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Section 4.5 Cloud classification

The classification scheme first developed by Luke Howard in 1803 is still generally applied today. Clouds are classified by their form (vertical extent) and by their altitude.


  • cirro- (wispy)

  • strato- (layered)

  • cumulo- (convective)

  • nimbo- (precipitating)


  • high (cirro-): cirrus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus

  • middle (alto-): altocumulus, altostratus, nimbostratus

  • low: cumulus, stratus, stratocumulus, cumulonimbus

Table 4.5.1. Cloud types
altitude vertical layered mixed/other precipitating
high cirrocumulus cirrostratus cirrus --
middle altocumulus altostratus -- nimbostratus
low cumulus stratus stratocumulus cumulonimbus