Stratus clouds are one of the three main types of clouds. Remember that there are many types of clouds that fall into three main categories: cumulus, stratus, and cirrus. Using hand-motions, we would stretch out our hands as far out as we could to mimic a stratus cloud. There are stratus-type clouds at all three basic altitude levels. These are: stratus clouds (low level), altostratus clouds (mid level), and cirrostratus clouds (high level). When stratus-type clouds are present, your skies will most likely be overcast or the cloud cover is 90% or more. Note, there is a difference between overcast and obscured skies.
How can you tell which one you are looking at? NASA scientist Dr. Lin Chambers came up with tips for students, teachers, and anyone in the public to use.
The main tip is to look for clues near the Sun. Caution: NEVER look directly at the Sun!
Sometimes, you might see stratocumulus clouds, which are flat with a puffiness to them. Stratocumulus clouds form when the stratus layer is breaking up. It indicates that the weather patterns have changed! You see stratocumulus clouds near warm, cold, and occluded fronts.
Find photographs of clouds and their varieties by visiting the World Meteorological Organization’s International Cloud Atlas.