Names of Clouds

Above: Names of Clouds

Names of Clouds

When you look up to the sky, do you wonder about the names of the clouds you see? There are so many different clouds that decorate the sky and every variation of cloud formation has a different name. What kind of clouds are you seeing outside, right now? Can you tell the difference between them? Clouds are named according to different categories and you will learn more about them here.

Name of Clouds According to Its Physical Attributes

Probably the most basic way to name clouds would be according to how you see them in the sky. As you cannot simply give them names like “fluffy” or “cottony,” proper names are given to the clouds, such as:

  • Cumuliform-category clouds: These clouds are formed due to localized orographic or convective lifts. They are products of weak intermittent precipitation. Depending on the size, they can produce light to moderate showers, and even more serious thunderstorms. You can also get snow showers, strong wind shears, heavy rains, downbursts, and tornadoes with cumuliform or convective clouds, but these are very rare conditions.


  • Stratiform-category clouds: These clouds are non-convective and are a result of stable air. They can form some precipitation.


  • Cirriform-category clouds: These clouds form at high altitudes and they do not form precipitation at all.

Names of Clouds According to Altitude

With the vastness of the skies, clouds can be seen spreading to great heights in the sky. Clouds can be seen at different altitudes and these specific layers are named, as follows:

  • High-level clouds: The general appearance of clouds in this altitude is thin and white. These are clouds that are formed higher than 20,000 feet or roughly, 6,000 meters. Given their position in the sky, the temperature can be quite low so clouds in this altitude are mostly made of ice crystals.


  • Middle Level clouds: Given their position, the temperature here is relatively high compared to high-level clouds. This position provides clouds in this area with a mixed composition of ice and water. Mid-level clouds occupy the expanse in the sky between 6,500 to 20,000 feet or 2,000 to 6,000 meters.


  • Low-level clouds: These low altitude clouds are seen below 6,500 feet or 2,000 meters. The clouds in this area form at higher temperatures, so they are mostly composed of water droplets.

Names of Clouds According to Genus

Slightly related to the previous classification, clouds are also given their Genus classification. As already mentioned above, different clouds are found in specific altitude levels, and these groups of clouds are given common prefixes:

  • Cirrus clouds: These are clouds that are found at high altitude levels above 20,000 feet. There are three main Genera of clouds given the prefix of Cirrus and they are, Cirrus clouds, Cirrostratus, and Cirrocumulus. Cirrus clouds are threadlike and fibrous; they appear like white feathers and they are made up of ice crystals. Cirrostratus clouds, on the other hand, appear translucent and milky; and they usually are seen above the sun and moon, as if to form a kind of halo. Finally, Cirrocumulus clouds are seen as banks of white flakes.


  • Alto clouds: These clouds occupy the mid-levels of the sky and are therefore seen between 6,500 to 20,000 feet. There are two Generas found within this level and they are: Altostratus clouds and Altocumulus clouds. Altostratus clouds are rather dense and can seem quite opaque from where they are, so you can see the sun reflecting through it. Altocumulus clouds are seen as gray fleecy bundles and they appear rough.


  • Stratus and Cumulus clouds: Within low-level altitudes, you will find a collection of these two Genera of clouds. Stratus clouds are low layer clouds that are often responsible for the formation of precipitation and fog. On the other hand, Cumulus clouds are another group of low-level clouds, which make very distinct vertical developments that appear like towers and cauliflower bundles.

Names of Clouds According to Species and Varieties

Clouds that occupy specific altitudes are given specific Genera that classify them according to their general behavior and appearance in the skies. The specific Genera of clouds are still further subdivided into what are called species and varieties.

There are different species of clouds, such as lenticularis, castellanus, and stratiformis. Lenticularis clouds are tapered at the ends so they have a very distinct lens-like shape and they are most commonly found where there is a strong wind shear. Castellanus clouds appear like a castle’s turrets. Stratiformis clouds are seen in rather small patches. Fibratus clouds are transitional clouds that form into Cirrus clouds. Cirrostratus clouds, on the other hand, appear diffused and without a definite structure.

The next classification is according to varieties and these clouds are named according to more specific behaviors in the sky:

  • Clouds are categorized according to their opacities. When clouds are more opaque, they are no longer able to reflect structures behind them. If they are translucent, they appear quite see-through. Clouds in this category can be given the name translucidus, opacus, or perlucidus. Translucidus clouds are definitely translucent and thus reflect the structures behind it; Opacus clouds are more opaque and they completely cover the sky; Perlucidus clouds are basically opaque clouds that have some translucent breaks in the middle.


  • Clouds can also be named according to their arrangements. For example, there is a variety called undulatus, which are basically clouds with wavy, undulating bases; duplicatus which are clouds of the same Genus that are found above each other; and riatus clouds, which are clouds arranged in rows along the horizon.


Clouds are so much more than just beautiful structures in the sky. Clouds are more complex than you think and they are classified using the Linnaean system under their own specific genera and species. This system of classification was developed by a meteorologist named, Luke Howard, and to this day, this classification is still being used, giving more meaning to what you see in the skies when you look up.

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