Clouds: they are critical to the Earth's balance | Photo: Shutterstock

Clouds play an essential role in the climate system and warn us of what lies ahead. Learn how to identify cloud types.

Clouds provide shade, store water, and distribute heat from the equator to the poles. Their mechanisms are still not entirely known, but their relevance to the earth's balance is unquestionable.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) created an International Cloud Atlas that recognizes ten types of clouds.

Clouds can appear between 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) and 16,500 feet (5,029 meters).

The cloud names result from a combination of Latin prefixes and suffixes. Can you identify these clouds in your skies?

Cumulonimbus (Cb)

Huge cloud tower, sometimes with an anvil shape. Possible thunderstorm.

Cumulonimbus | Illustration: WMO


Cumulus (Cu)

Isolated, puffy cloud with sharp outlines.

Cumulus | Illustration: WMO


Stratus (St)

Grey-whitish low layer, sometimes with drizzle or snow grains. If the Sun/Moon is visible, its outline is clear. It can occur in fragments.

Stratus | Illustration: WMO


Cirrostratus (Cs)

Transparent milky or fibrous veil, it casts a shadow and produces a halo.

Cirrostratus | Illustration: WMO


Altostratus (As)

Smooth, extensive layer; casts no shadow, even if the Sun/Moon is recognizable as a blurred dot.

Altostratus | Illustration: WMO


Nimbostratus (Ns)

Dark rain cloud or bright snow cloud. Usually continuous rain, snow, or ice pellets.

Nimbostratus | Illustration: WMO


Cirrus (Ci)

Hooks, feathers, bands, or patches with silky shimmer.

Cirrus | Illustration: WMO


Cirrocumulus (Cc)

Thin, pure white fields of small grains or ripples at a high level.

Cirrocumulus | Illustration: WMO


Altocumulus (Ac)

White/gray patches (turreted, lens-shaped, or balls of cotton), sheets, or structured layers with undulations or rolls.

Altocumulus | Illustration: WMO


Stratocumulus (Sc)

Grey or whitish fields, rolls, or bundles, with rounded edges at a low level; regularly arranged elements.

Stratocumulus | Illustration: WMO


Now, here's where low, middle, and high-level clouds begin to form:

Cloud levels: find out how high they begin to form | Illustration: Met Office

Top Stories

In the age of artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation, it's hard to come up with a truly disruptive idea. Reflect Orbital is an exception.

Many will recognize him for his red beanie and his regular appearances on television during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Jacques Cousteau was the guardian of the ocean.

Nature never seizes to surprise us. The Great Blue Hole in the Caribbean Sea is an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience for the human senses.

The records of global surface temperature started in 1850. Since then, Humanity has been able to register, analyze, and compare the evolution and shifts in warmth and coolness throughout the world.