• Clouds that form in the low level of the troposphere are generally of larger structure than those that form in the middle and high levels, so they can usually be identified
    by their forms and genus types using satellite photography alone.

  • [74][77][79] When clouds of this species are associated with precipitating cloud systems of considerable vertical and sometimes horizontal extent, they are also classified
    as accessory clouds under the name pannus (see section on supplementary features).

  • If limited-resolution satellite images of high clouds are analyzed without supporting data from direct human observations, distinguishing between individual forms or genus
    types becomes impossible, and they are collectively identified as high-type (or informally as cirrus-type, though not all high clouds are of the cirrus form or genus).

  • However, the schemes presented here share a cross-classification of physical forms and altitude levels to derive the 10 tropospheric genera,[5] the fog and mist that forms
    at surface level, and several additional major types above the troposphere.

  • [48] Mid-level[edit] Sunrise scene giving a shine to an altocumulus stratiformis perlucidus cloud Altostratus translucidus near top of photo thickening into altostratus opacus
    near bottom (see also ‘species and varieties’) Nonvertical clouds in the middle level are prefixed by alto-, yielding the genus names altocumulus (Ac) for stratocumuliform types and altostratus (As) for stratiform types.

  • Levels and genera[edit] See also: Weather map and Station model Tropospheric clouds form in any of three levels (formerly called étages) based on altitude range above the
    Earth’s surface.

  • Very low stratiform clouds that extend down to the Earth’s surface are given the common names fog and mist, but have no Latin names.

  • [39] Depending on their vertical size, clouds of the cumulus genus type may be low-level or multi-level with moderate to towering vertical extent.

  • [32] • Nonconvective stratiform clouds appear in stable airmass conditions and, in general, have flat, sheet-like structures that can form at any altitude in the troposphere.

  • They form at high tropospheric altitudes in air that is mostly stable with little or no convective activity, although denser patches may occasionally show buildups caused
    by limited high-level convection where the air is partly unstable.

  • They are most commonly seen as orographic mountain-wave clouds, but can occur anywhere in the troposphere where there is strong wind shear combined with sufficient airmass
    stability to maintain a generally flat cloud structure.

  • They occur in highly unstable air[14] and often have fuzzy outlines at the upper parts of the clouds that sometimes include anvil tops.

  • [30] Cirrus fibratus clouds in March Clouds in the troposphere assume five physical forms based on structure and process of formation.

  • [7] Towering vertical[edit] Isolated cumulonimbus calvus cloud over the Mojave Desert, releasing a heavy shower Single-cell Cumulonimbus capillatus incus These very large
    cumuliform and cumulonimbiform types have cloud bases in the same low- to mid-level range as the multi-level and moderate vertical types, but the tops nearly always extend into the high levels.

  • [21] The fog may form at surface level in clear air or it may be the result of a very low stratus cloud subsiding to ground or sea level.

  • A cumulus cloud initially forms in the low level of the troposphere as a cloudlet of the species humilis that shows only slight vertical development.

  • [84] There are some volutus clouds that form as a consequence of interactions with specific geographical features rather than with a parent cloud.

  • [67][68] • Species cumulus mediocris – These cumuliform clouds of free convection have clear-cut, medium-gray, flat bases and white, domed tops in the form of small sproutings
    and generally do not produce precipitation.

  • [45][46] Cirrocumulus occasionally forms alongside cirrus and may be accompanied or replaced by cirrostratus clouds near the leading edge of an active weather system.

  • These very high clouds, although classified by these different methods, are nevertheless broadly similar to some cloud forms identified in the troposphere with Latin names.

  • [9] Cumulus mediocris cloud, about to turn into a cumulus congestus With highly unstable atmospheric conditions, large cumulus may continue to grow into even more strongly
    convective cumulonimbus calvus (essentially a very tall congestus cloud that produces thunder), then ultimately into the species capillatus when supercooled water droplets at the top of the cloud turn into ice crystals giving it a cirriform

  • [86] Opacity-based[edit] A layer of stratocumulus stratiformis perlucidus hiding the setting sun with a background layer of stratocumulus cumulogenitus resembling distant
    mountains All cloud varieties fall into one of two main groups.

  • [80] Partly unstable[edit] Example of a castellanus cloud formation These species are subdivisions of genus types that can occur in partly unstable air with limited convection.

  • [14] If the air is generally stable, nothing more than lenticular cap clouds form.

  • [85] Unstable or mostly unstable[edit] More general airmass instability in the troposphere tends to produce clouds of the more freely convective cumulus genus type, whose
    species are mainly indicators of degrees of atmospheric instability and resultant vertical development of the clouds.

  • • Genus nimbostratus (Ns) – This is a diffuse, dark gray, multi-level stratiform layer with great horizontal extent and usually moderate to deep vertical development that
    looks feebly illuminated from the inside.

  • [43] • Genus altocumulus (Ac) – This is a midlevel cloud layer of limited convection that is usually appears in the form of irregular patches or more extensive sheets arranged
    in groups, lines, or waves.

  • [7] As with high clouds, the main genus types are easily identified by the human eye, but distinguishing between them using satellite photography alone is not possible.

  • [18] Warm fronts associated with extratropical cyclones tend to generate mostly cirriform and stratiform clouds over a wide area unless the approaching warm airmass is unstable,
    in which case cumulus congestus or cumulonimbus clouds are usually embedded in the main precipitating cloud layer.

  • [86][87] Pattern-based[edit] Cirrus fibratus radiatus over ESO’s La Silla Observatory[88] A second group describes the occasional arrangements of cloud structures into particular
    patterns that are discernible by a surface-based observer (cloud fields usually being visible only from a significant altitude above the

  • [74] Altocumulus lenticularis forming over mountains in Wyoming with lower layer of cumulus mediocris and higher layer of cirrus spissatus Stratocumuliform genus-types (cirrocumulus,
    altocumulus, and stratocumulus) that appear in mostly stable air with limited convection have two species each.

  • [57][58] When a very low stratus cloud subsides to surface level, it loses its Latin terminology and is given the common name fog if the prevailing surface visibility is less
    than 1 km (0.62 mi).

  • The altitude, form, and thickness of the clouds are the main factors that affect the local heating or cooling of the Earth and the atmosphere.

  • They often form along a high altitude jetstream[44] and at the very leading edge of a frontal or low-pressure disturbance where they may merge into cirrostratus.

  • [10] Tropospheric cloud classification by altitude of occurrence: Multi-level and vertical genus-types not limited to a single altitude level include nimbostratus, cumulonimbus,
    and some of the larger cumulus species.

  • [55] They usually form in the low level of the troposphere except during conditions of very low relative humidity, when the clouds bases can rise into the middle-altitude

  • Cumulus mediocris is officially classified as low-level and more informally characterized as having moderate vertical extent that can involve more than one altitude level.

  • [7] Fog is commonly considered a surface-based cloud layer.

  • Some cloud varieties are not restricted to a specific altitude level or form, and can therefore be common to more than one genus or species.

  • [64] The nimbo- prefix refers to its ability to produce continuous rain or snow over a wide area, especially ahead of a warm front.

  • [43] • Genus stratocumulus (Sc) – This genus type is a stratocumuliform cloud layer of limited convection, usually in the form of irregular patches or more extensive sheets
    similar to altocumulus but having larger elements with deeper-gray shading.

  • [52] Low-level[edit] Cumulus humilis with stratocumulus stratiformis in the foreground (see also ‘species and varieties’)Cumulus humilis clouds in May Low clouds are found
    from near the surface up to 2,000 m (6,500 ft).

  • On Earth, clouds are formed as a result of saturation of the air when it is cooled to its dew point, or when it gains sufficient moisture (usually in the form of water vapor)
    from an adjacent source to raise the dew point to the ambient temperature.

  • This high-level cloud genus does not produce precipitation.

  • [60] Multi-level or moderate vertical[edit] Nimbostratus with virga These clouds have low- to mid-level bases that form anywhere from near the surface to about 2,400 m (8,000
    ft) and tops that can extend into the mid-altitude range and sometimes higher in the case of nimbostratus.

  • [7] Independent meteorologists and educators appear split between those who largely follow the WMO model[62][63] and those who classify nimbostratus as low-level, despite
    its considerable vertical extent and its usual initial formation in the middle altitude range.

  • [81] Castellanus resembles the turrets of a castle when viewed from the side, and can be found with stratocumuliform genera at any tropospheric altitude level and with limited-convective
    patches of high-level cirrus.

  • It became the basis of a modern international system that divides clouds into five physical forms which can be further divided or classified into altitude levels to derive
    ten basic genera.

  • [62][74][77] Cirriform clouds have three non-convective species that can form in stable airmass conditions.

  • However, only two varieties are seen with altostratus and stratus nebulosus whose uniform structures prevent the formation of a perlucidus variety.

  • [76] Mid-level altostratus and multi-level nimbostratus always have a flat or diffuse appearance and are therefore not subdivided into species.

  • [35] If the inversion layer is absent or higher in the troposphere, increased airmass instability may cause the cloud layers to develop tops in the form of turrets consisting
    of embedded cumuliform buildups.

  • These two species can be found in the high, middle, or low levels of the troposphere depending on the stratocumuliform genus or genera present at any given time.

  • They are classified formally as low- or mid-level depending on the altitude at which each initially forms, and are also more informally characterized as multi-level or vertical.

  • [51] • Genus altostratus (As) – Altostratus is a midlevel opaque or translucent nonconvective veil of gray/blue-gray cloud that often forms along warm fronts and around low-pressure

  • The grouping of clouds into levels is commonly done for the purposes of cloud atlases, surface weather observations,[7] and weather maps.

  • They may reflect incoming rays from the sun which can contribute to a cooling effect where and when these clouds occur, or trap longer wave radiation that reflects back up
    from the Earth’s surface which can cause a warming effect.

  • He believed that scientific observations of the changing cloud forms in the sky could unlock the key to weather forecasting.

  • Genus types with sufficient vertical extent to occupy more than one level do not carry any altitude-related prefixes.

  • [42] Multi-level clouds with significant vertical extent are separately listed and summarized in approximate ascending order of instability or convective activity.

  • • Genus cumulonimbus (Cb) – This genus type is a heavy, towering, cumulonimbiform mass of free-convective cloud with a dark-gray to nearly black base and a very high top in
    the form of a mountain or huge tower.

  • Unlike less vertically developed clouds, they are required to be identified by their standard names or abbreviations in all aviation observations (METARS) and forecasts (TAFS)
    to warn pilots of possible severe weather and turbulence.

  • Perhaps the strangest geographically specific cloud of this type is the Morning Glory, a rolling cylindrical cloud that appears unpredictably over the Gulf of Carpentaria
    in Northern Australia.

  • If the air becomes more unstable, the cloud tends to grow vertically into the species mediocris, then strongly convective congestus, the tallest cumulus species[74] which
    is the same type that the International Civil Aviation Organization refers to as ‘towering cumulus’.

  • For the first time, precipitation and the clouds from which precipitation fell were called meteors, which originate from the Greek word meteoros, meaning ‘high in the sky’.

  • [32] High-level[edit] High cirrus upper-left merging into cirrostratus right and some cirrocumulus far right High clouds form at altitudes of 3,000 to 7,600 m (10,000 to 25,000
    ft) in the polar regions, 5,000 to 12,200 m (16,500 to 40,000 ft) in the temperate regions, and 6,100 to 18,300 m (20,000 to 60,000 ft) in the tropics.

  • The species castellanus appears when a mostly stable stratocumuliform or cirriform layer becomes disturbed by localized areas of airmass instability, usually in the morning
    or afternoon.


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