What are the Different Types of Clouds?

Clouds—those fluffy things that gently float by in the sky—form when water vapor condenses in the sky. But not all clouds are a sign of a rainy day. Just like other things you find in nature—or shoes—clouds come in different shapes, colors, and forms. Some clouds may be low-lying or at higher altitudes. Let’s learn about the different types of clouds.

Low-level Clouds

These are clouds that hang below 6,500 feet (1,981 m). These include:

  • Cumulus clouds: They usually appear in the morning and are puffy with a flat bottom.
  • Stratus clouds: They are flat-shaped and typically appear on dreary days.
  • Stratocumulus: You usually see this type of cloud on cloudy days. They are puffy and appear as patches in the sky.

Middle Clouds

These types of clouds form between 6,500 and 20,000 feet (1981–6,096 m). They include:

  • Altocumulus: This is the most common type of middle cloud. They commonly appear during summer, and you can spot them on humid mornings. They are a sign of thunderstorms.
  • Nimbostratus (nimbus clouds): These are your typical rain clouds. They are heavy, dark and grey, and can block out the sun. Nimbus clouds commonly cover a widespread area.
  • Altostratus: This cloud may be gray or bluish-gray. They cover the sky and may allow minimal sunlight to pass through them. Altostratus clouds may appear together with cumulus clouds on cold days.

High-level Clouds

These types of clouds form above 20,000 feet (6,096 m).

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  • Cirrus: This type of cloud is not made up of water droplets but is formed by tiny ice crystals. At their altitude, there are low temperatures and minimal water vapor. You can see them when the weather is fair but are, at times, taken to be an indicator of incoming storms.
  • Cirrocumulus: This type of cloud is also known as cloudlets. They appear for a short time and take the form of small, white patches. Cirrocumulus clouds are made of ice crystals and usually appear in rows. They are smaller in shape compared to altocumulus and stratocumulus clouds.
  • Cirrostratus: This cloud usually appears during winter when the weather is cold but fair. They are white, transparent, and usually form a halo around the sun or moon. They are an indication of high moisture in the upper atmosphere.

Other Types of Clouds

  • Cumulonimbus: This type of cloud appears across the low, middle, and higher atmospheric levels. They have flat bottoms that are dark, and the top part is usually bulging. Cumulonimbus clouds are a sure sign of impending severe weather events and are also known as thunderstorm clouds.
  • Asperitas: This type of cloud was classified in 2009. They are wave-like and may appear near storm clouds.


Clouds are fascinating to watch. Beyond aesthetics, they are indicators of impending weather. Knowing what types of clouds are in the sky, you can figure out what kind of day you will have.

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