Identifying the types of Cloud present

When only one or two distinct types of cloud are observed no great difficulty should be experienced in determining the cloud types. The complexity of cloud observations increases with the number of cloud types present, if clouds are either forming or dissipating or transforming from one type to another, or in poor observing conditions such as low visibility or lack of illumination on a moonless night.

A systematic approach to identifying the observed clouds is needed, particularly when there are a number of types present. By first studying the sky for evidence of low cloud and recording these, then analysing the sky for middle and then high level cloud, a clear picture of the total cloud picture can be reported.

An awareness of the prevailing synoptic situation and the types of cloud patterns associated with various meteorological events will significantly assist in making accurate observations of cloud types.

When positive identification of clouds by their form and other physical characteristics is difficult, consideration should be given to other details that can aid in the identification. Some of these details include:

  • The height of the cloud

  • Cloud composition

  • The type of precipitation (if any) occurring at the time

  • Optical phenomena that may be present

  • Other factors affecting appearance.

The following pages expand upon these points.