WW2010
University of Illinois

WW2010
 
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Online Guides
 
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Meteorology
 
  introduction
 
  air masses, fronts
 
> clouds, precipitation
 
  el nino
 
  forces, winds
 
  hurricanes
 
  hydrologic cycle
 
  light, optics
 
  midlatitude cyclones
 
  severe storms
 
  weather forecasting

Clouds, Precipitation
 
  introduction
 
  development
 
> cloud types
 
  precipitation

Cloud Types
 
> introduction
 
  high-level clouds
 
  mid-level clouds
 
  low-level clouds
 
  vertically developed
 
  other cloud types

User Interface
 
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> text

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Cloud Types
common cloud classifications

Clouds are classified into a system that uses Latin words to describe the appearance of clouds as seen by an observer on the ground. The table below summarizes the four principal components of this classification system (Ahrens, 1994).

Latin Root Translation Example
cumulus
stratus
cirrus
nimbus
heap
layer
curl of hair
rain
fair weather cumulus
altostratus
cirrus
cumulonimbus

Further classification identifies clouds by height of cloud base. For example, cloud names containing the prefix "cirr-", as in cirrus clouds, are located at high levels while cloud names with the prefix "alto-", as in altostratus, are found at middle levels. This module introduces several cloud groups. The first three groups are identified based upon their height above the ground. The fourth group consists of vertically developed clouds, while the final group consists of a collection of miscellaneous cloud types.

[Image: thickening cirrus and cirrostratus at sunset (65K)]
Photograph by: Knupp
High-Level Clouds
High-level clouds form above 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) and since the temperatures are so cold at such high elevations, these clouds are primarily composed of ice crystals. High-level clouds are typically thin and white in appearance, but can appear in a magnificent array of colors when the sun is low on the horizon.

[Image: puffy altocumulus clouds (87K)]
Photograph by: Holle
Mid-Level Clouds
The bases of mid-level clouds typically appear between 6,500 to 20,000 feet (2,000 to 6,000 meters). Because of their lower altitudes, they are composed primarily of water droplets, however, they can also be composed of ice crystals when temperatures are cold enough.

Low-level Clouds
Low clouds are of mostly composed of water droplets since their bases generally lie below 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). However, when temperatures are cold enough, these clouds may also contain ice particles and snow.

[Image: nimbostratus clouds (80K)]
Photograph by: Holle

Vertically Developed Clouds
Probably the most familiar of the classified clouds is the cumulus cloud. Generated most commonly through either thermal convection or frontal lifting, these clouds can grow to heights in excess of 39,000 feet (12,000 meters), releasing incredible amounts of energy through the condensation of water vapor within the cloud itself.

[Image: approaching cumulonimbus clouds at sunset (69K)]
Photograph by: Holle

Other Cloud Types
Finally, we will introduce a collection of miscellaneous cloud types which do not fit into the previous four groups.

Classifications
Last Update: 07/09/97
High-Level Clouds
Cloud types include: cirrus and cirrostratus.

Mid-Level Clouds
Cloud types include: altocumulus, altostratus.

Low-Level Clouds
Cloud types include: nimbostratus and stratocumulus.

Clouds with Vertical Development
Cloud types include: fair weather cumulus and cumulonimbus.

Other Cloud Types
Cloud types include: contrails, billow clouds, mammatus, orographic and pileus clouds.



Development
Terms for using data resources. CD-ROM available.
Credits and Acknowledgments for WW2010.
Department of Atmospheric Sciences (DAS) at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

High-Level Clouds