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The French naturalist (a scientist specializing in the study of plants and animals in their natural surroundings) Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet Lamarck (1744-1829) proposed the first system for classifying clouds in 1802. However, his work did not receive wide recognition. One year later, Englishman Luke Howard (1772-1864) developed a cloud classification system that has been generally accepted and is still used, in a modified form, today.
Clouds are distinguished by their general appearance and by their height above the ground. Howard assigned the following names to the four categories of clouds, based on appearance: cumuliform ("piled") for puffy, heaped-up clouds; cirriform ("hair-like") for thin, wispy, feathery swirls of clouds; stratiform ("layered") for continuous, flat sheets or layers of clouds; and nimbus ("cloud") for dark, rain- and snow-producing clouds.
Howard assigned combinations of these names to specific cloud types. Nimbostratus, for instance, is a rain-producing, layered cloud, and stratocumulus is a continuous sheet of bumpy clouds.
Sources: Ahrens, C. Donald. Meteorology Today: An Introduction to Weather, Climate, and the Environment, 5:h ed., p. 163; Engelbert, Phillis. The Complete Weather Resource, vol. 1, p. 75; Williams, Jack. The Weather Book, pp. 160-61.
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