Weather and Climate: Cloud Types

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Cloud Types

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Activity Overview


There are many different types of clouds and they are categorized using a system based on where they are in the atmosphere. This system of classification is similar to the Linnaean taxonomy used to classify living things, where each word refers to a different component. For example, clouds with nimbo or nimbus refer to clouds that produce precipitation. Clouds with strato or stratus in the name normally form in layers.

In this activity, students will create a chat that identifies and illustrates different types of clouds and their altitude. This activity can be scaffolded, where the images of the clouds are provided and students are asked to label them. You can also encourage students to go outside and identify the different types of clouds and upload photos of any they take.

To find out more about cloud types, take a look at the International Cloud Atlas from the World Meteorological Organization.


High Altitude

Cirrus - A high, atmospheric detached cloud characterized by thin hairlike strands. The name comes from the Latin word cirrus, meaning “hair”.

Cirrocumulus - Characterized by thin white sheets made of regularly arranged grains or ripples.

Cirrostratus - Characterized by a smooth, transparent sheet covering part or all of the sky. This cloud type can cause a halo around the Sun.


Middle Altitude

Altocumulus - Characterized by patches and sheets formed from rounded masses, layers, or rolls. They can be diffuse, or made of fibers.

Altostratus - Greyish or bluish sheets cover all or part of the sky. Unlike Cirrostratus, this cloud type does not cause a halo to form around the Sun.

Nimbostratus - Grey cloud layer associated with rainfall or snowfall. The layer of cloud is normally thick enough to block out the Sun.


Low Altitude

Stratocumulus - Grey or white patches and layers formed by groups of rounded masses. Stratocumulus clouds are normally non-fibrous.

Cumulus - Detached, fluffy clouds with clearly defined edges. The bases of these clouds are flat and gray, while the tops form brilliant white bulges that can look like cauliflower.

Stratus - A low, smooth sheet of grey cloud often associated with precipitation. These clouds often block the Sun.

Cumulonimbus - These cloud types have a large vertical height that form huge mountains. Most of these clouds are flat and spread out at the top. They are sometimes known as the thunderstorm cloud.


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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Identify and describe the different types of clouds and classify them by altitude.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Label the rows as high, mid, and low altitude.
  3. Label the columns as Type 1, 2, 3, and 4. Add more columns if necessary.
  4. Research the ten different cloud types. Note: one cloud type appears in all three altitudes.
  5. Sort cloud types into the altitude groups where they’re found, and write the name as the titles of the cell.
  6. Find an image using Photos for Class and write a description under each one.
  7. Save and submit the assignment.
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