Names of Cloud Formations

Above: Names of Cloud Formations

Names of Cloud Formations

Are you planning to go boating or sailing with the family? Before you decide on going, you have to check the local weather news to make sure that it will be a fair day throughout. However, take note that weather can change in just a matter of hours. You could've watched the weather news saying it will be sunny the whole day but by mid-afternoon, it starts to rain a little. To help you in predicting the weather once you are at sea, you must always keep an eye out on the clouds, as they are good indicators of the coming weather.

Using Clouds to Forecast Weather

While you’re at sea and you don’t have any access to weather news, you can just check the clouds and you’ll know if rain will come your way. Clouds are used as tools to predict and forecast weather. By simply observing the cloud’s size, direction, and movement, you can already predict the weather changes that are headed your way. Since you’re not a meteorologist, you don’t need to memorize all the details, but at the very least, you should have a good idea on how to observe clouds and predict the weather.

Different Cloud Formations Based on Altitude

Names of cloud formations are based on their altitude, shape, and distinct characteristics. Clouds are grouped as high clouds, middle clouds, low clouds, and vertical growth. High clouds are cirrus clouds, middle clouds are alto clouds, low clouds are stratus clouds, while clouds with vertical growth are cumulus clouds.

The varying names of cloud formations are caused by the mixing or sudden transformations in clouds. Hence, the names of clouds are combined together as a suffix or prefix. For instance, if the cloud you see is lumpy and high, the cloud is called cirrocumulus. Cirro meaning high, while cumulus meaning heaps. This “mackerel sky” may look beautiful but they can be a signal of a coming hurricane in the tropic region.

If you are seeing a high, flat, and layered cloud, this cloud is called cirrostratus. Cirro meaning high, while stratus meaning flat and layered. Alto clouds, which are middle clouds, can also be combined with other types of clouds. Altostratus means middle and layered clouds. Altocumulus means middle and lumpy clouds.

Nimbus clouds are precipitating clouds, which means they will produce rain. Nimbus clouds can be mixed with cumulus and stratus clouds. Cumulonimbus clouds mean a lumpy and vertical growing cloud formation while nimbostratus is a flat rain cloud.

The High Cloud Formation Group

The highest altitude clouds are called cirrus clouds. Cirrus means curl in Latin. They usually form above 18,000 feet off the ground. The three names of cloud formations under this group are cirrus, cirrocumulus, and cirrostratus.

  • Cirrus clouds are the common high clouds that you see in the sky. They look like a mare’s hair because they are wispy, long, and thin. Cirrus clouds are colored white. Seeing these clouds in the sky indicates a fair weather throughout the day. You can observe a change of weather in the direction of the cirrus clouds. Depending on the direction of the ‘hairs,’ this means that weather will change within the day.


  • Cirrostratus clouds look like sheets in the sky. They are high and thin. Being that they are stratus clouds, they form a blanket in the sky, thereby covering it. Since they are thin, the sun and moon can still be seen through cirrostratus clouds. When you see cirrostratus clouds in the sky, this would indicate that rain or snow would come in 12 to 24 hours.


  • Cirrocumulus clouds are small and rounded heaps of clouds. They appear in rows and are colored white. Sometimes, they can be colored gray. Cirrocumulus clouds are often seen during the wintertime but they indicate a fair weather. In the tropical region, however, cirrocumulus clouds signal a coming hurricane.

The Middle Cloud Formation Group

The middle altitude clouds are alto clouds. They form at an altitude of 6,500 feet to 18,000 feet. These types of clouds forecast weather changes within 6 to 12 hours. The names of cloud formations in this group are altocumulus and altostratus.

Altostratus clouds cover the whole sky and they appear in gray or dark-gray colors. The sun and moon can still be visible from these clouds but it can look a bit hazy. When you see altostratus clouds, this means that a storm or continuous rain is about to come.

Altocumulus clouds are essentially grayish-white in color. These clouds form in groups, and if you happen to spot altocumulus clouds in a warm and humid morning, thunderstorms will be coming your way in the late afternoon.

The Low Cloud Formation Group

The low clouds are called stratus clouds and they form at an altitude of 6,500 feet. They appear in sheets and layers that blanket the entire sky. The names of cloud formations in this group are stratus, nimbostratus, and stratocumulus.

Stratus clouds are colored gray and cover the whole sky. Light drizzles and rains accompany stratus clouds.

Stratocumulus clouds are low, gray and they come in heaps. Most stratocumulus clouds form in rows and you can see the visible sky in the spaces. Stratocumulus clouds don’t produce rain but it can turn to a nimbostratus cloud depending on the weather front.

Nimbostratus clouds have a ragged base and are colored dark-gray. If you see nimbostratus clouds in the sky, this means that it will rain or snow within the day.

The Vertical Formation Cloud Group

Clouds that form vertically are cumulus clouds. Low, small, and lumpy cloud indicates a fair weather for the day. But the thing with cumulus clouds is when they start growing vertically, this means that the hot air is rising, thereby causing the vertical growth. When this happens, cumulonimbus clouds start to form.

Cumulonimbus clouds are monsters in the sky. Once cumulonimbus clouds are seen, it means a strong thunderstorm is headed your way. These clouds are associated with heavy rain, lightning, snow, hail, and tornadoes.

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