Types of Clouds in Your Sky

Did you know you can predict the weather simply based on the shape and colour of the clouds in the sky? Types of clouds can give us more insight into the weather than we think, from rain to snow and even tornados, next time you’re unsure if you should bring an umbrella take a look at the clouds above.

Did you know there are ten different types of clouds in the sky? To break this down even further, there are 27 sub-types of clouds, which are categorised by their height, shape, colour and associated weather patterns. Different types of clouds can be a sign of upcoming weather events, including rain, hail and storms

But, how do you tell clouds apart? It’s easier than you think as most clouds can be easily identified by their colour, shape and level in the sky. Clouds which sit above 6km from the earth’s surface are considered high-level clouds. Those sitting between 2.5km and 6km are middle-level, and those sitting lower than 2.5km are low-level clouds.  

Knowing what type of colour you’re looking at can help you plan your outfit and whether you need to pack a sneaky poncho. Because let’s face it, no one likes being caught in the rain.

Photo by Billy Huynh on Unsplash

The 10 Types of Clouds in the Sky

  1. Cumulonimbus clouds.

Cumulonimbus clouds are common in Australia; after all they are fondly known as the thunderstorm cloud. They’re low-level clouds, which can span up to 16km in height. This type of cloud is easily identified by its heavy, ominous appearance, often resembling a mountain. The top of the cumulonimbus cloud is often soft and puffy, followed closely by a thick dark sheet of cloud resembling a vast plume. 

If you spot these clouds in the sky, it’s time to take cover — storms are brewing. The storms which come with cumulonimbus clouds are traditionally severe, sometimes producing hail and tornadoes.

 2. Stratus clouds.

Stratus clouds are also low-level clouds, taking on a fog-like appearance. These clouds often present as grey or white, sheet-like clouds, blanketing the entire sky — like fog in the sky. If this type of cloud appears in the sky above, you may need to grab out the umbrella or don a raincoat for a day. Stratus clouds have a habit of producing light to moderate rain. 

When stratus clouds are present in the sky, solar panel performance is often impacted, but not halted completely. 

3.  Altostratus clouds.

Altostratus clouds are mid-level clouds, sitting between 2.5 and 6km above ground level. This cloud poses little-to-no threat to your daily routine as it rarely brings rain. It’s easily identified by its thin grey to blue sheet-like appearance blanketing the sky above. 

Although they sound similar  they can be distinguished from stratus clouds by the regular appearance of the sun through the cloud. The sun will appear as if through ground glass. 

Interestingly, when this type of cloud is present, your shadow will not be visible in natural light as the sun is unable to penetrate enough light through the cloud.

4. Nimbostratus clouds.

Nimbostratus clouds often occur as a result of thickening altostratus clouds. You can spot these clouds easily in the sky as the dark grey layered clouds, which often appear heavy. If you do spot one of these middle-level clouds in the sky above, you best pack a poncho as heavy rain or snow is likely.

5.  Cumulus clouds.

Cumulus clouds are low-level clouds made from water droplets and moisture. These are the most common types of clouds on earth. 

Fluffy and white, these clouds are generally detached from each other and take on the appearance of pillows in the sky. Cumulus clouds rarely bring rain, so you can prepare for a beautiful day when this type of cloud is in the sky. 

You’ll often see cumulus clouds develop over land on clear mornings, dissolving into the evening. Cumulus clouds are great for those with solar panels as they rarely block sunlight.

6. Cirrus clouds.

Cirrus clouds are made up of cooled water droplets, which have frozen into ice crystals. It is because of this that cirrus clouds take on a magical wispy appearance in otherwise clear skies. 

Due to their composition, cirrus clouds do not produce rain and are a dream for those with solar panels as they do not block the sunlight. These clouds sit high in the sky, often more than 6km from the earth surface.  

Most beautiful at dawn and dusk, cirrus clouds often take on a bright yellow/red colouring during these times.

7. Cirrocumulus clouds.  

Appearing as thin white patches or sheets in the sky, cirrocumlus clouds are uncommon in Australian skys. Cirrocumulus clouds are slightly more dense than cirrus clouds, made up of small patches with gain like appearance and occasional ripples. When these clouds do appear in Australian skies, they often quickly morph into cirrus clouds. 

Cirrocumulus clouds do not produce precipitation and produce little shade, therefore have no impact on solar panel performance.

 8. Stratocumulus clouds.  

Stratocumulus clouds are categorised by their low-level, layered appearance, often mimicking rounded rolls in the sky, which remain unconnected. These clouds are mostly grey, although they can occasionally appear white when only carrying light rain. This type of cloud is formed when humid air rises into the atmosphere. When it begins to cool, the cloud takes on a honeycomb appearance.

If you spot this type of cloud in the sky, you may see some light rain throughout the day. 

9. Cirrostratus clouds.

Cirrostratus clouds are the most beautiful of all clouds. In fact, they are affectionately known as halo clouds. They get the name from the halo phenomena, which is often present in these clouds due to the interaction between ice crystals and sunlight, causing a halo effect within the cloud.

This type of clouds is known for its white veil-like appearance in the sky. These sheets of clouds are never thick enough to prevent shadows, therefore pose no threat to solar panels.

10. Altocumulus clouds.

Altocumulus clouds are similar to stratocumulus clouds in appearance. The main difference is altocumulus clouds appear as one large sheet with honeycomb textured puffs, rather than unconnected clouds. These clouds sit middle level and are generally white or grey in colour. 

This type of cloud can produce moderate shade, slightly hindering the performance of solar panels. However the chance of rain is low, so you can leave the poncho at home.

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      Katrina Stapleton

      Senior Digital Content Specialist

      Katrina Stapleton is a Senior Digital Content Specialist at Localsearch with a background in social media and marketing. Although most of her experience lies in the entertainment sector, Katrina has written content for a vast array of industries including tourism, hospitality, retail and property development. Katrina is an avid dog lover, who finds a way to weave her fur-baby, Mylo, into most conversations. Aside from being a self-confessed bookworm, Katrina can often be found checking out the Gold Coast's latest coffee nook, paddle-boarding or baking up a storm in her free time — all with Mylo by her side, of course! As a Senior Digital Content Specialist, Katrina enjoys sharing her knowledge and passions on the Localsearch Blog.