Combinations of the Core Four
Based on his observations, Howard suggested there were modifications (or combinations) of these core clouds between categories. He noticed that clouds often have features of two or more categories; cirrus + stratus, cumulus + stratus, etc. His research served as the starting point for the ten basic types of clouds we observe today.
From the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) International Cloud Atlas these clouds are Altocumulus, Altostratus, Cirrus, Cirrocumulus, Cirrostratus, Cumulonimbus, Cumulus, Nimbostratus, Stratocumulus and Stratus.
Dividing by Height
By convention, clouds are vertically divided into three étages (levels); low, middle, and high. Each étage is defined by the range of levels at which each type of cloud typically appears. Divided by their height the ten types of clouds are…
- Cirrus (Ci), Cirrocumulus (Cc), and Cirrostratus (Cs) are high level clouds. They are typically thin and white in appearance, but can appear in a magnificent array of colors when the sun is low on the horizon.
- Altocumulus (Ac), Altostratus (As), and Nimbostratus (Ns) are mid-level clouds. They are composed primarily of water droplets, however, they can also be composed of ice crystals when temperatures are low enough. In Latin, alto means ‘high’ yet Altostratus and Altocumulus clouds are classified as mid level clouds. ‘Alto’ is used to distinguish between liquid-based clouds. They are ‘high’ relative to their low level liquid-based counterpart clouds Stratus and Cumulus. Altostratus can extend into the high level of clouds. Nimbostratus can extend into the high level as well but the base of the cloud typically decreases into the low level as precipitation continues.
- Cumulus (Cu), Stratocumulus (Sc), Stratus (St), and Cumulonimbus (Cb) are low clouds composed of water droplets. Cumulonimbus, with its strong vertical updraft, extends well into the the high level of clouds.
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