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Luke Howard and the History of Cloud Naming

Luke Howard 1773-1864




Englishman, Luke Howard gave clouds their common names. Before 1800, observers spoke of clouds only as "essences" floating in the sky. Clouds had no names and were not well understood.

Luke Howard noted that there are three basic shapes to clouds: heaps of separated cloud masses with flat bottoms and cauliflower tops, which he named cumulus Latin for heap; layers of cloud much wider than they are thick, like a blanket or a mattress, which he named stratus Latin for layer; wispy curls, like a childs hair, which he called cirrus Latin for curl. To clouds generating precipitation, he gave the name nimbus Latin for rain.

Cloud Formations

Clouds are found in three layers in the lower atmosphere. Thus, with four types of clouds and three layers, we come up with 12 major cloud types that have evolved from Luke Howard's pioneering work.

Heaps - Cumulus family clouds

  • Fair weather cumulus
  • Swelling cumulus
  • Cumulus congestus

Layers - Stratus family clouds

  • Stratus
  • altostratus
  • cirrostratus

Layered Heaps clouds

  • stratocumulus
  • altocumulus
  • cirrocumulus

Precipitating clouds

  • cumulonimbus
  • cirrus
  • nimbostratus

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