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Classification, Nimbus Category, High Clouds, Middle Level Clouds, Low Level Clouds, Unusual CloudsCloud categories

All clouds are a form of water. Clouds are condensed atmospheric moisture in the form of minute water droplets or ice crystals. The creation of a cloud begins at ground level. The sun heats the earth's surface, the warm ground heats the air, which rises. The air contains variable amounts of water, as vapor, that has evaporated from bodies of water and plants. Air at ground level is denser than air higher up, and as the warm air rises, it expands and becomes less dense. Expansion cools the air and as the air cools, the water vapor that is present in the air, condenses into tiny microscopic droplets. Cloud formation depends on how much water is in the atmosphere, Cirrus clouds (top) and cumulus clouds (bottom). © John Deeks, National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced with permission. the temperature, the air current, and topography. If there is no water, no clouds can form. If condensation occurs below the freezing point, the cloud is made of ice crystals. Warm and cold air fronts, as well as topography can control how air rises. Clouds that form during vigorous uplift of air have a tall, stacked appearance and clouds formed by gentle uplift of air currents have a flat or stratified appearance. One can make short-term forecasts by observing clouds, as any change in the way a cloud looks indicates a change in the weather.

Today, there are 10 characteristic forms or genera of clouds recognized by the International Cloud Classification, and there are three height categories with an established altitude range for each category. Low-level clouds range from the surface to 6,500 ft (2,000 m), mid-level from 6,500-23,000 ft (2,000-7,000 m), and high-level, generally above 20,000 ft (6,000 m). Below is a brief description of each category and their genera.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to Cluster