Simplified Guide to Identifying and Classifying Clouds

There are ten basic types of clouds. The names used for the clouds are
based on three factors: their shape, the altitude at which they occur,
and whether they are producing precipitation.

1. Clouds come in three basic shapes:

  •         cumulus clouds (heaped and puffy)
  •         stratus clouds (layered)
  •         cirrus clouds (wispy)

2. Clouds occur in three altitude ranges (specifically, the altitude
of the cloud base):

High clouds (above 6,000 m), designated by “cirrus or cirro-”

  •         Cirrus
  •         Cirrocumulus
  •         Cirrostratus

Middle clouds (2,000 – 6,000 m), designated by “alto-”

  •         Altocumulus
  •         Altostratus

Low clouds (below 2,000 m), no prefix

  •         Stratus
  •         Nimbostratus
  •         Cumulus
  •         Stratocumulus
  •         Cumulonimbus