What Are Some Interesting Facts about Stratus Clouds?

By Lindsay Pietroluongo; Updated April 24, 2017
A layer of stratus clouds looming above a mountain tundra.

Cloud watching is a relaxing activity for many people, and it's easy to do because so many types of clouds exist with a variety of appearances. On rainy days, clouds can be threatening and promise a dreary day. Stratus clouds are the lowest of all the clouds.

Classification System

All types of clouds are put into a specific classification that is based on the Latin Linnean system, which was created by amateur meterologist Luke Howard in 1802. Clouds are classified based on their genus, species and altitude. Stratus clouds are of the species nebulosus or fractus; stratus is this type of cloud’s genus. Stratus clouds exist in lower altitudes, generally reaching an altitude of only 1,981 meters (6,500 feet).

Location and Precipitation

Stratus clouds are typically seen either near the coast or around mountains. Stratus clouds don’t typically produce much, if any, precipitation. At most, you’ll get a light drizzle from stratus clouds. If a stratus cloud is separated by wind gusts, the cloud is termed stratus fractus.

What They Look Like

Because stratus clouds are the lowest-forming clouds, they’re often mistaken for fog or mist when they’re especially close to the ground. In actuality, stratus clouds form once a fog lifts. Stratus clouds, which tend to be gray in appearance, are usually uniform and will often cover the entire sky. Most clouds are white because the water droplets in the clouds reflect all of the colors of light. But some clouds such as stratus clouds are darker because this type of cloud is thicker than white clouds. Light isn’t able to penetrate through the cloud and water droplets, creating darker clouds.

Composition and Density

Stratus clouds are made of water, and sometimes they consist of ice crystals. During a flight, a stratus cloud won’t cause much turbulence, but it will be extremely difficult to see through this type of cloud.

About the Author

As a full-time writer in New York's Hudson Valley, Lindsay Pietroluongo's nightlife column and photos have appeared regularly in the "Poughkeepsie Journal" since 2007. Additional publications include "Chronogram," the "New Paltz Sojourn," "About Town" newspaper and "Outsider" magazine. Pietroluongo graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in English.