Cloud types

What are the types of clouds?

Clouds are suspended masses in the atmosphere and are made up of microdrops or crystals of water. These masses, also called hydrometeors, are formed when bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans) evaporate due to the action of the sun's rays and rise into the atmosphere. When these masses condense, rain is generated.

There are different types of clouds, classified according to their shape, height or development:

According to its shape:

  • Cirriform.
  • Stratiform.
  • Numbiforms.
  • Cumuliform.

According to your height:

  • High-level clouds: cirrus, cirrocumulus, and cirrostratus.
  • Medium level clouds: Altocumulus, Altocumulus, Nimbostratus.
  • Low-level clouds: stratocumulus and stratum.

Vertical development clouds

  • Cumulus clouds.
  • Cumulonímbos.

Types of clouds according to their shape

In 1803, the English meteorologist Luke Howard created the first cloud classification system based on four basic shapes:

  • Cirriform: they are high clouds in the shape of plumes and composed of ice crystals.
  • Stratiforms: these are bodies of water that extend in the sky, and that often generate light rains.
  • Numbiform: they are characterized by the fact that they generate moderate to heavy rainfall.
  • Cumulus: they are formed by drops of water or ice crystals. They circulate slowly, so when they condense they generate stationary rains.

You may also be interested in the following topics:

  • Condensation.
  • Precipitation.
  • Evaporation.

Types of clouds according to their height

The International Cloud Atlas, which began publication in 1921, was based on Luke Howard's system. However, the 1956 edition is considered the most important, since it contains the classification that is maintained to this day.

This new form of organization classifies clouds not only by their four basic shapes (and their possible combinations), but also takes into account the height at which they are generated.

According to this classification, the clouds can be:


Its name comes from the Latin cirrus, which means curly or curly. They are high-level clouds that are between 6,000 and 18,000 meters high and are characterized by their subtle shapes, with the appearance of white brushstrokes.

Due to their height, cirrus clouds are usually made up of water in a solid state, specifically in the form of crystals. Its presence in the sky is usually indicative that the temperature will drop in the next few hours.


His name is a mixture of the Latin terms "cirrus" Y "cumulus", Which mean accumulation of curls. These are high-stratum clouds formed by small bodies of water, which give them the appearance of irregular cotton balls.

On some occasions, the presence of cirrocumulus and cirrus clouds can be an indication of the development of a storm in the next 12 hours.


Along with cirrus and cirrocumulus, cirrostratus make up the high-level cloud group. Stratum comes from Latin stratus, which means to spread or spread something on a surface.

The above has to do with the appearance of these types of clouds, since they appear to be a kind of veil or thin cloth spread over the sky, so thin that it allows the formation of shadows on the earth's surface. In addition, with the cirrostratus a halo is formed around the Sun.

Cirrostratus forms at heights ranging from 5,000 to 18,000 thousand meters.


Altocumulus clouds are formed by medium-sized water masses and shaped like irregular flakes.

These types of clouds are medium level and form between 2000 and 8000 meters high. They are made up of water droplets, unlike high-level clouds where crystals are present.

When Altocumulus trees are present, intense rains are usually generated.


They are a type of medium-level clouds with layers of different densities and with an irregular shape, spread throughout the sky.

In the thinnest layer of the Altostratus it is possible to distinguish the sun or the moon, as the case may be.

Although they are often confused with cirrostratus, there are two characteristics that allow them to be differentiated: they do not generate a halo around the sun, nor do they generate shadows on the earth's surface.


Nimbostratus are the clouds that usually generate rain or snow. These are gray, high-density bodies of water that partially or totally cover the Sun, generating little visibility.

The nimbostratus are of medium level and are characterized by covering a large part of the sky, hence their name comes from Latin nimbus (rainy cloud) and stratus (cap).


These are low-level clouds that are characterized by having several layers with different density levels and are grouped in elongated formations, but slightly separated from each other, which allows us to see sections of the sky.

Stratocumulus forms at a height of two kilometers and although they are similar to Altocumulus, they do not generate rain or snow. They are dark gray in color and can be seen at sunset.


They are bodies of water that extend over large sections of the sky and can generate light drizzles. Strata are indicators of good weather and one of its main characteristics is that it looks a lot like mist.

Vertical development clouds

Clouds of vertical development are called water masses that form hundreds of meters above the surface and have a vertical structure. This type of cloud is classified into two types:

Cumulus clouds

They are clouds of cottony appearance and white or grayish color, characterized by forming in groups relatively separated from each other, which allows a part of the sky to be seen. They are associated with the presence of good weather and are typical formations of the summer months.


Cumulonimbus are very dense clusters formed by drops of water in their lower part and by water crystals in their upper part. These are very imposing clouds that can generate different types of precipitation: from drizzles to thunderstorms, passing through snow and hail.

See also Water cycle.

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