Altocumulus clouds are generally associated with settled weather and will normally appear white or grey with shading.
Height of base: 2,000 - 18,000 ft
Shape: Bands or areas of individual cells
Latin: altum - height; cumulus - heap
Precipitation: None on its own
Altocumulus clouds are small mid-level layers or patches of clouds, called cloudlets, which most commonly exist in the shape of rounded clumps. There are many varieties of altocumulus however, meaning they can appear in a range of shapes. Altocumulus are made up of a mix of ice and water, giving them a slightly more ethereal appearance than the big and fluffy lower level cumulus.
Altocumulus clouds can form in a number of ways, such as; formation through the breakup of altostratus, the lifting of moist air pockets which are cooled by gentle turbulence and mountainous terrain producing atmospheric waves from which clouds can form. The presence of shading can help tell the difference between altocumulus and cirrocumulus. Cirrocumulus clouds are white and tiny, but altocumulus clouds can be white or grey with shaded sides.
Mostly found in settled weather, altocumulus cloudlets are usually composed of droplets, but may also contain ice crystals. Precipitation from these clouds is rare, but even if rain does fall it doesn't reach the ground. This precipitation can be seen in the form of virga, where the rain is re-evaporated before reaching the surface.
Altocumulus clouds are one of the most diverse cloud types and have many different 'species':
Being a highly varied cloud type there are many features often associated with altocumulus. As previously mentioned, virga are known to regularly hang from the bases of altocumulus clouds, making for a jellyfish-like appearance. Taking this up a level, 'fallstreak holes' look like a hole has been punched right through an altocumulus stratiformis layer.
Last updated: 4 August 2016