Who Named The Cloud Types?

Altocumulus clouds.Clouds held a particular fascination for a young Englishman named Luke Howard (1773-1864). His father had sent him to grammar school at Burford, a village to the west of London. But Luke was more interested in the books about nature than in volumes of the Greek and Latin classics.

Before 1800, observers spoke of clouds only as 'essences' floating in the sky. Clouds had no names and were not well understood. The nature and behavior of atmospheric gases, such as oxygen and nitrogen, were just being investigated in the laboratories of Great Britain and Europe. In Luke Howard's school years, high-level dust from volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Japan caused brilliant sunrises and sunsets. To Howard's logical mind, clouds and complicated halos must be the result of cause and effect in the natural order. Luke wanted to know more.

At the age of 20, Howard returned to London to work as a pharmacist. As a hobby, he joined a group of scientists, known then as 'natural philosophers,' who called themselves the Askesians (searchers after knowledge). Each member, in turn, read a scientific paper to the others. Luke Howards turn came one night during the winter of 1802-03. His paper was titled, 'On the modification of clouds.' In our current language, modification means classification. This paper was so well received that it was published and it has become a classic in the history of science. Today we still use the basic scheme that Howard presented that night and the Latin names he assigned to the clouds.

About the Author

NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an American scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere.