Clouds and cloud identification

Presented by Dave Parker


  1. Introduction

  2. Picture gallery

  3. Books about cloud identification

  4. Cloud classification index

  5. Experimental 'cloud cam'

1. Introduction

These photographs are a bit more specialized than the others elsewhere on this site. They stem from my interest in meteorology, and especially cloud formations. While I am a fan of technology, infra-red satellite imagery, rainfall radar and the rest, clouds are often ignored by the meteorologist. Yet they contain a wealth of information about the atmosphere. Certain rare varieties are incredibly accurate predictors of thunderstorms. Others signify the approach of a warm front; and so it goes on. I have tried to capture the majesty of the skies here but the low contract between clouds and high contrast between clouds and the earth makes photography a challenge; and scanning a nightmare! Anyone wishing to find out more should consult the 'bible' of clouds, the International Cloud Atlas' published by the World Meteorological Organization. It's a bit pricy but well worth it! Comments to dave

2. Photo Gallery

Altocumulus was a towering Cumulonimbus cloud five minutes earlier.
Cumulonimbus into Altocumulus

This innocuous looking cirrus turned into a major overnight thunderstorm. As a meteorologist and photographer I find clouds interesting and sometimes exciting however I've been informed by a reader of this website that experiencing a traumatic event during a severe thunderstorm or deadly tornado can cause some people to form an irrational fear of clouds - it's known as Nephophobia. There are even mental health facilities that have therapies to treat the panic attacks brought on by Nephophobia. At one such facility, Morningside Recovery, therapists have found that viewing photos of serene clouds on the Morningside Recovery Pinterest website can help sufferers overcome their fears before their panic attacks escalate into a more serious disorder. So even an experienced meteorologist and cloud watcher can learn something new!

More cirrus.
This is also cirrus - ice crystals - but unusually dense.
evening cirrus
Magnificicent evening cirrus.
cirrus at Mizzen Head, Ireland
This cirrus is at Mizzen Head, Ireland. The location is to the extreme southwest of the country.
This halo signifies cirrostratus. Often the halo is the only evidence that there is any cloud at all. The halo has a 22° - an angle approximated by the ends of your forefinger and thumb at arms length. But NEVER look directly into the sun. This picture took a lot of guess work! Incidentally this shot was taken in Florida shortly before the tornado in early 1998. I have another picture of the halo with the sun masked by a space shuttle at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, but I have submitted this to a meteorological publication. I will add it to the page when I get it back.
This is an example of 'mamma' associated here with cumulonimbus. This cloud is normally found close to a thunderstorm which is formed where air rises rapidly - but what goes up must come down (effect known as downdraught) - hence this strange formation.
Photo credit: Sue Wardlaw
rainbow 2rainbow
No half measures on this page - a double rainbow.... ....from both ends. A rainbow is nearly always associated with cumulonimbus as here, or occasionally with large cumulus. Note how the sky is darker between the primary and secondary rainbows and the reversed colours of the secondary rainbow.
Double rainbow in Ireland
Another double rainbow, this time in Ireland
rainbow 2
Parhelia taken in a gap between several cumulonimbus clouds in Marden, Kent on 24/10/99 late afternoon. Parhelia is the interaction of two optical effects in cirrostratus. Lucky for two optical phenomena to align between the huge Cumulonimbus of the day!
Ac cloud
This is Altocumulus - high level convective cloud - and often associated with poor weather.
The 'King' of all clouds - Cumulonimbus - often associated with thunder & lightning.
evening cumulus
Evening cumulus dissipating after an afternoon of thunderstorms.
daytime cumulus
Large cumulus. The crisp, well defined top of this cloud shows it is still forming.
embedded thunder cloud
A towering Cumulonimbus cloud can be seen embedded in this wall of cloud.
cumulonimbus and shower
A shower can be seen beneath this Cumulonimbus cloud. The full extent of the cloud is masked but the very white part to the top of the picture shows the vertical extent of the cloud.
cumulonimbus and shower
The same Cumulonimbus cloud with a small aircraft, in my view unwisely, heading into the centre of the storm.
lenticular Ac
This lenticular Altocumulus was photographed in Tucson, AZ, USA. It is formed downwind of mountains (or occasionally hills although not as well developed as this shot). It is not surprising that this formation can be mistaken for UFOs by those without a knowledge of meteorology!
Photo credit: Jenny Roye
lenticular Ac
Another example of lenticular Altocumulus at Fraser, Colorado (approximately 3000 metres above sea level) looking to the east.
Photo credit: Dave Appel
Norfolk Broads
Norfolk Broads at sunset. This looks cosy but the altocumulus which was reflecting the low sun, was an early warning of poor weather.
More evening Cumulus.
Stratocumulus with cumulus fractus.
Evening cirrus.
Ci / Cu
Evening cirrus with dissipating cumulus.
Evening cirrus with dissipating cumulus.

Hope you enjoyed these clouds. Any fellow meteorologists wish to comment on my classifications, please email me at email dave

3. Booklist

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Cloud classification index

Comments to dave
Click here to visit Ireland My best photography Visit the Isle of Wight
Bus simulation 'VECTIS' - Freeware Click here to visit Amberley Museum at Christmas Click here to visit Kent