How to Recognize Different Types of Clouds [Infographic]

In general, clouds typically come in two forms. Either they are vast, continuous layers/blankets or they are individual clouds with specific visual characteristics and clear outlines. To help you identify different types of clouds, we’ve put together this handy flowchart, which outlines their key characteristics and traits:


But where do they come from?


While knowing the traits and characteristics of a cloud is one thing, it doesn’t explain how they’re formed.


It starts with evaporation, usually from the ocean’s water. This causes the air to hold a large amount of water vapor (the invisible form of water). When the water vapor condenses, clouds and fog develop. In essence, clouds and fog are vast sets of microscopically small drops of water or ice crystals.

Condensation happens when the air cools down through one of the following processes:

• Thermal

• Rising air movement at fronts

• Rising air movement at mountains



Thermal (convection)


When the sun warms the surface of the earth, the earth transports that warmth to an air layer directly above. Warm air has a smaller density than cold air and is therefore lighter. This warm air starts to rise. This process is called thermal.


The rising air in a thermal bubble cools down. If the air is humid enough and cools down enough, then the water vapor the air holds condenses, which forms a cloud. The height at which the forming starts is called the condensation level. This height depends on the air temperature and the humidity in the thermal bubble. Cumulus clouds are the most common type formed in thermal bubbles.


Both the quantity of clouds and the height increases when it is warmer during the day. When it gets cooler at the end of the afternoon and in the evening, the clouds slowly collapse and finally disappear.


Rising air movement at fronts


Fronts occur when separate air masses collide. They form the dividing line between air masses that differ in terms of temperature and humidity. These air masses don’t combine, so the colder, heavier air dives at the fronts under the warmer, lighter air. The warm air rises, cools down and then condenses. This explains why clouds and rainfall are so common at fronts.

The characteristic series of clouds, together with the passage of warm- and cold fronts,



Rising air movement at mountains


Mountains and hills force wind in an upwards movement. The rising air cools down and when the air is sufficiently humid, it forms clouds. If the clouds are thick enough, then rain falls at the side of the mountain that the cloud ‘climbs’ (this is the side of the mountain that the wind is blowing up to).



To find out more about clouds, download The Type of Clouds Guide: Recognize the Most Common Cloud Types


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