The Mysterious World of Clouds – Cloud Types

What Do You Know About Clouds?

The mysterious world of Clouds is an interesting topic for kids. Kids always look at the sky and wonder about clouds. What are they? What Do they look like? What are clouds made of? How are clouds formed? Are there types of clouds? What are those types? Do they have names? How do they affect the weather?

Actually clouds are a world that has many interesting facts. These Tiny droplets of water that combine together are called clouds. Clouds have different types. Each type has special characteristics. They look different and take different shapes.

Clouds affect the weather as well. When we look at the clouds in the sky, we can predict if it is a beautiful sunny day or there is a storm coming. The color of clouds also has a significance. There are high, middle, and low level clouds.

Definition of Clouds

A cloud is a white or grey mass of fine drops of water or ice high in the earth’s atmosphere. Clouds float in the sky above us and block out the Sun. Sometimes clouds are white and puffy. Sometimes they are dark and cover the entire sky. Different types of clouds reflect different weather conditions.

Clouds Formation

The air always contains water vapor. The amount of water vapor that air can hold depends on the air’s temperature. When air cools, some of the water vapor condenses, or forms visible water droplets. The droplets form around tiny particles in the air. When billions of these droplets come together they become a visible cloud.

White Clouds Vs Grey Clouds

Clouds are white because they reflect light from the sun. When  clouds become so filled with water that they don’t reflect light. Then, they are grey clouds.  Also,  if there are lots of other clouds around, their shadow can add to the grey or multicolored grey appearance.

What are the Types of Clouds?

Clouds are often described by the level or elevation where they form. There are high, middle, and low level clouds. Meteorologists (people who study weather) combine cloud characteristics and levels to get the ten main cloud types as follows:

High cloud  cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirrostratus
Middle cloud altostratus, altocumulus, nimbostratus
Low cloud stratus, stratocumulus
Vertical cumulus, cumulonimbus
Mysterious World of Clouds- White clouds
Mysterious World of Clouds- White clouds
Mysterious World of clouds- Grey clouds
Mysterious World of clouds- Grey clouds

Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus clouds are the most common of the high clouds. They are Above 18,000 feet. They are thin clouds made of ice crystals that form very high in the sky. These clouds are the highest clouds and the temperature at the height where they form is about 36 degrees.

Cirrus clouds are usually white and predict fair to pleasant weather. When you see cirrus clouds, it usually indicates that a change in the weather will occur within 24 hours. Where these clouds form, the wind blows between 100 and 150 miles per hour.

Cirrocumulus Clouds

Cirrocumulus Clouds are high clouds that look like tiny cotton balls bunched together. They appear as small, rounded white puffs that appear in long rows. Cirrocumulus clouds are usually seen in the winter and indicate fair, but cold weather. In tropical regions, they may indicate an approaching hurricane.

Cirrostratus Clouds

They are thin, sheet like high clouds that often cover the entire sky like a veil making it appear overcast. These clouds signal that it may rain in the next day or so. They are so thin that the sun and moon can be seen through them. These clouds are most commonly seen in the winter.

Altostratus Clouds

Altostratus Clouds are grey or blue-grey mid level clouds. They are  composed of ice crystals and water droplets. They form in the middle of the sky, between 6,500 and 20,000 feet high. On days when there are Altostratus clouds, the sun is not very visible. Usually they are a sign of continuous rain or snow.

Altocumulus Clouds

Altocumulus Clouds are mid level clouds that are made of water droplets and appear as grey puffy masses. They are lower than cirrus clouds, but still quite high. They are made of liquid water, but they don’t often produce rain.  When you see Altocumulus clouds on a warm, sticky morning,  They usually form in groups.

Nimbostratus Clouds

Nimbostratus clouds are dark, grey clouds that seem to fade into falling rain or snow. are so thick that they often blot out the sunlight. They often produce precipitation that is usually light to moderate. They can float as low as 2,000 meter above the ground, which is pretty low for a cloud.

Stratus Clouds

Stratus clouds often look like thin, white sheets covering the whole sky. Since they are so thin, they seldom produce much rain or snow. Sometimes, in the mountains or hills, these clouds appear to be fog. Light mist or drizzle sometimes falls out of these clouds.

Stratocumulus Clouds

Stratocumulus clouds are patchy grey or white clouds that often have a dark honeycomb-like appearance. They can be found between 2,000-6,500 feet above the Earth’s surface. Most form in rows with blue sky visible in between them. Rain rarely occurs with Stratocumulus clouds, however, they can turn into Nimbostratus clouds.

Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus clouds look like fluffy, white cotton balls in the sky. They are beautiful in sunsets, and their varying sizes and shapes can make them fun to observe. These clouds usually form when the weather is nice and it will be a great day to play outside. These clouds grow upward and they can develop into giant cumulonimbus clouds, which are thunderstorm clouds.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

Cumulonimbus clouds grow on hot days when warm, wet air rises very high into the sky. They are large, tall clouds that are dark on the bottom. From far away, they look like huge mountains or towers. They are associated with heavy rain, snow, hail, lightning and even tornadoes.

Most clouds can be divided into groups (high/middle/low) based on the height of the cloud’s base above the Earth’s surface. Other clouds are grouped not by their height, but by their unique characteristics, such as forming alongside mountains (Lenticular clouds) or forming beneath existing clouds (Mammatus clouds).

Lenticular Clouds

They are lens-shaped orographic wave clouds that form when the air is stable and winds blow across hills and mountains from the same or similar direction at different heights through the troposphere. They are Curved layers, like flying saucers.

Where stable moist air flows over a mountain or a range of mountains, a series of large-scale standing waves may form on the downwind side. Lenticular clouds sometimes form at the crests of these waves. On the ground, they can result in very strong gusty winds in one place, with still air only a few hundred meters away.

Kelvin-Helmholtz Clouds

They look like breaking waves in the ocean. After wind blows up and over a barrier, like a mountain, the air continues flowing through the atmosphere in a wavelike pattern. We’re more likely to see these clouds near sunrise or sunset, another time when the bottom of the clouds are cooler and the air above is warmer.

Complex evaporation and condensation patterns create the capped tops and cloudless troughs of the waves. These clouds form when there is a difference in the wind speed or direction between two wind currents in the atmosphere.

Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus clouds are low hanging bulges that droop from cumulonimbus clouds. They are usually associated with severe weather. They produce very strong storms.  These clouds usually form during warm months, and are formed by descending air in the cloud. They are sometimes described as looking like a field of tennis balls or melons.

Contrail Clouds

Contrail Clouds are  a trail of condensed vapor produced when a Jet aircraft flying at high altitudes. The mixing of hot exhaust gases from the engines with cold outside air causes ice crystals to form on particles in the exhaust.

A contrail evaporates rapidly when the relative humidity of the surrounding air is low. If the humidity is high, a contrail may stay visible as cirrus-like clouds for many hours.

Here is a diagram shows the different types of clouds:

Cloud Types | Center for Science Education
Different types of clouds

Compare and Contrast Cumulus and Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus clouds are wispy, veil-like clouds that form in the upper troposphere, while cumulus clouds are stacked, dense and fluffy, and they form much closer to the ground.  If a cumulus cloud grows large enough, it can become a towering cumulus cloud, and as it grows denser and heavier, it becomes a cumulonimbus cloud, or a storm cloud.

All clouds form from condensed water, but in the case of cirrus clouds, the water has frozen. The ice crystals that form the clouds refract sunlight, so you can often see rainbows in the middle of cirrus clouds. Some of the water droplets that form a cumulus cloud may also be frozen, but most of them are in the liquid state.

In areas of high moisture, cumulus clouds can form at the same altitude as cirrus clouds, but the two look very different from the ground. Neither of these types of clouds are rain clouds or snow clouds, but if you see them, rain clouds or snow clouds may not be far behind.

How do Clouds Affect Weather?

Clouds play an important role in Earth’s climate. One of the easiest ways to predict weather is to look at the clouds. Different clouds reflect different types of weather. They are an essential part of the water cycle. Clouds also have an important effect on Earth’s temperature. They can both cool down and warm up the temperatures on Earth.

Clouds can block light and heat from the Sun, making Earth’s temperature cooler. Clouds can trap that heat from the Sun. At night, when there’s no sunlight, clouds are still trapping heat. So clouds can have both a cooling effect and a warming effect.

Low-Level clouds tend to cool more than they warm. These low, thicker clouds mostly reflect the Sun’s heat. This cools Earth’s surface. However, High-Level clouds have the opposite effect. They tend to warm Earth more than they cool. High, thin clouds trap some of the Sun’s heat. This warms Earth’s surface.

What are the Scientific Names of Clouds?

Most of our names for clouds come from Latin and are usually a combination of the following prefixes and suffixes:

  • Stratus/strato: flat/layered and smooth
  • Cumulus/cumulo: heaped up/puffy, like cauliflower
  • Cirrus/cirro: high up/wispy
  • Alto: medium level
  • Nimbus/Nimbo: rain-bearing cloud

Where these names are combined, we can often build up an idea of that cloud’s character. So the names are: cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirrostratus, altostratus, altocumulus, nimbostratus. stratus, stratocumulus, cumulus and cumulonimbus

What is the Biggest Cloud in the Sky?

Towering-vertical clouds are very tall with tops usually higher than 6,000 m. They can create heavy rain and snow showers. Cumulonimbus, the biggest clouds of all, can also produce thunderstorms. These clouds are mostly made of water droplets, but the tops of very large cumulonimbus clouds are often made mostly of ice crystals.

Clouds Vs Fog

Tiny water drops hovering in the air are called fog. Fog is like a cloud, but it is near the ground, not high in the sky. Thick fog makes it difficult to see the surrounding landscape. Fog forms from water vapor, which is water in the form of a gas.

Fog appears when this liquid gathers around bits of dust in the air. A gentle wind helps fog to form and to stay in the air. Fog is very common in valleys and near bodies of water. It usually forms at night.

Clouds can form at many different altitudes. They can be as high as 12 miles above sea level or as low as the ground. Fog is a kind of cloud that touches the ground. Fog forms when the air near the ground cools enough to turn its water vapor into liquid water or ice.

There are many different types of fog, too. Ice fog forms when the air near the ground is cold enough to turn the water in fog into ice crystals. Another kind of fog is freezing fog. Super fog forms when smoke from wildfires and water vapor come together to form an extremely dense fog.

Clouds Activities

Here are some activities for kids to see clouds:

  • In this activity, kids see clouds form when they breathe on spoons. When warm, moist breath hits the cool spoon, water vapor condenses and turns into a cloud–or water you can see.
  • Types of Clouds – Describe and make examples of the four types of clouds – cirrus, cumulus, stratus and nimbus. Use crayons and cotton balls to make each one!

A cloud is a large collection of very tiny droplets of water or ice crystals. The droplets are so small and light that they can float in the air. Clouds are often described by the level or elevation where they form. There are high, middle, and low level clouds. They play an important role in Earth’s climate.

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