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#18 Clouds

Have you ever looked up at the sky and observed the clouds? If you have, then you must have noticed that clouds come in different shapes and sizes, and sometimes they are high and other times really low. The size, shape and height at which the clouds form depend on the amount of water vapour, the interplay of other air masses, the temperatures at that height and the wind.

What are clouds and how are they formed?

A cloud is a large collection of tiny droplets of water or ice crystals.

Clouds form by the system of evaporation and condensation. Clouds form when the warm-air rises high into the atmosphere. We all know that the higher we go the colder it becomes. When warm air rises, it expands and cools.  Since cold air holds less water vapour than warm air, the water vapour at high altitudes turns into tiny droplets of water. As the air cools down further, more droplets are formed and these droplets join together to become a cloud.

So what are the different types of clouds? Here’s a Cloud Chart to help you understand the different types of clouds better:

Cloud Types

Cloud Group

Cloud Height




Stratus or Low Clouds

Bases start below 6,500 feet



Alto or Middle Clouds

Bases start above 6,500 feet to 20,000 feet




Cirrus or High Clouds

Bases start above 20,000 feet


Clouds with Vertical Development

Form at almost any altitude and can reach to more than 39,000 feet


Besides these there are also a group of clouds that are known as Special Clouds, like Fog, Mammatus, Lenticular and Contrails.

How do the clouds get their names?

The first part of the name of most of the clouds is associated with the height at which they form, and the second part is associated with the way they look. Clouds have Latin roots to their names. For example, Stratus in Latin means Layer, Nimbus means Rain, Cumulus means Heap and Cirrus means Curl of hair!  Nimbus clouds therefore are clouds that bring rain or snow. This word is added to other cloud types for example the cumulonimbus cloud; it signifies heavy rain or a thunderstorm.

What do the different type of clouds look like?


Stratus: This type of low cloud is gray in colour and looks like a thin sheet, they cover the entire sky. It normally brings light mist or a drizzle.

Nimbostratus: This type has no shape and is usually dark and gray in colour. It brings   snow, ice pellets or heavy rain. It is also associated with continuously falling snow or rain.

Stratocumulus: These are low and look puffy and are gray in colour. They form in rows mostly and bits of the blue sky can be visible in between these clouds



Altocumulus: These clouds are gray or white in colour. They form in groups or patches and are roundish in shape. They signify thunderstorms in the late afternoon.

Altostratus: These are bluish gray or gray in colour. The sun is sometimes dimly visible in the thinner areas of the cloud.  These clouds form ahead before the storms and bring nonstop rain and snow.



These clouds form the highest cloud layer. These clouds are usually thin clouds and are also sometimes called ‘mares’ tails’

Cirrus: These are thin and look like long streamers or feathers and are the most common of the high clouds.  These clouds are usually white in colour. We can tell the direction of the approaching weather from the movement of the cirrus clouds; these clouds normally predict pleasant weather.

Cirrocumulus: These are thin too, but look like small cotton puffs or patches, and they form in long rows and are white in colour. These clouds are usually visible in the winter and in the tropical regions. They predict an approaching hurricane.

Cirrostratus: These too are thin and look almost like a veil. These clouds cover the entire sky, since they are extremely thin. The moon and the sun are visible through them. These clouds are followed either by rain or a storm within 12-24 hours after they appear. 



Cumulus: Cumulus clouds are also called fair weather clouds. They are white in colour and look like floating pieces of cotton. While the base of these clouds is flat, the top is rounded like towers. When these clouds grow upward and develop into giant cumulonimbus clouds, which are thunderstorm clouds.

Cumulonimbus: These clouds are dark and usually large in size. A cumulonimbus cloud is a mix of the cumulus clouds and nimbus clouds. These clouds are also a sign of an approaching thunderstorm. They are associated with very heavy rain, lightening, snow, hail, and even tornadoes!



Clouds look light and fluffy like cotton but don’t be fooled. The amount of water that makes up one cloud can weigh more than an airplane!



According to the law of gravity, what goes up must come down! But how is it that the clouds float in the sky and don’t fall down even when clouds are made of water and water is heavier than air? 
Explore Response
#18 Answer
TEAM EXPLORE:Clouds are made of water and that water is in the form of ice crystals, and tiny droplets of water. These droplets and crystals are too small to feel the effects of gravity, just like the tiny dust particles that stay suspended in the air. Also small drops of water fall slower than the big drops. As the drops fall through the air, winds that move upwards, called 'Updrafts' help keep these drops from...

Best Response
Miss Kriti Gulati 16 years.
July 31, 2014
Actually, clouds are not water vapour but they are either water droplets or ice crystals. If it were simply water vapour, it would mix...

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Answers (1)
Miss Kriti Gulati, 16 years | Posted July 31, 2014
Actually, clouds are not water vapour but they are either water droplets or ice crystals. If it were simply water vapour, it would mix with the air and diffuse uniformly. The two biggest reasons that clouds stay in the sky are 1) small drops, and 2) wind. Small drops of water fall more slowly than big drops. The reason is that as drops fall through the air, the air pushes back on them. Because small drops have less mass and more surface area than large drops, they have a harder time pushing the air out of the way.

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