How to Predict the Weather using Clouds

Clouds are one of the most reliable predictors of weather when you are out backpacking. There are 10 types of clouds that you should be able to recognize, but if you get their names confused, just remember that the higher the clouds, the better the weather will be.

Cirrocumulus Clouds

  1. Cirrocumulus Clouds look like ripples of water on the surface of a lake. They are a sign of good weather and often dissipate to blue sky.

Altocumulus Clouds

  1. Altocumulus Clouds are fair weather clouds. They usually occur after a storm.

Cumulonimbus Clouds

  1. Cumulonimbus Clouds are low thunder clouds that bring hail, strong wind, thunder and lightning. They have a characteristic flat, anvil-like top.

Cumulus Clouds

  1. Cumulus Clouds are easily recognizable, large, white, fluffy clouds. They indicate fair weather when they are widely separated, but if they are large and many-headed, they are capable of bringing heavy showers.

Cirrus Clouds

  1. Cirrus Clouds are high altitude, wispy clouds, seen in fine weather.

Cirrostratus Clouds

  1. Cirrostratus Clouds are made up of ice particles and form a halo around the sun. If a Cirrus filled sky darkens and turns to Cirrostratus it is a sign of rain or snow, depending on temperature.

Altostratus Couds

  1. Altostratus Clouds form a greyish veil over the sun or moon. If they get darker and thicken, it is a sign that rain is on the way.

Nimbostratus Clouds

  1. Nimbostratus Clouds form low blankets of cloud and indicate rain or snow, lasting for several hours.

Stratocumulus Clouds

  1. Stratocumulus Clouds can form a lumpy mass covering the entire sky and may produce light rain, but usually dissipate by the late afternoon or evening.

 Stratus Clouds

  1. Stratus Clouds are low clouds that form a fog like layer and may produce drizzle. If they form thickly at night and cover the morning sky, they will usually burn off and produce a fine day.

 Photo Credits: Plymouth State Meteorology Program.

Written 2008.

See Also:

Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed on, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!

Most Popular Searches

  • stratus clouds
  • how to predict weather using clouds
  • cirrus clouds predicting weather


  1. Great post! It's like you are reading my mind!

  2. Nice Post. But I think you have just jinx this coming weekends 30 mi trip. I better get my Rain Gear out.

  3. I wrote this post last week, so maybe that will help your luck. You should have been out this weekend. I did a 42-miler and had unbelievably good weather, not a cloud in the sky, for 3 days of Western Mass and Southern Vermont foliage.

  4. For the most part I think it's a myth that weather turns suddenly.

    My experience has been that Cirrus clouds, while harmless usually run about 6-24 hours in front of a major storm. When I see them in the morning I'm at the very least packing light rain gear in my bag and keeping a close eye out for darker clouds to roll in and do some damage.

    • Weather doesn’t turn suddenly? WOW. Do some research on why firefighters died. Because weather suddenly turned.

  5. Absolutely true. If I'm in the peaks, I can usually see the weather approaching from 50 miles away. Being able to read big rain clouds like this is a real important skill for avoiding lightning in the summer. I learned it only after a near miss.

  6. When flying, I always avoid the Cumulugranite Clouds–they have a rock in them… quite common in the Whites.

  7. Hi
    I’m very curious realm of clouds and weather forecasting. I wanted to ask a few things I dont understand :1) when predicting cloudiness,you predict acording to contracts by regions over the mountains or sea etc., or by the amount of space itself? I would be happy even if in addition to your answer,you will have related articles to prove this. 2) I read that there are types of clouds, not that I figured it out, but I wanted to know if the type of cloud is considered when forecasting the cloudiness of a particular location?

    thanks shir :)

  8. Donald Anderson m>Ed.

    What does it mean if sky is OVERCAST with no distinct clouds?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *