Clouds are found at different heights in the sky.
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Courtesy of Becca Hatheway/UCAR
Clouds are Found at Different Heights
The different types of clouds we see in the sky are located at different heights in the sky.
High clouds include cirrus, cirrocumulus, and cirrostratus clouds. These clouds are made up of either ice or water droplets, but they are usually made up of ice crystals. Water clouds tend to have sharp edges, while ice clouds are more wispy.
Middle clouds include altocumulus and altostratus clouds. These are usually water clouds, except when it is cold enough at that altitude in the atmosphere for ice crystals to form.
Low clouds include stratocumulus, cumulus, stratus, cumulonimbus, and nimbostratus clouds. These clouds are generally made of water droplets. Cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds can be very tall, with their tops as high as middle or high level clouds, but their bases are as low as the other low clouds.
For tips on how to tell how high a cloud is in the sky, look for clues on each cloud type page. Also, the same type of cloud will be at a different height in the sky at different latitudes on Earth. Check out the cloud heights by latitude page.
The clouds listed in the figure on this page are found in the troposphere, which is the lowest layer in the atmosphere and is where weather occurs. Polar stratospheric clouds are located in a layer of the atmosphere called the stratosphere. Polar mesospheric, or noctilucent, clouds are the highest clouds and are located in the atmospheric layer called the mesosphere. This diagram shows the different layers of the atmosphere.
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Cirrus (weather symbol - Ci) clouds are the most common of the High Cloud (5000-13000m) group. They are composed entirely of ice and consist of long, thin, wispy streamers. They are commonly known as...more
Cirrocumulus clouds (weather symbol - Cc) are composed primarily of ice crystals and belong to the High Cloud group (5000-13000m). They are small rounded puffs that usually appear in long rows. Cirrocumulus...more
Cirrostratus (weather symbol - Cs) clouds consist almost entirely of ice crystals and belong to the High Cloud (5000-13000m) group. They are sheetlike thin clouds that usually cover the entire sky. The...more
Altocumulus clouds (weather symbol - Ac), are made primarily of liquid water and have a thickness of 1 km. They are part of the Middle Cloud group (2000-7000m up). They are grayish-white with one part...more
Altostratus clouds (weather symbol - As) consist of water and some ice crystals. They belong to the Middle Cloud group (2000-7000m up). An altostratus cloud usually covers the whole sky and has a gray...more
Stratocumulus (weather symbol - Sc) clouds consist of water droplets and belong to the Low Cloud (surface-2000m) group. These clouds are low, lumpy, and gray. These clouds can look like cells under a microscope...more
Cumulus (weather symbol - Cu) clouds belong to the Clouds with Vertical Growth group. They are puffy white or light gray clouds that look like floating cotton balls. Cumulus clouds have sharp outlines...more