Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 6:03 EDT

What Kind Of Cloud Is That?

March 19, 2012

RedOrbit.com Meteorologist Joshua Kelly

Have you ever looked up in the sky and wondered what all those different types of clouds actually are? Well to be exact there is a cloud for every type of weather event.

When high pressure is to the east of a viewing place, the most common types of clouds to find are the Cumulus family of clouds.

There are several types of cumulus clouds ranging from Cumulus — which have the appearance of small marshmallows — to the  middle sized vertical extent clouds called towering Cumulus clouds, and the big cumulus cloud of the family which is the Cumulus-nimbus cloud.

All three of these clouds are responsible for different weather types. The cumulus cloud is referred to as a fair weather cloud and the towering cumulus cloud can produce precipitation and also over water it can create waterspouts. The cumulus-nimbus cloud is responsible for severe weather including hail, tornadoes, damaging winds and heavy rain along with snow in the winter, this is referred to as the known event called Thunder-snow.

The next family of clouds that we are talking about is the Alto clouds. The word alto means mid-level clouds. These clouds are located 6,500-18,000ft above the ground. The Alto clouds are mostly made up of frozen ice particles due to the fact that the temperatures at that height are well below freezing.

Some names of these types of clouds include the alto-stratus and alto-cumulus. The difference between these clouds is in the appearance. The alto-stratus will be uniform looking with a solid blanket-like appearance, while the alto-cumulus is going to look like the marshmallow cumulus clouds from below, however because they are higher in the sky they will appear smaller.

The third family of clouds is the cirrus clouds, these clouds are found usually between 18,000ft and above. The  temperatures at this level  makes these clouds from ice crystals.

This cloud family has three types that fit into it. The first are cirrus clouds. These are best represented as the clouds way up in the sky that have a wispy appearance to them. The second one is the cirro-cumulus, and again just like the other cumulus clouds these clouds have a marshmallow appearance to them but are very small in size because of their height in the sky and the lack of moisture that they hold. The third one is the cirro-stratus clouds and just like the other stratus clouds these clouds are high up in the sky and represent a blanket appearance to the sky.

Lastly, there are clouds that fit under the term “special clouds.” These types of clouds include the roll clouds, lenticular clouds, gust front, wall clouds, funnel clouds, mammatus clouds.

Roll clouds are clouds that have a rolling appearance to them as they approach you. You can watch them roll horizontally through the sky.

The lenticular clouds are very common on the non-windward side of mountains, referred to as the leeward side. These clouds are created by strong winds trying to make it over the mountain. They pile up on top of each other and make what many people call the UFO´s of the clouds.

The next type of cloud deals with thunderstorms and they are called the gust front clouds. They are very dark in color and represent a sudden increase in winds. It is not uncommon for one of these clouds to come through during a thunderstorm and make the winds go from 0-70mph or stronger in a very short time.

The next two types of clouds are found within a super-cell severe thunderstorm. They are called the wall clouds and funnel clouds. The best way to see these is to think of it like this: The Tornado when it´s on the ground it is connected to a bigger cloud above it. That is the funnel cloud. Also you see the funnel cloud right before the tornado hits the ground. Above the funnel cloud, a more massive rotating cloud in the sky is the wall cloud, which leads to the funnel cloud that leads to the tornado on the ground. All three of these work together in the complex life of tornadoes.

The last type of cloud is called the mammatus clouds and these clouds are found on the outer edge of the thunderstorm and have a very bumpy texture to them and are made by the air rapidly sinking on the outer edge of the thunderstorm. When these clouds are around many people get a false sense that a tornado is about to form. The best way to identify these types of clouds is to think of many balloons sinking down to the earth and you are looking at the top of the balloons.

Source: RedOrbit.com Meteorologist Joshua Kelly