Clouds and Precipitation


Who was the first person to classify clouds?

The French naturalist Jean Lamarck (1744–1829) was the first to propose a system for classifying clouds in 1802. His work, however, did not receive wide recognition. A year later, the Englishman Luke Howard (1772–1864) developed a cloud classification system that has been generally accepted and is still in use today.

In Howard’s system, he distinguished clouds according to their general appearance (“heap clouds” versus “layer clouds”) and their height above ground. Latin names and prefixes are used to describe these characteristics. The shape names are cirrus (curly or fibrous), stratus (layered), and cumulus (lumpy or piled). The prefixes denoting height are cirro (high clouds with bases above 20,000 feet [6,000 meters]) and alto (mid-level clouds from 6,000 to 20,000 feet [1,800 to 6,000 meters]). There is no prefix for low clouds. Nimbo and nimbus is also added as a name or prefix to indicate that the cloud produces precipitation.


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