What are the most common cloud types?

Let’s start by grouping the cloud types into altitudes where they are most commonly found.

High Level Clouds 5 – 13 km

– Cirrus (Ci)
– Cirrocumulus (Cc)
– Cirrostratus (Cs)

Mid Level Clouds 2 – 7 km

– Altocumulus (Ac)
– Altostratus (As)
– Nimbostratus (Ns)

Low Level Clouds 0 – 2 km

– Stratus (St)
– Cumulus (Cu)
– Cumulonimbus (Cb)
– Startocumulus (Sc)

A few Definitions:

Nimbus: Rain bearing cloud.
Cumulus: Cloud forming rounded masses heaped on each other above a flat base at fairly low altitude.
Stratus: Cloud forming a continuous horizontal grey sheet, often with rain or snow.
Cirrus: Cloud forming wispy filamentous tufted streaks or ‘mare’s tails’ at high altitude.
Alto: High – in this case mid level.


High Level
Cirrus (Ci)

Cirrus clouds are high level clouds usually associated with good weather. They are are made up of ice crystals which are thin and wispy, blown by high winds. You can predict where weather is coming from by watching them and usually you will have a change in weather in the next 24 hrs.

Cirrostratus (Cs)

Cirrostratus high clouds that generally cover the whole sky. They are thin and sheetlike in appearance, which allows you to see the sun or moon through them. They can be an indicator of rain within the next 24 hrs.

Cirrocumulus (Cc)

Also part of the high level club, Cirrocumulus clouds are small puffs of cloud. They can be associated with fair but colder weather.

Mid Level
Altocumulus (Ac)

Altocumulus have a grey and puffy appearance. Made up of water droplets, they can lead to thunderstorms later on in the day.

Altostratus (As)

Altostratus are formed by ice crystals and water droplets and are grey in colour. Often forming ahead of long periods of rain and storms.

Nimbostratus (Ns)

Nimbostratus are rain bearing clouds. Normally a dark grey in colour they and are associated with light to moderate rain or snow. Generally the air is pretty stable.

Low Level
Cumulus (Cu)

Cumulus clouds are white and puffy. They are associated with unstable/turbulent conditions. These clouds are often called fair weather clouds, but can turn into nasty Cumulonimbus clouds.

Stratus (St)

Straus clouds are stable low level clouds, often grey in a appearance and can look a bit like fog. Normally you would get layers of a couple thousand feet. 

Stratocumulus (Sc)

Stratocumulus clouds have a blue/grey appearance with flat bases and more of a fluffy top. They are often associated with rain or drizzle. 

Cumulonimbus (Cb)

Stay away from these clouds. Cumulonimbus clouds are thunderstorm clouds that can have high up and down draughts. They generally are associated with very unstable conditions with heavy rain, hail, snow and lightning. When an anvil appears at the top in is generally a sign that it is coming to an end.

I hope you enjoyed and learnt something from this post on Most Common Cloud Types. 

In the next post we will take a dive into the different special clouds. There are some weird ones out there. Keep an eye out for that post.

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