What Are the Different Types of Clouds?

Most of us might have observed that there are different forms of clouds on a typical day. Sometimes the sky is full of white fluffy clouds, but there are instances that they are dark and menacing. Clouds are responsible for revealing how air and moisture move in the atmosphere. There are also times that their movements are violent which indicate thunderstorms. Clouds can be fascinating and adrenaline-inducing, but there are also times that they are plain boring.



In Science classes, students are taught about how clouds are formed as well as their different types. The basic types of clouds which most of us know are cirrus, stratus, and cumulus. Cirrus clouds are known to look curly or fibrous, stratus appear to be sheets or layers of clouds, and cumulus clouds are heaped or piled. But did you know that there are many other types of clouds aside from these three basic ones?

A number of different cloud types can be described by combining other terms. If you want to learn more, here are some of the different types of clouds.


Cumulonimbus is the most interesting and the most dangerous type of cloud that you can see. If you view this type of cloud from space, they resemble nuclear explosions. These clouds are formed by supercells.

A supercell is a system that produces severe thunderstorms. It features rotating winds sustained by a prolonged updraft, so as the cloud is rolling upward, it is also rotating which sometimes result in hail and tornadoes. Supercells can also turn the sky green, looking like they are swallowing sunlight whole and masquerading as UFO’s.


Mammatus or mammatocumulus clouds are not seen very often. They are referred to as hanging protuberances, like pouches, on the undersurface of a cloud, by the American Meteorological Society. It’s because they look like a cellular pattern of pouches hanging underneath the base of a cloud, usually cumulonimbus rainclouds.

Mammatus are often indications of a coming storm or other extreme weather system. They may appear as smooth, ragged, or lumpy lobes, or sometimes opaque or translucent. They are primarily composed of ice and can extend for hundreds of miles in each direction. Each individual formation can also remain visibly static for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.  

Shelf Clouds

This type of cloud is a low, horizontal, wedge-shaped arcus cloud which is usually attached to a parent cloud, typically a thunderstorm. It is formed as cooler and moist air from the storm is pushed ahead of it, colliding with a warmer, humid air mass out ahead of it, and forcing condensation to take place along an upwardly slanted slope. A rising cloud motion is often seen in the outer part of the shelf cloud, while its underside appears turbulent and wind-torn. Shelf clouds can appear menacing but they are harmless.

Wall Clouds

Wall clouds are also known as pedestal clouds. It is an abrupt lowering of cloud that develops beneath the surrounding base of a cumulonimbus cloud, and often form tornadoes.

They are usually seen beneath the rain-free base portion of a thunderstorm. It points toward the area of the toughest updraft in a storm. Many wall clouds rotate but some do not. They are an indication of a mesocyclone in a thunderstorm which form most of the strong tornadoes.

Roll Clouds

This is a low, horizontal, tube-shaped, and rare type of arcus cloud. Unlike shelf clouds, roll clouds are completely detached from other cloud features. They typically appear to be rolling about a horizontal axis. Roll clouds are usually associated with a thunderstorm or a gust front. If you happen to see a roll cloud, consider yourself lucky because this type of cloud is rare to see.

Kelvin-Helmholtz Wave Clouds

This is a rare type of cloud that resembles ocean waves in the sky. Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds are formed when there is a heavy vertical cut between two air streams. This causes the winds to blow faster at the upper level compared to the lower levels. These wave clouds are named after two meteorologists, Hermann von Helmholtz and William Thomson Kelvin, who studied airflow

Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds are static clouds that form in the troposphere. They are usually in vertical alignment to the wind direction. They can be compared to the appearance of a lens or a saucer, and some might have mistaken it for a UFO.

Lenticular clouds can have a smooth or stacked appearance and they can remain in place for hours. Some of them can also have sharper edges and may appear for only a minute. These clouds are useful for glider pilots because they often indicate an area of rising air.

Asperitas Clouds

This cloud type is newly recognized by the World Meteorological Organization and is formerly known as Undulatus Asperatus. It was first suggested as a type of cloud by Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the Cloud Appreciation Society. In March 2017, it was added to the International Cloud Atlas.

Asperitas clouds appear dark and storm-like. They are typically seen in the morning or midday hours following convective thunderstorm activity in the Plain states of the United States.

Hole-Punch Clouds


Hole-Punch clouds are also known as fall streak clouds. It is characterized by a circular hole in a cloud made up of super-cooled water droplets. It is technically called Cavum. Hole-punch clouds are formed in rare and specific conditions. An example is an aircraft flying through thin layers of super-cooled water droplet clouds. They can carve out a cloud-free path in them, forming a hole-punch cloud.


Altocumulus clouds are characterized by globular masses or rolls in layers or patches. They frequently signal the development of thunderstorms later in the day. It is one of the warning clouds often recorded by the aviation industry together with cumulonimbus clouds. Though they indicate a coming thunderstorm, altocumulus clouds are mesmerizing to look at especially with the patches of light in the sky between each cloud.

Cloud formations are indeed one of the most amazing phenomena in the sky that we see every day. Aside from being beautiful accessories in the sky, the different types of clouds can also inform us about the kind of weather we can expect for the day.