What are the different types of clouds?
Clouds are often one of the first things we notice when we look up into the sky.
They’re all made of water droplets or ice crystals, but they can take on lots of different appearances. Clouds can be wispy and high in the sky, foggy and near the ground, or anything in between.
Different types of clouds can give us clues about what is happening in the atmosphere – and what we can expect to happen in the weather.
For example, some clouds mean that you can expect to see fair weather in the forecast. Here are a few examples:
Cumulus clouds often look like fluffy, white cotton balls relatively low in the sky.
A bit higher in the atmosphere are altocumulus clouds. They have several patchy white or gray layers, and seem to be made up of many small rows of fluffy ripples.
Cirrocumulus clouds are even higher in the atmosphere. They are thin, sometimes rippled, sheet-like clouds. They usually show up in cold, but fair weather.
However, other clouds signal that you should probably prepare for rain or snow!
Gray altostratus and nimbostratus clouds are found in the mid-level of the atmosphere. If you see these clouds outside, that usually means you can expect continuous rain or snow.
But what type of cloud will you see before really severe weather happens?
Cumulonimbus clouds grow when warm, moist air rises very high into the sky. From far away, they look like huge mountains or towers.
These clouds are a sign that thunderstorms –and maybe even hail and tornados could be on their way!
You can easily spot cumulonimbus from the ground, but NOAA’s GOES-R series of weather satellites looks for these clouds from space, too.
These weather satellites can spot cumulonimbus clouds by measuring the temperature of cloud tops.
Because giant cumulonimbus clouds rise up so high in the atmosphere, the tops of these clouds are very cold.
By finding where these clouds are forming, GOES-R satellites can help meteorologists forecast major storms to keep people safe.
Find out more about Earth’s weather at NOAA SciJInks!