Nature’s Shapeshifter- Clouds

Currently I am in Western Ghats of India and its raining cats and dogs here, soon monsoon will be all over India, so let’s talk about nature’s shapeshifters, Clouds. Ranging from a turtle, a dragon to someone’s face, you can literally see anything you can imagine when you look in the sky. All thanks to Clouds… 

Basically clouds are a visible mass of condensed water vapour floating in the atmosphere.  Water vapor gets into the air mostly by evaporation of water present in different water bodies like rivers, oceans etc. As air rises into the atmosphere, it gets cool and pressure is less When air reaches below dew-point, the water vapours becomes small water droplets and it gets easier when there are particles like dust and pollens. Eventually bigger water droplets begin to form around particles and they start sticking together, hence forming a cloud. In a cloud sunlight is scattered equally and hence continue to remain white, giving clouds white colour.

Not all clouds are created equal, some are puffy, some are grey and uniform. They are mainly classified on the basis of their of altitudes and appearances. So now without wasting any more time lets see different types of cloud, how you identify them and what are they telling you:-

There are mainly three categories having different sub-categories, these are low-level clouds, mid-level clouds and high-level clouds.

1. High-Level Clouds

These are clouds present at the altitude above than 6km(20,000 ft). They are of three types –

1.1. Cirrus Clouds


Cirrus clouds are short, hair like clouds found at high altitudes. They are thin, curl, white strands of clouds across the sky. Because of very high altitude, temperature and pressure are very less so they are form of basically tiny ice crystals. They are form in fair weather and strands point in the direction of wind at that height. They can also form out ahead of warm fonts and storms and can indicate that change of weather is on the way.

1.2. Cirrocumulus Clouds


Cirrocumulus clouds are made up of many small little clouds forming a pattern or ripple. They can appear as fish scales or honeycombs. They are made of ice crystals and form when turbulent vertical currents meets a cirrus layer. They do not rain but can make the weather cold. They are also related with fair-weather and can indicate stormy weather ahead. They are rare and relatively short-lived.

1.3. Cirrostratus Clouds


Cirrostratus clouds have a blanket sheet like appearance covering all the sky. They are translucent and produce white or coloured rings around sun or moon which is also called Halo Phenomenon.  Sometimes they are so thin that halo is the only indicator of their presence. They can form as a result of slow rising air.  They indicate that moisture content is high in upper atmosphere and it can drizzle a little bit.

2. Mid-Level Clouds

They are clouds having altitudes between 2-6 km (6,500 – 20,000 ft). They are of three types-

2.1. Altocumulus Clouds


They are generally associated with settled weather and is present between the altitude of 7,000 – 18,000 ft. They are the most common cloud in middle atmosphere. They look like wool of sheep and are form of water droplets and ice crystals. The chances of rainfall reaching ground with these are very rare. When altocumulus come with some another type of cloud at same time then generally storm comes.

2.2. Altostratus Clouds


Altostratus are large mid-level sheets of thin cloud. They are spread over a very large area and can be of greyish in colour. They are form when a cirrostratus comes down from a higher level. They can indicate a light rain or snow ahead. They are also called ‘boring clouds’ because they don’t have many features.

2.3. Nimbostratus Clouds


Nimbus means rain, which means this cloud bring rain with it which can last for several hours. They are grey featureless clouds which can block out the sun. When altostratus gets thick and rain bearing then it becomes nimbostratus. With rain they can bring snow and sometimes can descend to lower altitudes too.

3. Low-Level Clouds

They are the clouds having altitude less than 2 km(6,500 ft). They are of four types-

3.1. Stratus Clouds


They are featureless blanket clouds which covers the sky and can be of grey or white colour. They are lowest lying clouds and sometimes can be confused with mist or fog. They are associated with light drizzle. It forms when large air masses rises to atmosphere and condense. They are more common in coastal and mountainous region.

3.2. Cumulus Clouds


These are the clouds which kids start drawing at first place. They are puffy cauliflower like shaped and show good weather. One can see them in early mornings of clear, sunny days. As air heated at surface is lifted, it cools and water vapour condense to produce cumulus clouds. They can grow in height and size depending on the conditions and can converge into cumulonimbus clouds.

3.3. Cumulonimbus Clouds


They are also known as “The King of clouds”.  They are vertically growing clouds and also refered as tower cloud. They can produce thunder, lightning and hails and hence also knows as thunderclouds. They are associated with extreme weather such as heavy downpour, hail storms and even tornadoes. At low-level it is made of water droplets but at high-level it can contain ice crystals too.

3.4. Stratocumulus clouds


Stratocumulus are basically round masses of stratus spread over the sky in form of groups or waves. They can be of bright white to dark grey colour and are one of the most common clouds. It is very rare than even a drizzle will come from them. They can be present in all types of weather conditions, from settled weather to a rainy one.


These different types of clouds have their sub-categories giving various species and varieties of clouds. We will see them in more detail in next post…

Till then, keep a watch on sky and identify the clouds and have fun…

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