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Daryl Ritchison, Published July 29 2012

Weather Talk: Like many things in science, cloud names are Latin-based

Recently, my son asked me what type of cloud was floating over our backyard. When I told him it was a cumulus congestus cloud, he immediately asked why everything in science tends to have such difficult names.

Cloud names, like many things in science, are Latin based. Because Latin is not in wide use anymore, it will not have words that will change meaning over time, making it perfect for any exacting naming convention.

The three main cloud types are all based on Latin terms. Cumulus means heap or pile; stratus means spread out; and cirrus means curl, or curl of hair (wispy). When clouds have two characteristics, the names are often combined, for example, cirrostratus or stratocumulus.

The term alto, meaning high, is also used to describe these cloud characteristics at higher levels, as in altostratus or altocumulus. Other phrases like congestus (pressed together), are used as well.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend checking out the Cloud Appreciation Society on the Web.


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