Who Gives Names of Clouds

Above: Who Gives Names of Clouds

Who Gives Names of Clouds

As students, people have been taught to identify the types of clouds. They are able to distinguish the many kinds of clouds due mostly to the meteorologists who have studied them in the past. In school, clouds are often classified by appearance as well as height.

But if you are curious as to who gives names of clouds, the answer can easily be found. Clouds were named using its characteristics, and it was Luke Howard who named clouds based on their appearance, and his nomenclature was accepted by the International Meteorological Commission in 1929. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck came up with another set of cloud classification but it was Howard’s that became recognized and being followed, up to this day.

Who was Luke Howard?

Luke Howard was a British amateur meteorologist who was able to establish the classification of clouds in 1802. He was called the Father of Meteorology because of his writings and papers about the weather. He wrote an essay called, Modification of Clouds, and this is where he named the three classifications of clouds that are being used up to this His passion for meteorology was triggered when he was in high school, as he observed that dust from volcanic eruptions in Japan and Iceland brought about beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

Howard wanted to know more about the natural order of things so he joined a group called the Askesian Society. The group name meant “searchers of knowledge.” So to answer the question, who gives names of clouds, well, it started with Luke Howard.

Cloud Nomenclature According to Howard

Luke Howard was able to classify clouds according to their shapes. He noted three basic shapes of the clouds:

  • Cumulus was used for clouds that formed heaps of cloud masses with cauliflower tops. They are as tall as they are wide.


  • Stratus was for clouds that were like thick and layered mattresses. These clouds are more wide than thick and cover most of the sky.


  • Cirrus was for wispy and curly shaped clouds. These clouds are often seen in high levels; they are thin and are white-colored.


He only added nimbus later on, referring to clouds that generated precipitation. Because Howard was familiar with Latin, it was the language he used to name clouds. A Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck also had his own classification system. However, he was using unusual French names and so it did not receive the recognition he anticipated.  

How were Clouds Named?

Using Howard’s basic cloud nomenclature, clouds have been classified properly. These clouds were named basing on their appearance and altitude, which are the common cloud classifications.

  • The Cumulus Family includes fair weather cumulus, swelling cumulus, and cumulus congestus.
  • The Stratus Family is made up of stratus, altostratus, and cirrostratus.
  • Layered Heaps include stratocumulus, altocumulus and cirrocumulus.
  • Precipitating Clouds are composed of cumulonimbus, cirrus, and nimbostratus.


However, there are also other uncategorized clouds. They are usually just named for their shapes. Examples are wall clouds, shelf clouds, contrails, billow clouds, pileus clouds, mammatus and orographic clouds. Fog is also another type of low-lying cloud although it gets its moisture from a nearby body of water like the sea or lake.

Cloud Classification Based on Altitude

Howard’s classifications of clouds were based on their appearance. Another classification is based on height or altitude. There are three levels: low, mid and high. Low-level clouds are not more than 6,500 feet high while mid-level clouds go from 6,500 feet to 20,000 feet. These are composed of water droplets but can turn to ice crystals when the temperature gets cooler. High-level clouds, on the other hand, are more than 20,000 feet in height. They are mostly ice crystals due to extreme elevation.

Mid-level clouds have the prefix alto; thus, you can identify altocumulus and altostratus clouds as mid-level. High-level clouds use the prefix cirro and examples are cirrocumulus and cirrostratus clouds. Low-level clouds do not need any prefix to their name.

The Importance of Cloud Names

The significance of cloud names cannot be downplayed. While ordinary people do not particularly care about cloud names and who gives names of clouds, it is important to some. More than its name, clouds contribute a lot to the Earth’s climate, weather and energy balance. The clouds are named because it helps scientists and meteorologists identify the type of clouds. Just by looking at the sky, they can see if a particular cloud formation will bring about thunderstorms, cyclones, or a rather harmless precipitation.

If clouds were not aptly named, then they would have colorful descriptions. Cumulus clouds, for example, take on different shapes and because of this, there would be no consistency among meteorologists all over the world.

What is the Role of a Meteorologist?

Meteorologists are scientists who study meteorology. They are best known for weather forecasting. They are responsible for naming clouds as well. Cloud physics is a branch of meteorology that studies the physical process of cloud formation, growth, and cloud precipitation.  These people analyze and research more about cloud characteristics and how they affect the atmosphere. Meteorologists are those who give names of clouds. They are responsible for informing people about the weather and climate of a particular place. People rely on them for information when the weather changes, and clouds help meteorologists understand and predict the weather.

International Association of Meteorology

Due to advancements in science and technology, clouds have been studied, analyzed, and researched both on the ground and outer space. Naturally, not all countries can finance and support meteorology and cloud physics. But there are international associations on meteorology and atmospheric science. Therefore, information can be disseminated and shared among countries. These countries have affiliations with other nations so new developments can be applied. These associations have been established since the nineteenth century, and a perfect example is the International Meteorological Commission, which adopted Howard’s paper called Modification of Clouds.

Nowadays, the focus is on how clouds will be affected by global warming. Scientists’ attention has been shifted to the cloud’s characteristics in the future and today’s cloud names may be changed over time.

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