Ask the Meteorologist: Cloud Heights

video preview image

How high up in the sky do clouds go?                                                                                                                                                                           Sierra Szabo                                                                                                                                                                                                                 McLoughlin Middle School

Most of the clouds we see are found in the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. This is where all of the weather we deal with on a daily basis develops, and of course where we live. Above the troposphere is the stratosphere, where the ozone layer is, and above that, the mesosphere. The fourth layer, closest to outer space, is the thermosphere.

The troposphere is a depth of roughly 12km. Clouds can be found near the surface, like fog, to the top of the troposphere. Different terms or parts of cloud names can help you identify where they develop and how they will look. For instance, the term “alto” means middle. So, altocumulus and altostratus clouds are found in the middle of the troposphere (between 6,000′ and 20,000′). Another example is the term “cirrus”. Any cloud names involving “cirrus” will be found in the upper troposphere where it’s much cooler, because they are made out of ice crystals (above 18,000′).

The highest clouds in our atmosphere are known as nocticulent clouds. They can be seen in the troposphere, but form in the mesosphere. That is two layers above the layer we live in and between 50km-80km in altitude!

Meteorologist Alyssa Caroprese