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What Clouds Are Associated with Cold Fronts?



The most common cloud associated with a cold front is the cumulonimbus. [1]

Due to the possible unstable conditions that may arise in the wake of the greatly contrasting air masses on either side of a cold front, the cumulonimbus clouds are the most commonly observed along the cold front.

Additional Clouds Associated with a Cold Front

As the conditions change with the movement of the cold front, additional clouds may develop.  It is not uncommon to expect the formation of cirrus, cirrostratus, and cumulonimbus clouds preceding the cold front.  While it is passing, cumulonimbus clouds are most common.  After passing cumulus clouds are likely to develop. [2]

Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus clouds are big and fluffy in appearance.  They are known as vertical growth clouds and are found close to the ground.  Depending on conditions, they are either of the cumulus humilis variety and indicate fair weather, or of the cumulus congestus type which can bring showers up to heavy rain. [3]

Cumulonimbus Clouds

Cumulonimbus clouds are also vertical growth clouds and these can grow to more than 39,000 feet and higher.  Cumulonimbus clouds are associated with thunderstorms and violent precipitation including hail and tornadoes. [4]

Cirrus and Cirrostratus Clouds

Cirrus clouds are the most common high-level clouds occurring at 20,000 feet and above.  Wispy in appearance, they appear in fair weather and are composed of ice crystals. [5] Cirrostratus clouds are also high-level clouds composed of ice crystals.  They are often several thousand feet thick covering the entire sky, but are transparent and often go unnoticed. [6]



[1]  University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
Cold Front Weather

[2] University of Illinois
Cold Fronts

[3]National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office
Cloud Classification and Characteristics

[4]University of Illinois
Cumulonimbus Clouds

[5]University of Illinois
Cirrus Clouds

[6]University of Illinois
Cirrostratus Clouds

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