MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Clouds come in many different shapes and sizes, but they only fall into three main categories. These categories are cumulus, stratus and cirrus. You can also categorize clouds by where they develop in the atmosphere, high (16,000-43,000 feet), middle (7,000-23,000 feet), low (surface-7,000 feet).
In 1802, Meteorologist Luke Howard published “Essay on the Modification of Clouds.” This changed the course of meteorology forever because forecasters could put a name to the clouds they were seeing.
Howard named the clouds for their Latin named counterparts. Cumulus is Latin for “Heap;” Stratus is “Layer;” Cirrus is Latin for “Curl of Hair.” Since clouds are constantly moving and changing in our atmosphere, Howard also included types for transition purposes. For example, fluffy cumulus clouds who spread into a sheet in the sky is called stratocumulus.
Howard named seven cloud types, but meteorologists have now expanded this list to 9 basic types. These are cirrus, cirrocumulus, cirrostratus, altocumulus, altostratus, stratus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus, cumulus, cumulonimbus. There are also a few newly categorized clouds that do not fall under any of these traditional types. Those are lenticular, Kelvin-Helmholtz and mammatus.
Although it seems trivial, cloud names help streamline forecasting information. These clouds tell us important information about the weather around the world. This is also important for pilots who are trying to avoid turbulence.