It is important for pilots to have a good knowledge of meteorology and existing weather conditions. Cloud formations will give pilots a clear indication of weather, so it’s important to know how to identify the various types. To help you become a meteorological expert, we’ve picked 3 important clouds to understand.

1. High Level Cloud

High Level Cloud

High level cloud refers to clouds with a base above 20,000 feet. There are three important high level clouds to watch out for. Cirrus – a thin fibrous cloud. Cirrocumulus – a thin granular layer of small lumps of cloud, and cirrostratus – a thin uniform cover of cloud.

These clouds vary in thickness and the sun can easily be observed through all three, with only the intensity of light varying. These clouds can consist of several thin layers.

2. Mid Level Clouds

Mid Level Clouds

If you think of clouds as cake layers, mid level cloud is the medium layer of chocolate filling. This set of clouds have a base above about 6,500 feet. Developing in the middle layers of the atmosphere, they are much brighter and less fragmented in appearance. The fragmented appearance occurs due to their distance from the ground and their higher composition of ice crystals. There are two important mid level clouds to watch out for. Altocumulus – a thin layer of lumps of heaps of cloud, and altostratus – a thin uniform layer of cloud.

These middle level clouds vary in thickness from flat sheets to a cumuliform appearance and tend to move slower than lower level clouds, in the direction of the wind at that level, usually a different direction to surface winds.

3. Low Level Clouds

Low Level Clouds

Low level cloud refers to clouds with a base below about 6,500 feet. Developing in the lower level of the atmosphere, these clouds vary in shapes and sizes. There are five important clouds to watch out for. Nimbostratus – a thick layer of rain bearing cloud. Stratocumulus – a layer of relatively small lumps and heaps of cloud. Stratus – a layer of uniform cloud. Cumulus – cumuliform clouds, and cumulonimbus – thunderstorms!

These clouds are of most interest to pilots and controllers as they cause the most impact on safe flying conditions, particularly with regard to poor visibility, turbulence and structural damage, icing, and runway contamination.

Knowing the difference between cloud types is very important when it comes to aviation. More in-depth research on types of cloud will strengthen your meteorological knowledge and help you become a better pilot.

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