Last weekend we experienced  a super soaker of a storm.  It was fantastic.  What was even more fantastic, though, was the build up of cloud formations in the sky throughout the day.  From big white billowing clouds forming in the northeast to sweeping gray spherical forms to the north, and then to be encapsulated by deep, dark ominous storm clouds just before the downpour, was absolutely captivating.
As I viewed the gigantic, bright white puffs in mid-morning sky, I recalled my early childhood cloud formation lessons, involving plenty of cotton balls and large amounts of craft paste.  I remembered learning all the different types of clouds, how and why they form, and the identifying characteristics…or so I thought.


Delving deeper into my recollected cloud atlas and then comparing to the “worldwide” facts, I discovered so much more than I ever dreamed about the amazing masses of condensation.


With all the facts before me, my favorite piece of information had to do with the etymology of the cloud names.

  • Altocumulus – altus and cumulus – high heap; now applied to middle stratocumuliform.
  • Altostratus – altus and stratus – high sheet; now applied to middle stratiform.
  • Cirrocumulus – cirrus and cumulus – thin, wispy heap; applied to high stratocumuliform.
  • Cirrostratus – cirrus and stratus – thin, wispy sheet; applied to high stratiform.
  • Cirrus – thin and wispy; applied to high cirriform.
  • Cumulonimbus – cumulus and nimbus (Latin for “raincloud”) – precipitation-bearing heap; applied to vertical cumulonimbiform.
  • Cumulus – Latin for “heap”; applied to low or vertical cumuliform.
  • Nimbostratus – nimbus and stratus – precipitation-bearing sheet; applied to deep stratiform with vertical extent.
  • Stratocumulus – stratus and cumulus – heap partly spread into a sheet; applied to low stratocumuliform.
  • Stratus – Latin for “sheet”; applied to low mostly shallow stratiform.

Words truly fascinate me.

In my years since my preschool lesson, I retrieved from my mental files only stratus, cumulus, cumulonimbus, and nimbus.  Cumulus are by far my favorites – “heap” is a fantastic description for these big bursts, and the bright white puffs they display are absolutely gorgeous.


2 thoughts on “Cloud Atlas

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