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Cool Cloud Formations!

What are clouds?

What clouds are made of? How are clouds made? What are the different types of cloud formation? These questions are often asked by kids as they become curious about the world around them, and it can be hard to explain!

This is a simple guide to help adults and children understand the different types of cloud, how they form and how each type of cloud affects our weather.

Clouds may often hide the sun but there are so many wonderful shapes and sizes, from the night shining cloud, to the all powerful supercell! How many of these weird clouds have you seen?

I hope you will enjoy this basic guide to clouds and find the cloud photos here as fascinating as I do!

The 4 major cloud types

In a nutshell, the 4 major cloud types are:

1. Cirrus

2. Cumulus

3. Stratus

4. Nimbus

Nephology - the physics of clouds

How clouds are made

Before we look at the various types of cloud, let's begin with how clouds are formed. Clouds are a combination of water vapour or ice crystals and microscopic dust particles that are found in rising warm air. These billions of tiny droplets of water or ice are so light they float in the Earth's Troposphere - causing the clouds you see everyday.

In 1802 Luke Howard, a British amateur meteorologist, presented a paper called "On the Modification of Clouds", a system in which clouds should be classified. This system is still used to this day and divides clouds into two categories, layered and convective, which indicates at what altitude they can be found and the processes that form them.

Layered cloud - these have a flattened appearance and not much vertical height.

Convective cloud - are clouds produced by pockets of warm air thermals rising directly from the surface below.

Each cloud belongs to a family (genus): high, medium, low and vertical. Within each family there are species for clouds which distinguishes their appearances and varieties.Clouds are measured at their base height rather than from the top of the cloud.

Make a cloud in a bottle!

Vertical cloud formations

Identifying Cumulus, Cumulonimbus and Supercell clouds

Cumulus clouds

At an altitude of about 2000 - 6000 feet, the Cumulus are one of the most common with flat bases and fluffy cotton wool cauliflower like tops that grow vertically. Cumulus are formed by a convection of air pushing a thermal of hot air upwards, as it rises it cools, expands and the water vapour condenses into tiny cloud droplets. If these clouds don't have too much vertical growth, fair weather is ahead. However, these benign looking clouds can develop into the more ominous Congestus Cumulus, which can then grow on into the awesome Cumulonimbus.


Cumulonimbus cloud - the king of clouds

This gigantic cloud is responsible for most types of extreme weather, such as thunder storms, heavy rain, hail, snow and tornadoes. These dense clouds can tower up to 14 miles in height, when a cumulonimbus reaches the troposphere the high winds flatten the top which creates an anvil shape. These clouds can been seen in groups or alone and are most common in tropical or temperate regions. Cumulonimbus can hold up to half a million tons of water. They can grow to form a Supercell Cloud which has the potential to be the most severe of thunderstorms - the photo below is of a Supercell, very scary!

Anvil shaped cumulonimbus cloud

Anvil shaped cumulonimbus cloud

Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.

Christopher Morley


Low cloud types - What clouds make it rain?

Stratocumulus

These grey lumpy clouds look like flattened cumulus and they appear in either horizontal layers of patches, rows or masses. They can produce limited drizzle and a little light rain, and can cover the whole sky for many hundreds of miles. These clouds are responsible for bringing a winter gloom that hangs around for days.

Nimbostratus - the rain cloud

Covering the whole sky in a grey blanket, nimbostratus most commonly produce persistent moderate to heavy rain or snow. If you want to find out about how rain happens, visit my page Rain! Glorious Rain! to learn more!

Stratus cloud - the drizzly cloud.

When a large air mass cools at the same time, this creates a Stratus Cloud. These clouds are a featureless horizontal grey mass and the lowest forming. Fog and mist are Stratus clouds at ground level, but the highest can reach is is 6,500 feet when it becomes a "cloudy day".

Middle cloud formations - clouds that hide the sun


Altostratus - the boring cloud!

When the Stratus clouds rise about 6500 feet it becomes the Altostratus. This flat mass belongs to the middle level of clouds, the thicker the cloud becomes the grayer it gets. It is a very dull looking cloud, but always looks lovely during a sunset as you can see from the image on the right.

Altocumulus

If there is a humid morning, you may see these grayish, puffy clouds which often precede a thunderstorm. They can look like parallel bands or rolling masses.

High level cloud types - clouds formed from ice crystals

Cirrocumulus

When you see these pretty puffy clouds sailing high, fair weather is forecast for tomorrow. These are seen in rows and form patterns like popcorn, cirrocumulus can also form a pattern termed "a mackerel sky" due to the fish scale effect they produce! Cirrostratus can mean rain or snow within the next day.

Cirrus clouds

These are the highest clouds at 16,500 to 45,000 feet and are composed of tiny ice particles. They make wonderful wispy shapes due to the 100 - 150 mph fluctuating winds at that height. Cirrus mean fair weather ahead and are nicknamed "mare's tails".

Contrails

Contrails are artificial clouds made from ice particles produced from the aerosols from aircraft exhaust. They are produced in very cold temperatures at -40 degrees and at high altitudes of 26,000 feet.

Contrail from a space shuttle launch

Weird cloud formations....have you seen any of these rare clouds?

Morning Glory cloud

This is a roll cloud which can reach 1000 km long and 1-2km high, this rare cloud is found in North Australia in the Gulf Carpentaria. The Morning Glory is accompanied by short squalls of wind, the air at the front of the roll pushes up, with the air at the rear of the cloud sinks. Because of this "cloud surfers", glider pilots can ride these clouds like waves.

Watch people cloud surfing roll clouds!

Noctilucent clouds

These absolutely beautiful and ethereal clouds are seen on the very edges of the world's atmosphere, in the mesosphere. Noctilucent clouds look like thin spidery blue veins against the twilight sky, glowing electric silver and blue - hence their nickname "night shining clouds". So what are Noctilucent Clouds? Some scientists believe that they are a sign of global warming, others believe that it could be space dust in the higher reaches of the mesosphere catching the rays of the sun.

Undulatus Asperatus cloud

This surreal looking cloud is a new discovery, the first since 1951! This has been put forward for official classification by the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, Gavin Pretor-Pinney. It looks scary, but these clouds generally follow after a storm rather than become one. The wave affect comes from turbulent air masses pushing cloud into shapes like rough waves on the sea.

The Lenticular cloud

This is an Altocumulus Lenticularis, a rare lens-shaped cloud that forms when moist air flows over mountains. Some people believe that aliens hide in these clouds or that Lenticular clouds are actually flying saucers!

The Nacreous cloud

This cloud occurs in the polar regions during winter at a very high altitude of 15,000 to 25,000 metres. They form at low temperatures and although beautiful Nacreous clouds contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer. These clouds convert benign chlorine in the atmosphere into a destructive form and also by removing the nitrogen compounds that help prevent the chlorine becoming reactive. These clouds are becoming more common in the polar regions, particularly the Arctic.

Mammatus clouds

Mammatus comes from the Latin, meaning "mammary" because of their bosomy shape! Mammatus clouds look like they are bringing apocalyptic weather, but they are actually harmless. Mammatus form of often on the underside of an anvil cumulonimbus cloud, after the storm has passed. The ice crystals at the top of the anvil start to sink as they become heavier than the surrounding air. The base of a cloud is flat because all moisture evaporates at that level, but the ice crystals they are still too large to melt, so they sink further - and this creates the mammatus pockets.

"I wandered as lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o'er vales and hills"

Daffodils by William Wordsworth

Great websites about clouds and weather

  • Clouds - Met Office
    Find out more about clouds
  • The Cloud Appreciation Soceity
    The official society for all cloud lovers! This is the number one place to look if you want to see stunning photos and submit your own, learn more about clouds and chat with like minded cloud appreciators!
  • The Royal Meteorological Society
    The Royal Meteorological Society is the Learned and Professional Society for anyone whose profession or interests are connected with weather.
  • NASA Earth Observatory : Home
    The Earth Observatory's mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models.
  • World Meteorological Homepage | WMO
    Weather from all over the globe!

Do you love to watch the clouds? Or do clouds ruin your day?!

Thomo85 on February 25, 2013:

I love cloud formations they certainly make some weird and wonderful shapes.

Loretta Livingstone from Chilterns, UK. on January 21, 2013:

I recently started taking pictures of the sky for my books. I have some fabulous cloud photographs now, and enjoyed looking at your pictures.

Ramona from Arkansas on October 29, 2012:

Nice! I've always likes clouds and the wonderful shapes they make.

VspaBotanicals on September 13, 2012:

I love watching clouds. I can't wait to experience some spectacular ones like there are on this lens! Thank you for another sensational lens!

Lynne Modranski from Ohio on August 17, 2012:

Love those MOrning glory clouds!

Fay from Cornwall, UK on August 01, 2012:

Great lens on clouds. Since we have had nothing but grey for months it is lovely to see them back again.

flicker lm on July 27, 2012:

I love watching clouds! Very informative article. I never knew that mist and fog were Stratus clouds at ground level. This is an article I'll come back and read again.

Lorna from USA on July 26, 2012:

My daughter loved weather, she can name each cloud she saw. I have to show her this lens. Great job!

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on July 20, 2012:

Another great lens on clouds types. Thanks for sharing.

LadyFlashman (author) from United Kingdom on July 02, 2012:

@erin-elise: I have never seen one, only photos! They are amazing, I think I may have to do a lens about them!

erin-elise on July 01, 2012:

Have you ever seen a fallstreak cloud? I was lucky enough to see one a couple of years ago and even got photos. They are beautiful.

bdough2 on May 31, 2012:

What a great collection of clouds! I never knew there could be so many shapes and sizes! Thanks for sharing.

RocklawnArts on May 17, 2012:

Love 'em!

anonymous on May 15, 2012:

I really enjoyed this lens, some of the pictures are amazing. I can often see faces and animals in the clouds.

Mamaboo LM on May 03, 2012:

I love your lens. Clouds are something of a learning experience in my family. We homeschool and your lens is a wonderful reference to help my girls learn more about them. Thanks and be blessed.

inspirationz on April 21, 2012:

I love the images you've used to illustrate here - so pretty!

macmaki on April 16, 2012:

Wow excellent Lens! This is truly a spectacular site. Thanks! Clouds are that amazing state of H2O that delivers unequaled visual beauty!

sarasentor lm on April 10, 2012:

What a way to express feelings about these magnificent clouds. I would like to know which modules have you used in this lens.

TheDeeperWell on April 01, 2012:

Another very interesting lens I found today......learned about cloud formations I have never seen before.

bluefire1020 on March 27, 2012:

I do love clouds and i missed them now since we now live in KSA, we seldom see clouds here except clouds of dust during sandstorm! We used to watch clouds and look for amazing shapes they formed. Very interesting & informative lens, thank you! =)

Zut Moon on March 26, 2012:

Interesting!!!

julieannbrady on March 26, 2012:

Clouds are so amazing! They are like works of art up in the sky. You've done a fabulous credit to clouds with your lovely page.

girlfriendfactory on March 22, 2012:

I love clouds! Nothing is better than seeing a beautiful cloud formation! This terrific lens is more than worthy of a Flyby Winging and it can be found among the other blessed lenses for today at Have Wings Will Bless More! They may call me an aimless wanderer, but not all who wander are aimless and I'm glad my aim was good when I wandered upon this. ~Ren

mjtaylor lm on March 18, 2012:

Enhance! I live (mostly) in Key West, a place famous for its sunsets; and it is the clouds make the sunsets here spectacular. I lovelovelove this lens. I Pinned Facedbooked, Squidliked, Tweeted and G+ed it!

anonymous on March 18, 2012:

Beautiful cloud photos and lots of information! Great lens!

Michey LM on March 17, 2012:

I agree that clouds can be as fascinating as fire is!. Beautiful lens, pictures, and a lot of knowledge as well.

Happy St . Patrick Day, have fun!

irenemaria from Sweden on March 17, 2012:

Ah! So much I am like you. Clouds are painting things through my life. congrats to the front page deserved place.

glenbrook on March 17, 2012:

What kind of camera do you use? I have a Fuji X10 that I really like but it won't focus on clouds. The only way I can get it to focus is to include something with a hard edge (horizon, etc) in the picture but that's not possible for some shots and for others, the "edge" is in focus but not the clouds.

pinkrenegade lm on March 17, 2012:

Fascinating and beautiful indeed. Thanks for sharing!

Ribolov LM on March 17, 2012:

Wauuu! Beautiful pictures, nice lens. Thnx.

Stephanie Tietjen from Albuquerque, New Mexico on March 16, 2012:

I love clouds, your choice of poetry, and the educational info. Excellent!

Celticep from North Wales, UK on March 14, 2012:

Wow, interesting topic .... So inspiring!

FalconFan LM on March 14, 2012:

What breathtaking pictures! I learned a lot reading this lens, thank you for all your hard work!

BarbaraCasey on March 14, 2012:

I love taking photos of clouds. I'll bookmark this page for future reference. Thanks.

Stinkerbelle on March 13, 2012:

I love to be in the clouds

PamelaU on March 13, 2012:

Yikes! The asperatus undulatis is quite horrific!

Interesting lens, especially the nacreous bit.....very worrying.

kAAtya on March 13, 2012:

Amazing lens and wonderful pictures!!

Fay Favored from USA on March 13, 2012:

Very nice lens. I enjoy the study of clouds and shall make this as one of my favorites.

intermarks on March 13, 2012:

Very interesting clouds lens. I see clouds everyday, but never learn and know any of the name of the cloud. Thanks for the information.

Skylermeyer2012 on March 13, 2012:

Amazing lens.. Sometimes clouds can create awesome forms and shapers that looks very interesting!

Skylermeyer2012 on March 13, 2012:

Amazing lens.. Sometimes clouds can create awesome forms and shapers that looks very interesting!

Rachele86 on March 12, 2012:

How amazing cloouds are.... and with addition of the fantasy, you can really see the unseen things! ;) There's a project on FB about clouds - its called CLOUDS365 Project. It is not my site but it has some interesing posts - for all clouds-loving people! :)

poppy mercer from London on March 12, 2012:

Just love clouds...sometimes they bring you messages and sometimes they just tell you aboout yourself.

Gabriel360 on March 12, 2012:

Great lens!

Dana Marie from St. Peters, MO on March 12, 2012:

Enhance! The beauty!!!

anonymous on March 12, 2012:

clouds sometimes creates really interesting forms like teddy bears, angels, birds... you just have to watch them long enough.

GoodGirlSEO on March 12, 2012:

WOW! There are some amazing pictures here! I have noticed around my area, the clouds seem to be getting more and more beautiful each day.

MariaMontgomery from Central Florida, USA on March 12, 2012:

An absolutely beautiful lens. Very well done. Congrats. I really enjoyed reading this one.

anonymous on March 11, 2012:

what about the clouds that looks like sea weaves? nice lens!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 11, 2012:

I love watching clouds and getting to know them better.

weddingphotographysydneyhq on March 11, 2012:

Being a wedding photography in Sydney I have come to learn about the necessity of reading clouds and this lens has really helped me in that! Love your work.

MarionElodie on March 11, 2012:

I like clouds when it's not raining heavily, especially when they look like paintings in the sky. Nature is so beautiful!

cyberwizzard on March 10, 2012:

I have seen some very unique cloud formations that have really made my day. Fantastic photos and a great lens!

puppyprints on March 10, 2012:

Your clouds are cool - especially those Morning Glory clouds (never heard of that before). I love nature.

Ann Scaling Tucker from Enid, OK on March 10, 2012:

Clouds enhance my day, I love cloudy, rainy days. You have some really beautiful and mysterious cloud pictures. How about some Squid Angel dust as I leave.

shantytom on March 10, 2012:

i think clouds are natures way of expressing itself through art. Peaceful, free, original.

heehaw lm on March 09, 2012:

wow great photos of clouds.

gardendoll426 on March 09, 2012:

This has been one the neatest lens I have come across on Squidoo! I, like you, love clouds. They are so magical, mysterious and beautiful. Thank you so much for posting this lens, it has been great learning and reading about all different clouds. And the pictures are so beautiful! :)

jordanmilesbask on March 08, 2012:

wow, what an amazing pics..great lens.

anonymous on March 08, 2012:

Weather in general fascinates me. Clouds have been a real source of astonishment.

I see Lenticular clouds here where I live.

Clouds always enhance my day...

Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on March 08, 2012:

I love clouds and there are many where I live in my country, a whole sky full of them and I like to photograph them.

anonymous on March 08, 2012:

Awesome...great composition!!!The cloud poems reminded me of my school days.Thanks for such a beautiful blog,specially the pictures .

ara-bella on March 08, 2012:

Excellent lens! Love the cloud poems.

MarkHansen on March 07, 2012:

Now I seen clouds in new eyes.

menskincaretips on March 07, 2012:

WOW! That cloud surfing video is awesome!

MGuberti on March 07, 2012:

Clouds are magnificent and wonderful.

DecoratingEvents on March 07, 2012:

Beautiful!

sanket013sni on March 07, 2012:

Thank you dude for publishing this great lens

sherridan on March 07, 2012:

Fabulous - educational and beautiful, awe-inspiring pictures.

top101 on March 06, 2012:

I'm always admiring the beautiful colors of clouds or looking at strangely shaped ones and finding different things they could be.

One of the best ways to see clouds is from a plane.

anonymous on March 06, 2012:

Just poking my head in the clouds again! I love these photos.

anonymous on March 06, 2012:

Just poking my head in the clouds again! I love these photos.

SteveKaye on March 06, 2012:

Fantastic info. Thank you for publishing this lens.

Leah J. Hileman from East Berlin, PA, USA on March 06, 2012:

I'm a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Thanks for sharing a beautiful and very informative lens about clouds.

Kiwigirl from Franklin on March 06, 2012:

Wow, what a fantastic site....well done.

Rosaquid on March 05, 2012:

I love cloud-watching. Thank you for the lovely lens.

Jules Corriere from Jonesborough TN on March 05, 2012:

Gorgeous lens. And really informative! Blessed!

lunagaze on March 05, 2012:

awesome pictures it always rattles my brain how there can be different kinds of clouds

siobhanryan on March 05, 2012:

Beautiful photos and poems-i look at clouds to check the weather

lasertek lm on March 05, 2012:

The cloud pictures are wonderful.

JimH on March 05, 2012:

Gorgeous pictures! well done.

navalava lm on March 05, 2012:

I didn't know there are so many types of clouds. I knew about few of them, the most common ones. I am glad I learned something new.

Great, well written and informative lens you made!

Thank you!

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anonymous on March 05, 2012:

really stunning photos.

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wheresthekarma on March 05, 2012:

Wow really interesting lens! Pinning it!

dexter yarbroug1 on March 05, 2012:

Very nice photos and information. Sometimes clouds enhance my day; sometimes they ruin it! :-)

Herman IV on March 05, 2012:

Some of these are really cool clouds! Loved the lenticular but the Australian Morning Glory is amazing! Thanks for a neat lens!

anonymous on March 05, 2012:

Fantastic display of clouds and different types too! *blessed by a squid angel*

Kim from Yonkers, NY on March 05, 2012:

I love the pictures you included! I have to read through a bit more but I thought it was a great lens. I'm going to include it somewhere on my Favorite lenses lens

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on March 05, 2012:

What gorgeous shots of clouds. I love the graphic of the types of clouds too!

BestGamesQuest on March 05, 2012:

I always love seeing especially pretty clouds, it's like an unexpected gift :)

Lindrus on March 05, 2012:

Clouds really make for some awesome paintings of the sky! Thanks for the nice photos!

peachplanet on March 05, 2012:

I'm always looking up in the clouds myself :)

Nice lens!

sports_champ on March 05, 2012:

Nice article, loved the visiuals:)

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 05, 2012:

Just stopping back by to congratulate you on your home page feature. I have been enjoying some of those lovely lenticular clouds lately. Such beauty. Enjoyed this return visit. Clouds are such a simple yet wondrous pleasure in our days.

TaniaStar LM on March 05, 2012:

Amazing!

anonymous on March 05, 2012:

If you're looking for a place with beautiful clouds and skies, you should visit Montana!

PecjakJN on March 05, 2012:

Beautiful photos

cajkovska lm on March 04, 2012:

What a beautiful photos of clouds!