Cloud formations – they all have weird names and you’ll want to keep away from all of them as GA pilot! Here we run through all the different types and come up with ways to help you remember each one.

To understand and remember the different cloud types easily, first we need to translate the cloud formation names from Latin to plain English. First, we’ll look at the tree main types of cloud: Cumulus, Cirrus and Stratus.


cumulus = heap or pile (accumulation)

Looking like a pile of cotton wool, these clouds often seem harmless, but are usually the precursor to rain clouds. If enough of these small, fluffy clouds get together, they form Cumulonimbus


cirrus = curl or hair

Not such an easy word to decipher, but once you know it, they are easy to spot. Thin, whispy curls of hair high up in the atmosphere. High up – think hair on the top of your head…


stratus = layer

Low level, layered clouds with little or no formation. These clouds are basically fog that has lifted above ground level.

So now we have the three main cloud formations translated: accumulation, hair and layer.

A couple of other translations start to bring the picture together: Alto = high Nimbus = rainstorm

Knowing these five translations will help with many of the other formation types. For example, an accumulation of hair-like clouds…? Cirrocumulus. A big rainstorm cloud…? Cumulonimbus:


cirrus = curl or hair cumulus = heap or pile (accumulation)

OK, easy one – lots of little curls of hair accumulate together to make cirro-cumulus clouds. Again high up – like the hair on top of our head.


Alto = high cumulus = heap or pile (accumulation)

So now these names are becoming a little easier to understand. Cumulus style, only higher (but not as high as cirrus styles)


cumulus = heap or pile (accumulation) nimbus = rainstorm

This is the big daddy of storm clouds, a name that most people would have heard.


Alto = high stratus = layer

A high formation of stratus clouds. Simple.


Nimbus = rainstorm stratus = layer

Altostratus clouds, only lower and grayer producing rain.

Hopefully this makes a little more sense now! A condensed list of the five translations are below:

cumulus = heap or pile (accumulation)

cirrus = curl or hair

stratus = layer

alto = high

nimbus = rainstorm


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