The Mysterious World of Clouds: 4 Different Types of Clouds

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Clouds are an interesting topic for kids. Kids always look at the sky and think of 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 associated with many exciting facts. Small droplets of water that gather together are called clouds. Clouds have different types. Each type has special characteristics. They look different and have different shapes.

Clouds affect the weather as well. If we look at the clouds in the sky, we can predict if it is a warm sunny day or there is a storm coming. The colour of clouds also has significance. There are 3 levels of clouds: high clouds, middle clouds, and low-level clouds.

What is the definition of Clouds?

A cloud is a white or grey bunch of fine drops of water or ice high in the earth’s atmosphere. Sometimes clouds look white and puffy. Sometimes they are dark and cover the whole sky. Different types of clouds represent different weather conditions. 

How are Clouds formed?

The air always contains water vapor. The amount of water vapor that air can hold is according to the air’s temperature. When air cools, some of the water vapor condenses or forms visible water droplets. The droplets gather around tiny particles in the air. When billions of these droplets come together they turn into a visible cloud.

White Clouds vs Grey Clouds

Clouds are white since they reflect light from the sun. When clouds are so filled with water that they don’t reflect light anymore. In this condition, they are grey clouds.  Also, when there are many other clouds around, their shadow add to the grey or multi-colored grey appearance.

What are the Types of Clouds?

Clouds are often characterized by the level or elevation where they form. There are high, middle, and low-level clouds. Scientists combine cloud characteristics and levels to categorize the ten main cloud types as follows:

  • High cloud: cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirrostratus
  • Middle cloud: altostratus, altocumulus, nimbostratus
  • Low cloud: stratus, stratocumulus
  • Vertical: cumulus, cumulonimbus

Type Number 1: High Clouds

Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus clouds are the most common of the high clouds. They are above 18,000 feet. They are thin clouds formed of ice crystals that are made very high in the sky. They are considered the highest clouds and the temperature at such a height is about 36 degrees. 

Cirrus clouds are usually white and refer to nice weather. When you see cirrus clouds, it usually indicates that a change in the weather will happen within 24 hours. Where these clouds are made, the wind blows between 100 and 150 miles per hour.

Cirrus Clouds

Cirrocumulus Clouds

Cirrocumulus clouds are high clouds that are similar to tiny cotton balls bunched together. They look like small, rounded white puffs that come in long rows. Cirrocumulus clouds usually appear in the winter and represent fair, but cold weather. In tropical regions, they may indicate a coming 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 winter. 

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Type Number 2: Middle Clouds

Altostratus Clouds

Altostratus clouds are grey or blue-grey mid-level clouds. They are made of ice crystals and water droplets. They are composed in the middle of the sky, between 6,500 and 20,000 feet high. If there are altostratus clouds, the sun is not very visible. Generally, they are a symbol of continuous rain or snow.

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Altocumulus Clouds

Altocumulus clouds are mid-level clouds that are composed of water droplets and look like grey, puffy masses. They are lower than cirrus clouds, but still generally high. They are composed of liquid water, but they don’t often cause rain. If you see altocumulus clouds on a warm, sticky morning, they usually shape in groups.

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Nimbostratus Clouds

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

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Type Number 3: Low Clouds

Stratus Clouds

Stratus clouds often look like slim, white sheets covering the entire sky. Since they are so slim, they rarely cause much rain or snow. Sometimes, in the mountains or hills, these clouds look like fog. Light mist or drizzle sometimes drops out of these clouds. 

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Stratocumulus Clouds

Stratocumulus clouds are patchy grey or white clouds that often appear like a dark honeycomb. They can be seen between 2,000-6,500 feet above the Earth’s surface. Most of these clouds form in rows with blue sky appearing in between them. Rain seldom happens with stratocumulus clouds. However, they can change into nimbostratus clouds.

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Type Number 4: Vertical Clouds

Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus clouds appear as fluffy, white cotton balls in the sky. They are beautiful in sunsets, and their different sizes and shapes can make them fun to see. These clouds usually form if the weather is nice and it will be a nice day to play outside. These clouds grow upward and they can turn into huge cumulonimbus clouds, which are thunderstorm clouds. 

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Cumulonimbus Clouds

Cumulonimbus clouds form on hot days if warm, wet air rises very high into the sky. They are huge, tall clouds that are dark on the bottom. From far away, they appear as huge mountains or towers. They are connected to heavy rain, snow, hail, lightning and even tornadoes. 

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Most clouds can be divided into 3 groups: high clouds, middle clouds, and low clouds. This is according to the height of the cloud’s base above the Earth’s surface. Other clouds are grouped according to their unique characteristics like forming alongside mountains (Lenticular clouds) or forming beneath existing clouds (Mammatus clouds).

Lenticular Clouds

They are lens-shaped orographic wave clouds that are made when the air is stable and winds blow across hills and mountains from the same or similar direction at varying heights through the troposphere. They are curved layers, such as flying saucers.

If stable moist air rises over a mountain or a range of mountains, a series of large-scale standing waves can be composed on the downwind side. Lenticular clouds are sometimes composed at the crests of these waves. On the ground, they can cause very strong gusty winds in one place, while air is only a few hundred meters away.

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Kelvin-Helmholtz Clouds

They appear as breaking waves in the ocean. After the wind blows up and over a barrier, such as a mountain, the air continues flowing through the atmosphere in a wavelike pattern. These clouds are generally seen near sunrise or sunset. They also appear if the bottom of the clouds is cooler and the air above is warmer.

Complex evaporation and condensation patterns produce the capped tops and cloudless troughs of the waves. These clouds are composed if there is a variance in the wind speed or direction between two wind currents in the atmosphere.

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Mammatus clouds

Mammatus clouds are low hanging bulges that fall from cumulonimbus clouds. Mammatus clouds are usually connected to severe weather. They produce very strong storms.  These clouds are usually composed during warm months and are formed by descending air in the cloud. They are sometimes described as appearing as a field of tennis balls or melons.

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Contrail Clouds

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

A contrail evaporates quickly if the relative humidity of the surrounding air is low. When the humidity is high, a contrail may stay seen as cirrus-like clouds for many hours.

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Cloud Activities

Let’s check some activities for kids to see clouds:

In this activity, kids see clouds form if they breathe on spoons. When warm, moist breath touches the cool spoon, water vapor condenses and changes into a cloud–or water you can see.

Types of Clouds activity – Describe and give examples of the four types of clouds – cirrus, cumulus, stratus and nimbus. you need crayons and cotton balls to make each one!


A cloud is a huge collection of very small droplets of water or ice crystals. The droplets are so tiny and not heavy that they can float in the air. Clouds are often described according to the level or elevation where they form. They are categorized as high, middle, and low-level clouds. They have an important role in controlling Earth’s climate. 

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