus: Pileus are also called cap clouds because they get to the top of cumulonimbus or cumulus clouds.
  • Velum: As their name suggests, these clouds look like a veil when they attach to the main cloud. They are also large and think.
  • Mamma: This one is related to udder-shaped forms that stand out in clouds.

Cloud names

Names for Clouds

As you could notice, clouds have many different names. Those names work as suffixes and prefixes to the cloud’s original name. That’s because those names come from Latin terms and expressions, so some of them are Latin prefixes and suffixes.

Those names and Latin terms mean things related to the cloud itself. For example, the Cumulus cloud comes from the Latin cumulo, which means puffy. Another example of that is stratus clouds, which come from the Latin strato, which means layers or layered.

Studying a cloud by its name makes many things come into place. One of the clouds that are most related to rain and precipitation is the cumulonimbus. That’s why it’s called like that. Nimbus comes from nimbo, which means rain cloud.

Those prefixes and suffixes are combined to make a cloud’s name. An example of that is the nimbostratus. That’s because it is a cloud that is associated with active precipitation and that is layered. Try doing that with other clouds and see if their name matches their characteristics! Analyzing their name can even help you understand some things about them.


Many people see clouds and ignore everything they can get to know about them. Their name, shape, color, altitude; everything tells us something different about the cloud. However, studying them and analyzing them is no easy task.

You need to put in an effort if you want to make learning about clouds a routine. However, if you do it, it can bring you excellent benefits. For example, you can start to predict the weather just by looking at the sky. That’s because some clouds only appear when specific meteorological conditions meet.

Cloud spotting is also a fun activity, so you shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to do it. Regardless of that, it’s not that interesting to learn those things and do those activities alone. Everything’s better if we do it with someone else. That’s why you should look for someone to learn about clouds with you!

Not many people are interested in clouds or the weather. You can change that! Share this article with a friend or a family member to help them understand how exciting is to learn about clouds! Everything they need to know about their classification is right here, so don’t hesitate to send this to them to start learning more about clouds!

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