Clouds and Fog

No doubt at some point you’ve looked up at the clouds, if just for their beauty, and to marvel at the different shapes and sizes. Knowing the various types lets you make general assumptions about current and near-future weather.

Clouds can form just about anywhere in the atmosphere: fog is a cloud that has developed at the surface, and the highest clouds can reach altitudes of 75,000 feet. There’s even a recently-discovered cloud type that forms 250,000 feet above the earth’s surface, called noctilucent clouds, which scientists are still not completely sure how they form, or why they’re happening.

Our focus is much closer to Earth. Meteorologists classify cloud types into three major groups by height — meaning their elevation in the atmosphere, not how tall they are from top to bottom. There are ten major common cloud types, and about two dozen less common types. We can’t get to all of them, but we’ll cover the major ones.

Quick note: Cloud identification isn’t exact, especially since no two clouds are alike. My meteorology professor pointed out that two meteorologists might have two interpretations of a cloud, and both might be right. Your identification might differ from a fellow weather enthusiast or meteorologist friend. (I disagreed with my professor on one of his cloud quiz “correct” answers, so I know firsthand!)