Cloud Names by Altitude

Above: Cloud Names by Altitude

Cloud Names by Altitude

There are so many different types of clouds in the sky. The nomenclature and classification of clouds is important. Clouds are classified into all kinds of groups and there are cloud names by altitude. Clouds settle at varying levels, and the clouds in each level are found with very characteristic attributes. This differentiates them from each other so that meteorologists and weather forecasters can do their job, more accurately.

The Nomenclature of Clouds

Due to the existence of an abundance of clouds, scientists have found a system to name them. Here are some of the different classifications:

  • According to physical categories: This classification names clouds according to how they appear in the sky. This refers to their orientation, their shape, their size, and grouping.


  • According to Genus or Genera: This classification is based on their height within the troposphere. There are different families that are used for naming, and they are: family A, B, C, D1 and D2.


  • According to Species: Within the different Genus, clouds are further classified into species and they are no longer affected by their height occurrence in the sky.


  • According to Varieties: After classifying clouds into their Genus and species, they are given a further classification, according to varieties, which is determined by their opacities, arrangements, and shapes.


  • According to Supplementary Features: Clouds are also classified according to any supplementary features that they may have.


  • According to Altitude: Cloud names by altitude are given based on their occurrence in the sky. There are high-level, mid-level, and low-level clouds, and within these three different levels, specific clouds exist in various forms.

All About Cloud Names by Altitude

Clouds occur in different altitudes. In total, there are three levels in the atmosphere, namely: the high-level, mid-level and low-level, and every level houses very specific types of clouds. Every level is designated a prefix, and this identifies the clouds based on their position in the sky.

  • High-level clouds: These are clouds that exist above 20,000 feet. At this level, all the clouds are given the prefix “cirro” and since they are found so high up in the atmosphere, you can expect to find a lot of ice crystals within them. Clouds within this level carry a general appearance of being somewhat streaky, thin in consistency and white in color. There are three main types on clouds within this classification: cirrus (which are feathery and wispy clouds), cirrocumulus (are layered clouds that appear quite lumpy), and cirrostratus (which are widespread and distinctly veil-like in appearance).


  • Mid-level clouds: These are clouds that exist between 6,500 and 20,000 feet. The clouds found in this level are given the prefix “alto” and they known to contain water droplets, ice crystals, or both. There are two main types of clouds in this level: the altocumulus (which are known to have convective elements) and the altostratus (which are characteristically flat and uniform in appearance).


  • Low-level clouds: The final level appears below 6,500 feet. They are not given any prefix but their names have derivation from “cumulo” or “strato” clouds. Given their position in the atmosphere, they can either be made up of water droplets or ice crystals, especially during the winter season.

Clouds in Different Levels

The cloud names by altitudes are categorized in the three levels above and within these levels, there are certain clouds carrying a common prefix to identify them from all the others. Here are the names of the clouds in the different altitudes:

  • High-level clouds


Cirrus: They are the highest of all clouds and they are composed purely of ice crystals. They occur, specifically, at an altitude of 16,500 to 45,000 feet and they can be found all over the world. Although they are known to form precipitation, none of it reaches the ground.

Cirrocimulus: They are present when a bad weather is about to come and they are mostly transitional clouds between cirrus and cirrostratus clouds.

Cirrostratus: They are found a little higher in the atmosphere at 20,000 to 42,000 feet and because they are pale and milky in appearance, they are quite difficult to spot.

  • Mid-level clouds


Altostratus: These clouds are bluish gray and when the sun or moon shines on them, their light seems to appear hazy. They are known to form ahead of a storm or heavy downpour.
Altocumulus: These clouds are grayish white and are usually found in groups. They warn people of the onset of rain.

  • Low-level clouds


Stratus: They are low clouds found between 0 to 6.500 feet and are often seen as fog or mist. They are composed of liquid water and they precipitate to nothing more than a drizzle.
Stratocumulus: These clouds are seen between 2,000 to 6,500 feet. They are puffy and can cause rain or snow.

Nimbostratus: These clouds are seen between 2,000 to 18,000 feet and they can cause moderate to heavy rains. They occur without any variety or species, and are composed of water, snowflakes, and ice crystals.

The Clouds and the Weather

Clouds are very helpful when telling the weather. Cloud names by altitude are also given based on their contribution to the weather. Different clouds bring about different weather conditions. Like for instance, Cirrus fibratus, Cirrocumulus, and Cirrus spissatus are referred to as ice clouds and they indicate precipitation within 20 to 30 minutes. Cirrus uncinus are high ice clouds and they also bring rain within a 20 to 30-minute window. Altocumulus indicates good weather, but a combination of Altocumulus and cirrus clouds will bring rain within 20 to 24 hours. Nimbostratus clouds predict the onset of both rain and snow clouds and most Stratocumulus clouds speak of bad weather.

The clouds can tell you what kind of weather an area is going to have. They are used by weather forecasters to be able to bring you a more accurate weather report, and if you are familiar with cloud types, then you too can predict the weather in your area.

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