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Cloud formation, types of clouds

Cloud formation, types of clouds

Evaporating surface water forms clouds of various shapes from which water falls back to the surface as precipitation.



weather, cloud formation, formation of precipitation, cloud types, precipitation, cloud, clouds, rain, snowing, rainstorm, water cycle, water vapor, water, water droplets, ice crystal, atmosphere, air, solar radiation, cycle, solar energy, evaporation, freezing, runoff, hydrosphere, wind, air pressure, climate, nature, geography

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  • - Very thin, silver colored clouds, composed of ice crystals only; not producing any precipitation.
  • - Patches of clouds organized in lines; they consist of ice crystals and do not produce precipitation.
  • - Uniform gray layer of clouds that generally do not produce precipitation, although they can produce small amounts of rain or snow.
  • - Clouds characterized by globular masses in layers or patches, not producing precipitation.
  • - Clouds characterized by flattened masses, usually organized in groups. They rarely produce precipitation.
  • - A thick, uniformly gray cloud layer formed in low altitude. It occurs along warm fronts and produces light rain or snow.
  • 2,000 m (6,562 ft)
  • 6,000 m (19,690 ft)


When surface waters and the moisture content of plants starts to evaporate due to solar radiation, the water vapor rises. When the rising vapor reaches a colder region, it condensates and triggers cloud formation.
The condensation of water vapor starts on the surface of tiny particles of dust and soot in the air. The resulting water droplets then cool down and become supercooled. Supercooled water droplets that form clouds do not freeze even at a temperature below 0°C, due to their very small size.
Clouds may consist of ice crystals or supercooled water droplets.

Condensed water droplets begin to grow. When they reach a certain size, they can no longer float in the air and thus they fall in the form of precipitation. When the temperature is above 0°C (32 °F), it rains; if it is below 0°C (32 °F), it snows.

Based on their altitude, clouds can be classified into 3 types: high-level, mid-level and low level clouds. The two exceptions are cumulonimbus and cumulus clouds, which usually have a vertical appearance.
High-level clouds are composed of ice crystals, while mid- and low level ones usually consist of water droplets, or ice or snow crystals in winter.

Clouds can also be classified according to their shape: there are stratiform and cumuliform clouds. Stratiform clouds have a large horizontal extent but are relatively thin. They are usually formed in slowly cooling air.

Cumuliform clouds consist of lumps, they can have a large vertical extent. They are usually formed by rapid cooling.

Cirrus clouds consist of scattered ice crystals. They do not cover the Sun, they consist of thin filaments or strands, formed by winds in the upper atmosphere. In good weather they are visible in the sky for several hours.

Cirrostratus clouds form a translucent, milky veil in the sky. Their structure can be fibrous, striated or uniform. They often cover a large portion of the sky but the Sun and the Moon can shine through them. They precede weather fronts and are formed by strong winds blowing at high altitudes which cause them to become larger and thicker.

Cirrocumulus clouds are thin clouds that appear in patches. They indicate the approach of a cold front. They consist of separate or fused lumps, which are typically arranged in a regular fashion.

Altocumulus clouds mainly consist of water droplets but in cold weather they may also contain ice crystals. They may be made up of globular masses or rolls in layers or patches. A towering altocumulus frequently signals the development of thunderstorms.

Altostratus clouds contain both water drops and ice crystals. They may appear gray or bluish-gray; their structure can be fibrous or uniform. They often cover a large portion of the sky but the Sun and the Moon can shine through the thinner areas and appear as if it were shining through frosted glass. These clouds can be a source of light rain or snow, in winter.

Stratocumulus clouds are grayish white clouds that contain all kinds of condensation: supercooled water droplets, raindrops and ice crystals. They are compound clouds that consist of separate or fused pillow-shaped or cylindrical lumps.
The thickness of the layer varies, stratocumulus clouds can also form two layers. Depending on the thickness, they may cover the Sun. Occasionally they might produce light rain.

Stratus clouds consist of water droplets or ice crystals in winter. They are grayish, uniform clouds with a wave-like base. They may produce light drizzle or granular snow. They are typically formed in winter by lifting fog. They are low-level clouds, they might be found at an altitude of 50-100 m (164-328 ft).

Cumulus clouds consist primarily of water droplets. They are usually separate, densely arranged clouds with clearly defined edges. They might have a towering, domed or block shape. Their top is bright white, while the bottom is grayish.
They typically form in summer, due to evaporation. They usually do not produce precipitation, they indicate good weather. They only produce precipitation when they take the shape of a tower and develop into cumulonimbus clouds.

Cumulonimbus clouds are thick, dense clouds with a large horizontal and vertical extent. They are towering clouds characterized by an anvil-like top. Their base can be found at an altitude of about 1-2 km (0.62-1.24 mi) while their top might reach an altitude of 14-15 km (8.7-9.32 mi). They produce heavy rain, often accompanied by lightning. Strong wind and hail are also common in summer. Rain shafts often appear at the base of cumulonimbus clouds.

Nimbostratus clouds are dark, gray, clouds with a homogeneous appearance. They consist of water droplets and rain drops, snow and ice crystals in winter. They can be several kilometers thick, and thus they completely block the Sun. They produce constant and continuous precipitation.

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