Cloud Classification

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 10:55 AM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - In this article you can find the different levels of the atmosphere that clouds form along with what type of clouds form in each layer. A cloud is a mass of micro ice droplets clumped together in the atmosphere kept together by pressure.

High level clouds: High-level clouds occur above about 20,000 feet and are given the prefix “cirro-”. Due to cold tropospheric (term for lower layer of atmosphere) temperatures at these levels, the clouds primarily are composed of ice crystals, and often appear thin, streaky, and white.

Most common ‘High level cloud” is the Cirrus cloud.

  • Cirrus clouds are wispy, feathery, and composed entirely of ice crystals. They often are the first sign of an approaching warm front or upper-level jet streak.

Mid level clouds: The bases of clouds in the middle level of the troposphere, given the prefix “alto-”, appear between 6,500 and 20,000 feet.

  • Altostratus clouds are “strato” type clouds (see below) that possess a flat and uniform type texture in the mid levels. Altostratus clouds themselves do not produce significant precipitation at the surface, although sprinkles or occasionally light showers may occur from a thick alto-stratus deck.
  • Altocumulus clouds like cirrocumulus, altocumulus may align in rows or streets of clouds, with cloud axes indicating localized areas of ascending, moist air, and clear zones between rows suggesting locally descending, drier air.

Low level clouds: Low clouds occur below 6500 feet, and normally consist of liquid water droplets or even supercooled droplets.

The two main types of low clouds include stratus, which develop horizontally, and cumulus, which develop vertically.

Fair-weather cumulus clouds will most likely leave you dry, but some cumulus clouds are often associated with unsettled weather, due to the structure and conditions involved with their development. Cumulus clouds that develop vertically high into the atmosphere can be associated with severe weather.

Clouds are the baseline of any and all types of severe weather. Rain, snow, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, hail and several others can not happen without clouds.

Clouds also impact the surface temperature day and night. When we have more clouds during the day we see “cooler” temperatures than if it was a clear sunny day. At night it is the opposite. If we have cloud cover at night that tends to trap the daytime heat thus giving us warmer temperatures overnight than if it were clear.

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