Names of Clouds Types

Above: Names of Clouds Types

Names of Clouds Types

While Latin has been a dead language for centuries, the sciences of today still use words from Latin for that exact reason. A dead language is a language no longer in use, and with that main characteristic, the words of the dead language have no impetus to change what they mean. So in situations where science needs a name or a description of some new phenomena or species, Latin is the language of choice, for its precision and permanence of meaning.

The drawback is that when Latin is used to name a phenomenon, only those who understand Latin will understand it immediately. For those who have no idea about Latin, the name is simply a proper noun that does not lead to any hint of what the name really means. This keeps the science in the hands of scientists, and to others, the Latin name must always be associated with the comprehensible description that science has ascribed to it.

The Formula for Names of Cloud Types in Latin

Understanding a little about Latin can go a long way, especially in understanding the names of clouds types. New phenomena such as cloud formations need precise descriptions, and with the multitude of cloud formations, finding a common characteristic to identify them is difficult in the first place, much less the classifications. As such, it is the common characteristic that is given the name's dominant position, and in Latin, to make the classification more efficient.

This is true for the names of clouds types. The dominant position is the main characteristic of the cloud, the secondary for the second identifier, and so on. And after understanding this, all that is needed is a little Latin to understand the names of clouds types, without referring to a lengthy English description of the cloud.

The List of Cloud Genera

According to the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, there are ten genera of clouds type in Latin. These are the following: Cirrocumulus (Cc), Cirrus (Ci), Cirrostratus (Cs), Altostratus (As), Altocumulus (Ac), Nimbostratus (Ns), Stratus (St), Stratocumulus (Sc), Cumulonimbus (Cb), and Cumulus (Cu).

Memorizing each name with their respective abbreviations can be done. However, if you look closer at the names, they are simply a mixture of a few Latin words. Understanding those Latin words can make the whole list appear simpler.

The Latin words that appear in various forms in the list are the following, along with their literal Latin translations:

  • Cirrus or Cirro –In Latin, cirro means, “fringe”. The physical attribute of clouds with cirrus or cirro- in the name refers to wisps or curls of clouds on the edges.

  • Stratus or Strato –The literal Latin translation of stratus is a cover, such as a bed cover. The identifier of the genus of clouds with stratus or strata- in the name is a flat foundation of the cloud.

  • Alto —The word comes from the Latin word meaning “high.” This identifies clouds in the high levels, usually situated 6 to18 kilometers in tropical regions, 3 to 8 kilometers in the Polar Regions and 5 to 14 kilometers high for temperate regions, all above sea level.

  • Nimbo or –nimbus –The Latin translation for nimbus or nimbo is rain, or a cloud of rain. The physical characteristic of this genus of clouds is similarly so.

  • Cumulus, Cumulu- or Cumulo –In Latin, cumulus means a pile or a heap. Cumulus cloud appears as a puffy cloud, as if filled with cotton balls.


Hence, a cumulunimbus cloud (Cb) is a puffy cloud filled with rain. An altocumulus cloud (Ac) is a high altitude puffy-looking cloud.

The ten genera have been reduced to five because of the Latin root words. And because of this, it is much simpler to understand and identify immediately what name should be associated with the description.

The Species of Clouds

Under each genus of names of clouds types, there is a species, and each species has a Latin root word that physically describes the cloud. Remember that the genus is the main characteristic of the cloud, and the species only further defines it. Also, the species may or may not exist under all genera.

The Latin root words for the names of the species of clouds regardless of its genera are as follows:

  • Fibratus. From the Latin word fibr, meaning hairlike. The hairlike extensions on clouds are the mark of the species Fibratus.

  • Uncinus. Translated from Latin, it literally means, “hook.” Uncinus clouds are similar to Fibratus clouds, except that at the end of the hair-like extension is the shape of a hook.

  • Spissatus. The translation of spissatus to English is to thicken or to pack tightly.

  •  This type of cloud packs tightly enough to obscure the sun or moon.

  • Castellanus. As in “castle”. The cloud formation of the Castellanus is a huge and towering structure, like that of a castle.

  • Floccus. The Latin translation of floccus is a tuft of wool. The Floccus appears as small tufts of wool, but with torn bottoms.

  • Formis. In Latin, to form or stretch outwards. The stratiformis occurs as very small patches of clouds extending to a large area.

  • Lenticularis. It means the stem of a lens. Lenticularis clouds form a distinctly flat and circular shape.

  • Nebulosus. The Latin translation is a mist or vapor. This is the generic cloud, lacking in distinct appearance and detail.

  • Fractus. From the Latin verb frangere, meaning to break. This species of cloud is usually torn off from a larger piece of cloud through air and wind forces.

  • Humilis. To be low or humble. This type of cloud is a low level cloud, often flat.

  • Mediocris. In Latin, in a middle state, or to be of a medium height. A cloud in development towards one of bigger size or strength.

  • Congestus. The Latin past participle of congere, meaning to collect or heap up. It is a cloud on the brink of maturity.

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