Using Clouds to Predict the Weather

Contributor: Lindsey Congalosi. Lesson ID: 13177

You probably see clouds in the sky almost every day, but what do they mean? How can you use the clouds to actually predict the weather? Read more to find out!


Earth Science, Practical Life Skills

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Today, meteorologists can use computer and satellite technology to see and predict the weather, but it hasn't always been that way.

Before Doppler radar and weather satellites, people had to depend on what they saw in the sky in order to make predictions about the weather. You're going to learn how to do just that — use the clouds that are seen in the sky to predict the weather.

Read on to find out how!

  • How do you read the clouds to predict the weather?

First, review the different cloud types. You can check out our lesson found under Additional Resources in the right-hand sidebar, or watch the video below.

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You have probably already used the clouds to predict the weather, even if you haven't realized it.

  • What type of weather do you think is predicted by the clouds in the image below?

Cape Town clouds

You probably said stormy, and you're right!

Let's look at the three main cloud types and the weather they indicate.

Cumulus Clouds

cumulus clouds

These are fluffy cumulus clouds.

When they are dark and bunched together, you can expect heavy showers. When they are more spread out they mean nice weather, like in the image above.

Cirrus Clouds

cirrus clouds

Cirrus clouds are light, wispy clouds that are located high in the sky. They represent nice weather and almost no chance of precipitation.

Stratus Clouds

stratus clouds

Stratus clouds are the opposite of cirrus. Stratus clouds are clouds that are low in the sky and all on the same level.

They don't have defined shapes and look more hazy than cloud-like, similar to a fog that's high off the ground. They can be gray or a dark white.

Stratus clouds may deliver some light rain or snow, but not much else.

Now, let's look at other clouds that are variations of the first three.

Cirrocumulus Clouds

cirrocumulus clouds

Cirrocumulus clouds are high and light like cirrus clouds, but a little puffier. They resemble the ripples on a pond.

If you see cirrocumulus clouds, you can expect nice weather and clear skies ahead.

Altocumulus Clouds

altocumulus clouds

Altocumulus clouds look like smaller cumulus clouds that are a little higher in the sky.

If you see these clouds on a summer morning, it could mean thunderstorms later that day. You may also see them following a thunderstorm before the sky completely clears.

Cirrostratus Clouds

cirrostratus clouds

Cirrostratus clouds are made of little particles of ice and create a halo around the sun.

If you see cirrus clouds that get darker and turn into cirrostratus clouds, this means that it is going to precipitate either rain or snow.

Altostratus Clouds

altostratus clouds

Altostratus clouds are similar to cirrostratus clouds; but instead of creating a halo effect, they create more of a dark veil over the sun or moon.

If they thicken or get darker, rain or snow will be arriving shortly.

Nimbostratus Clouds

nimbostratus clouds

If there are dark gray, featureless nimbostratus clouds above you, it is a good day to curl up inside with a good book. It will be a dark, cloudy day, and you can expect several hours of rain or snow.

Stratocumulus Clouds

stratocumulus clouds

Long, puffy stratus clouds are called stratocumulus clouds.

Unfortunately, you won't get a lot of information from stratocumulus clouds. They can exist in all types of weather. Some people mistakenly think that they are rain clouds, but it is unlikely you'll get anything more than a little drizzle from them.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

cumulonimbus clouds

Cumulonimbus clouds, also known as thunder clouds, are some of the most easily identifiable.

They are very tall, towering clouds and are sometimes referred to as The King of Clouds. The bottom base of these clouds is usually flat and close to the ground.

As you've probably guessed, cumulonimbus clouds mean extreme weather like thunderstorms, heavy rain, or tornadoes.

Watch a microburst, or a short heavy burst of rain, in the video below.

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Now, let's test your weather prediction skills in the Got It? section!

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