Outdoor FunWeather 101

Names Of Clouds + Photos Of All Types Of Clouds (See What Those Cloud Formations Mean For The Weather)

Photo of author

By Joshua

As you may have noticed, there are many different types of clouds.

Some are high up in the sky, thin, and wispy.

Others are large, puffier, and closer to the ground.

There are some clouds that are blankety, appearing to cover most — if not all — of the sky.

But what are the names of clouds?

And what do they mean for the weather?

I’ve been studying clouds since I was a kid, and I enjoy looking up at the sky and identifying clouds.

Here’s a rundown of the different types of clouds, along with photos of each kind and what these clouds can tell you about what’s happening with the weather.

Cumulus Clouds Explained

These are among the most recognizable types of clouds in the sky. Cumulus clouds look puffy at the top and their bases are flat.

Some cumulus clouds are small, while others are quite large.

Small, flattish cumulus clouds scattered across the sky usually mean fair weather.

Cumulus Clouds

In Latin, cumulus means “heap” or “pile.” And that’s how cumulus clouds tend to look — like heaps or piles of clouds.

Cumulus clouds sometimes grow like huge towers in the sky or form long rows. Their growth is typically convective and guided by thermals.

Usually, the larger and taller a cumulus cloud gets, the more unstable the atmosphere is.

As cumulus clouds grow taller and taller, they can begin to look like huge stalks of cauliflower.

Cumulus Congestus Clouds

These are known as cumulus congestus clouds and may indicate bad weather may soon begin brewing.

Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus clouds, like the one pictured above, are called cumulonimbus clouds. (Nimbus refers to precipitation in Latin.) They can brew some pretty serious storms, oftentimes leading to heavy rain or snow, lighting, hail, and even tornadoes.

Below is a picture of a supercell, or a very large cumulonimbus cloud that is capable of spawning serious weather such as high winds, hail, and tornadoes.

Super Cell Cumulus

Cumulus clouds appear in many levels of the lower atmosphere, with the bases usually appearing at around 3,000 feet and up. The tops of cumulonimbus clouds can, in extreme cases, grow to a height of 75,000 feet!

If you ever see a cumulus cloud with an anvil top, watch out. That’s a sure sign of bad weather!

Anvil Clouds

Stratus Clouds Explained

Stratus clouds are the kind that stretch out across the sky.

Stratus Clouds

In Latin, stratus means “stretched out,” which describes the typical form or habit of stratus clouds.

Unlike cumulus clouds, which tend to grow vertically, stratus clouds form in horizontal layers. These flat, hazy clouds range in color from dark gray to white.

Stratus Gray

Stratus clouds are generally low-level clouds, with bases oftentimes under 2,000 feet in height. In fact, fog is technically only differentiated from stratus clouds due to its low altitude. Essentially, fog is nothing more than a low-level stratus cloud.

Fog Stratus Clouds

Unlike their cumulus cloud counterparts, stratus clouds don’t bring thunderstorms or other violent weather. However, stratus clouds can mean light rain, drizzle, or light snow.

Stratus Snow Clouds

Cirrus Clouds Explained

Cirrus clouds are wispy, thin, and have the highest bases of the 3 major cloud types (high clouds, middle clouds, and lower clouds).

Cirrus, in Latin, refers to a curly lock of hair or ringlet. If you look at a cirrus cloud, you’ll see they look like flowing strands of hair.

In fact, the streamers that appear to blow away from cirrus clouds are often called “mares’ tails.”

Cirrus Clouds

These tails are actually bands of ice crystals.

The base of a cirrus cloud typically forms at around 18,000 to 20,000 feet or higher. Cirrus clouds don’t precipitate and, therefore, mean fair weather.

Cirrus Clouds

Other Types Of Clouds Explained

What we’ve talked about so far are 3 of the most basic types of clouds — those that form at the higher levels (cirrus), middle levels (cumulus and stratus), and lower levels (cumulus and stratus).

There are also hybrid clouds — those that have characteristics of 2 cloud types.

Here are some examples:

Cirrocumulus Clouds

Cirrocumulus clouds, which are small and ripply. These clouds are often dubbed “mackerel sky” and are 18,000 feet or higher. Cirrocumulus clouds are largely made of ice crystals, they don’t precipitate.

Cirrocumulus Clouds

Cirrostratus Clouds

Cirrostratus clouds are high-level cirrus clouds that form a wide, thin layer — much like a typical blanket of stratus clouds. They are composed of very small ice crystals and do not lead to precipitation. For the most part, cirrostratus clouds indicate, with falling air pressure, dirty weather.


Altocumulus Clouds

Altocumulus clouds are rippled middle-level clouds in the 6,000- to 20,000-foot range that may bring light rain.


Altostratus Clouds

Altostratus clouds form a gray sheet in the middle levels of the lower atmosphere, around 6,000 to 20,000 feet up in the sky. Altostratus clouds can bring either rain or snow.

Altostratus Clouds

Nimbostratus Clouds

Nimbostratus clouds form closer to the ground as a sheet and are capable of producing heavier rain or snow.

Nimbostratus Clouds

Stratocumulus Clouds

Stratocumulus clouds form in the lower layers, usually 6,000 feet or lower, and take on a form of white rolls that can produce light drizzle.


Wall Clouds

Wall clouds sometimes form at the base of super cells and may foretell a tornado.


Shelf Clouds

Shelf clouds usually form on the advancing side of a thunderstorm. Shelf clouds often usher in the front wave of severe weather activity for an approaching storm.

Shelf Clouds

Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus clouds form under the bases of thunderstorm in sinking air. They take on the appearance of sagging pouches. Mammatus clouds usually indicate that severe weather has passed and thunderstorms are weakening.

Mammatus Clouds

Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds look like UFOs or spaceships, but actually are harmless (and rare) clouds that often take their unusual lens shape due to updrafts and winds around mountains. Sometimes, cap clouds can form at the top of very tall thunderheads. Lenticular clouds indicate instability in that layer of the atmosphere.

Lenticular Clouds

Undulatus Asperatus Clouds

Undulatus asperatus clouds are a recent discovery. Scientists believe they form in the wake of convective storms and, though appearing ominous, don’t usually bring stormy weather.

Undulatus Asperatus Clouds

More About Cloud Types & Cloud Names

So the bottom line is…

There are 3 major types of clouds: high clouds, middle clouds, and lower clouds.

  • Clouds that form at the higher levels are called cirrus clouds.
  • Clouds that form in the middle levels are cumulus clouds and stratus clouds.
  • Clouds that form at the lower levels are cumulus clouds and stratus clouds.

Beyond that, there are hybrid clouds that take on the characteristics of two separate cloud types.

In addition to the resources linked in the article, following are a few more sources regarding cloud types: