What’s That Cloud? Your Guide to Cloudspotting

Clouds are grouped into 10 different genera, organized based on shape and the altitude where they’re found.

The genera names are all formed from the same five latin terms — cirro, cumulo, strato, nimbo, alto — which are mixed and matched to create names like cumulonimbus, cirrostratus, cirrocumuus…. you get the idea. Learning what each of these Latin roots means is key to keeping your clouds straight:

  • Cumulo translates to “heaped.” Think puffy, piled, marshmellowy clouds.
  • Strato translates to “layered.” Clouds with strato in their name are often flat and form a wide layer across the sky.
  • Nimbo translates to “rain,” and is used for the two clouds that regularly produce rain.
  • Cirro translates to “curl.” These clouds are sometimes (but not always) curled and are found in the highest layer of the troposphere.
  • Alto translates to “high.” Confusingly, this doesn’t mean the clouds in the highest part of the atmosphere, just that the cloud is higher relative to others of its type.

Now that we have the Latin lesson out of the way, let’s explore the 10 cloud genera. There are two ways to group clouds, either by altitude (low, medium, or high) or by shape (layer, heap, layer-heap, rain, wispy).

Get the full lesson here…


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