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Clouds are a condensed form of atmospheric moisture. They are part of the water cycle, which begins with evaporation of moisture from the earth's surface, which then vaporizes into the high atmosphere, where it condenses into clouds and then falls as precipitation. Clouds are classified according to shape:
- Cumulus or heap
- Stratus or layer
- Cirrus or curl of hair
- Nimbus or rain
Further classification depends on height of the cloud base: Cirrus at high levels, alto at mid level, stratus at low level.
Classification of Clouds
Classified as cirrus, high based clouds occur at a minimum of 23,000 feet , although some would say a bit lower, 20,000. They are formed of ice crystals or frozen drops of water. They arethin and filament-like. They generally form in fair weather and head into the wind.
Cirrostratus clouds cover the sky in diffused sheets. They permit sun or moonlight to shine through. Sometimes called an ice cloud, they are transparent and cover part or the entire sky.
Cirrocumulus clouds, also an ice clouds, are patchy, composed of many different elements, or wavy forms, and have banded, linear structures . They can also look like ripples or fish scales and are regularly arranged.
Middle based or alto clouds occur from 9800 to 23,000 feet. Others place the bases of mid-level clouds between 6,500 to 20,000 feet. Because of their lower altitudes, they are composed primarily of water droplets, however, they can also be composed of ice crystals when temperatures are cold enough.
Altostratus clouds are more uniform or diffused with elements that are difficult to distinguish. They are gray or blue in color and are almost haze-like.
Altocumulus clouds form in sheets or patches of sharply defined wavy parallel bands or rounded masses. Usually part of this cloud is shaded. They form in unstable air by convection usually when a cold front lifts the warm air in front of it.
Low or stratus clouds occur from 0 to 9800 feet. Low clouds are of mainly made of water droplets since their bases generally lie below 6,500 feet These clouds may also contain ice particles and snow, when that elevation is cold enough.