Are there other terms for describing clouds?

Yes, in addition to the major naming conventions for clouds based on altitude and characteristics, there are also a variety of other Latin terms used to describe clouds. These names can be appended to the main names of clouds. For example, a cumulus castellanus is a cumulus cloud with formations on the top that look like castle towers. Below is a full list of other descriptors for clouds.

Cloud Type



Arched- or bow-shaped


Turret or tower-like




Partly merged, double layered


Fibrous, filament-shaped


Wooly, tuft-like


Irregularly shaped


Flattened, low, and small

Mammatus clouds over Tulsa, Oklahoma. (NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory)

Mammatus clouds over Tulsa, Oklahoma. (NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory)

Cloud Type





Twisted and tangled


Thin and with holes




Rounded, breast-shaped


Bulging, medium-sized (refers to cumulus clouds)


Indistinctly shaped










Rain clouds


Lines of clouds radiating from a central point


Thick, grey cirrus


Horizontal sheets




Curved, descending shape


Hooked shapes on the top of cirrus clouds








Bone- or ribbed-like

What are nacreous clouds?

Nacreous clouds are clouds that occur at elevations of 12 to 20 miles (19 to 32 kilometers) high (rarely at lower altitudes) and look like cirrus or altocumulus lenticularis clouds. Often quite beautiful, they are sometimes called "mother-of-pearl clouds" because of irisation: supercooled water droplets causing refraction of sunlight that gives the edges of these clouds multiple colors in a kind of mother of pearl effect. Seen in northern climes, such as Alaska, Scotland, and Scandinavia, these clouds form only a couple hours before sunrise or after sunset.

What are noctilucent clouds?

Forming at altitudes of 47 to 56 miles (75 to 90 kilometers), these are the highest clouds you'll see in our atmosphere. Blown about by upper-atmosphere winds averaging 100 miles (161 kilometers) an hour, these cirrus-like clouds only form during the summer, and only at latitudes of 50 to 75 degrees north and 40 to 60 degrees south. They are usually seen at twilight and have a bluish or silvery color, sometimes flecked with red. It is speculated that noctilucent clouds may form as a result of meteor dust in the upper atmosphere because these clouds are more common when meteor activity increases.

What is a mare's tail?

More technically known as cirrus fibratus clouds, mare's tails get their name from their appearance. They are long, curved, and fibrous-looking.

What are the cloudiest U.S. cities?

In terms of annual average days when they were under overcast skies, the 10 cloudiest cities in the United States are as follows:

1. Astoria, OR, and Quillayote, WA: both 240 days

2. Olympia, WA: 229 days

3. Seattle, WA: 227 days

4. Portland, OR: 223 days

5. Kailspell, MT: 213 days

6. Binghamton, NY: 212 days

7. Beckley and Elkins, WV: both 211 days

8. Eugene, OR: 209 days

What kind of cloud has been mistaken for a UFO?

Altocumulus lenticularis (commonly called lenticular) clouds are sometimes called "flying saucer clouds" because they bear a strong resemblance to UFOs that have been reported over the years. These clouds, often appearing as one or more lens shapes stacked one on top of another, have been given many other names, too, including cap cloud, banner cloud, rotor cloud, crest cloud, foehn cloud, table

Sometimes, lenticular clouds are mistaken for UFOs because of their unusual disk shapes.

Sometimes, lenticular clouds are mistaken for UFOs because of their unusual disk shapes.

cloth, Chinook arch, Bishop wave, and Moazagotl. A peculiar property of these clouds is that they tend to remain stationary, even during winds gusting as much as 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour. Typically, these clouds are formed near mountainous regions, where air is moving in a "standing wave" pattern. Moist air circulates above the cloud, and water vapor condenses, evaporating as it moves downwind and toward the ground.

What is a mackerel sky?

Mackerel skies are the result of altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds forming a distinctive pattern that looks like the scales on a mackerel fish's back.

What is the Table Cloth cloud?

The Table Mountain near Cape Town, South Africa, is sometimes covered by a thin sheet of clouds when air is flowing off the top of the mountain in all directions. When this happens, the resulting cloud formation looks like a linen sheet; hence, local people have named it the Table Cloth.

How much of the Earth is usually covered by clouds?

At any given time, about one-half of the planet is covered by clouds.

How do airplanes create clouds?

When the air conditions are right and it's sufficiently moist, the exhaust from airplanes often creates condensation trails, known as contrails. Contrails are narrow lines of clouds that usually evaporate rather quickly. Contrails can turn into cirrus clouds if the air is close to being saturated with water vapor.

What is a contrail?

The word "contrail" is short for "condensation trail," and it refers to the water vapor that condenses around the exhaust of a jet aircraft flying at a high altitude. First studied during World War II, when there was a concern that contrails would give away the positions of B29 aircraft, contrails are now of interest to climatologists who worry about their effects on global warming. For instance, studies have shown that where contrails are present there is an increase in the formation of more cirrus clouds. Scientists are also concerned about the other chemicals in jet exhaust that could aversely affect chemical processes within the troposphere and lower atmosphere.

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