Stratus Clouds: Definition & Facts

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  • 0:00 Understanding Cloud Types
  • 0:41 Stratus Clouds: Look…
  • 2:03 Types of Stratus Clouds
  • 2:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Wahl

Megan has taught middle school science and developed curriculum for k-higher ed. She has a master's degree in Educational Technology.

This lesson explores stratus clouds, one of the four main types of clouds. You will learn how to spot a stratus cloud in the sky and discover how and when they form.

Understanding Cloud Types

You might remember the fun of looking for shapes in clouds as a child. Gazing up into the daytime sky becomes more exciting when you know how to spot different types of clouds. Some clouds are puffy and white, while others form anvil-shaped dark towers. The clouds in the sky look different each day. Some form into different types depending on many weather factors, such as the amount of moisture in the air, winds, and temperatures on the ground and surface water. There are four main types of clouds: cirro-form, cumulo-form, strato-form, and nimbo-form. This lesson focuses on strato-form clouds, also known as stratus clouds.

Stratus Clouds: Look and Formation

The word 'stratus' comes from a Latin root word meaning 'layer,' as stratus clouds look like a blanket covering the sky. They have a uniform base and cover the entire sky - much different from other types of clouds that may appear as puffy cotton balls. The edges of the cloud appear fuzzy, unlike other types of clouds that have a distinct edge, and the color of a stratus cloud is usually gray. When it breaks up, you can usually observe blue sky behind it. It's also possible to view the sun through a stratus cloud, but it may be difficult to make out the exact outline of the sun. These clouds are not associated with severe storms, but some precipitation is produced, such as light drizzle or grains of snow.

As a warm front approaches, stratus clouds are observed alongside and to the north of the front. During times when the ground has been cooler and then warmer air moves in, the moisture condenses and forms stratus clouds. The size and thickness of the cloud depends on the amount of moisture and the temperature on the ground. Stratus clouds are low-level clouds close to the ground, so at times, stratus clouds appear fog-like and are even called 'high fog.' This is also associated with the feeling of dampness on the ground. Stratus clouds can reduce visibility and make travel difficult at times.

Types of Stratus Clouds?

Stratus clouds often combine with other types of clouds to make combinations, such as these:

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