The Ten Main Cloud Types

We have all at some point of our lives sat and just watched clouds glide by out of our bedroom window, something we notice when doing this is some of the clouds look different to others. 

The Ten Main Cloud Types (1)

To better understand what we are observing, it is best to know the different types of clouds, there are ten different clouds and differ based on their species, varieties and features. Knowing how clouds form, their altitude levels and what makes them unique.

High Altitude Clouds


Cirrus clouds have a distinct look relative to the other nine types of cloud. Due to cirrus clouds being made up of ice crystals they do not take on the puffy shape associated with clouds. They more resemble spider webs or hair-like commas. 

They can be tangled together and due to their ice crystal composition they are capable of providing optical phenomena such as sun dogs or cloud iridescence.

Condensation from aircraft can become cirrus clouds as a result of jet exhaust in the cold atmosphere found in the upper troposphere.


Cirrocumulus clouds are thin cloud patches found high in the troposphere and are the only clouds in the list that have cloud heap characteristics.

The cloud heaps take on what can be described as a ‘grain of rice’ appearance. You should take note whenever you see cirrocumulus because they are the rarest form of cloud on the list.

Unlike other clouds the cirrocumulus do not produce sun halos, though they are capable of iridescence and coronas. Additionally these clouds are the only ones at the high level that cannot be found in a fibrous form. 


Finally out of the high altitude clouds, we have the cirrostratus. These clouds are best described as a cloud blanket high up in the troposphere. They are found at the same altitude as their cirrus and cirrcumulus counterparts.

They take on a fairly dull appearance, they are an odd cloud due to the lack of variety attached to them they only come in their large blanket layer of cloud.

Because cirrostratus clouds are thin, the sun will always be visible through them which helps to distinguish them from similar clouds.

The Ten Main Cloud Types (1)

Medium Altitude Clouds


These clouds can be found in groups or heaps clumped together. They are the most diverse and dynamic in terms of their appearance. 

Autocumulus clouds take on many shapes and sizes and are known for creating UFO shaped clouds. 


Unlike their autocumulus, these clouds have no species of cloud associated with them. These clouds will seemingly cover the entire sky and can be responsible for precipitation. 

If you find scud clouds underneath the main layer of cloud then you are looking at an altostratus.


Nimbostratus clouds are most commonly associated with rainy, dreary days and are responsible for snowy weather. These clouds are best known for precipitation. The thickness of these clouds give it a darker appearance than most clouds. 

If it has been raining for the entire day then the cloud is very likely a nimbostratus.

Low Altitude Clouds


These clouds are responsible for stormy weather. If a cloud is causing rainy and windy conditions along with stronger weather it will be a cumulonimbus cloud.

The cloud’s staggering height makes it stand out from any other with its base close to the ground and its peak near the top of the troposphere. 


Cumulus clouds are the most well known cloud, they’re the cotton balls in the sky we drew as kids. They come in all shapes and sizes, when the average person is asked to visualize a cloud this will be the one that comes to their mind first. 

Easily the most recognizable cloud out of the ten on this list.


A thin blanket cloud that sits close to the ground and on occasion actually makes contact with it. These clouds are better known as fog, and if you live in a city with tall buildings you will know them for their ability to obscure the tops of buildings. 

When the conditions are right the stratus clouds can mask the sun and make the world around you a darker one with poor visibility anywhere in your vicinity.


Finally, but by no means least we have the stratocumulus clouds, you may consider them a mix of stratus and cumulus clouds as the name suggests.

They are a layer of puffy clouds that can form together. These clouds are very similar to alotcumulus clouds but much closer to the ground.

These clouds come in many different shapes and sizes and have the most varieties and features on the list. 

Final Thoughts

So there you have ten clouds that all have their own unique characteristics. No cloud is the same and hopefully you can now tell the many differences. 

Andrew Capper