Otherwise known as 'The King of Clouds', cumulonimbus clouds exist through the entire height of the troposphere, usually characterised by their icy, anvil-shaped top.
Height of base: 1,100 - 6,500 ft
Shape: Fibrous upper edges, anvil top
Latin: cumulus - heap; nimbus - rainy cloud
Precipitation: Heavy rain and thunderstorms
Cumulonimbus clouds are menacing looking multi-level clouds, extending high into the sky in towers or plumes. More commonly known as thunderclouds, cumulonimbus are the only cloud type that can produce hail, thunder and lighting. The base of the cloud is often flat with a very dark wall like feature hanging underneath, and may only lie a few hundred feet above the Earth's surface.
Cumulonimbus clouds are born through convection, often growing from small cumulus clouds over a hot surface. They get taller and taller until they represent huge powerhouses, storing the same amount of energy as 10 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs. They can also form along cold fronts as a result of forced convection, where milder air is forced to rise over the incoming cold air.
Cumulonimbus clouds are associated with extreme weather such as heavy torrential downpours, hail storms, lightning and even tornados. Individual cumulonimbus cells will usually dissipate within an hour once showers start falling, making for short-lived, heavy rain. However multicell or supercell storms contain many cumulonimbus clouds and the intense rainfall may last much longer.
If there is thunder, lightning or hail, the cloud is a cumulonimbus, rather than nimbostratus.
Cumulonimbus clouds have 3 distinct 'species' which describe the appearance of the head of the cloud:
There are many supplementary features associated with cumulonimbus clouds. If you are interested in finding out more, look at some of the pages below:
Last updated: 1 August 2016