Understanding Cloud Formations

Clouds are a fundamental part of our environment. The ability to read clouds may give you the upper hand when it comes to survival. Clouds can tell you when a storm front is moving in or even which direction the wind is blowing. In 1803 Luke Howard divided clouds into three categories; cirrus, cumulus, and status.


Cirro is Latin for ringlet or curling hair. Cirrus clouds are thin and wispy like hair blowing in the breeze. They usually form at great heights of 20,000 feet. These clouds are composed of ice crystals and form in low-pressure areas such as a tropical storm. They are typically seen during fair weather, but clouds like this could be an advanced warning of an oncoming hurricane.


Cumblo means heap or pile in Latin. Cumulus clouds are white and puffy almost like little fluffy cotton balls. The base of the cloud should be flat in appearance with sharp outlines. Normally these clouds formations don't result in rain, they are best for cloud watching. Cumulus clouds are the most common clouds in the sky, they can appear as horses, dragons, or bunnies. Look out for towers of cumulus clouds stacked on top of each other, which can quickly turn into cumulonimbus clouds and lead to a downpour or even a tornado.


Strato in Latin refers to layers. Stratus clouds appear in a widespread layer much like a blanket in the sky. They tend to form along and to the north of warm fronts. If you see stratus clouds its time to find shelter, rain is on its way and possibly even snow if it is warm. Fog is a result of a stratus cloud hanging very low to the ground and making visibility difficult.


Luke Howard combined the three cloud types; cirrus, cumulus, and stratus into nimbus. Nimbus comes from the Latin word for rain. Most precipitation comes from Nimbus clouds. They can be recognized by extreme vertical height.

Source: http://www.weather.gov/jetstream/clouds_intro

Photo Credit: http://epod.usra.edu/blog/2012/04/glaciating-cirrus-clouds.html



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