Weather Terminology


ABSOLUTE HUMIDITY
A type of humidity that considers the mass of water vapor present per unit volume of space. Also considered as the density of the water vapor. It is usually expressed in grams per cubic meter.

APPARENT TEMPERATURES
Wind chill, Heat Index, and the Temperature/Humidity/Sun/Wind (THSW) Index. Apparent temperatures use additional weather data to calculate what a human body perceives the temperature to be in those conditions.

AVN
Aviation.

BAROMETRIC PRESSURE
The weight of the air that makes up our atmosphere exerts a pressure on the surface of the earth. This pressure is known as atmospheric pressure. Generally, the more air above an area, the higher the atmospheric pressure, this, in turn, means that atmospheric pressure changes with altitude. For example, atmospheric pressure is greater at sea-level than on a mountaintop. To compensate for this difference and facilitate comparison between locations with different altitudes, atmospheric pressure is generally adjusted to the equivalent sea-level pressure. This adjusted pressure is known as barometric pressure.

Barometric pressure also changes with local weather conditions, making barometric pressure an extremely important and useful weather forecasting tool. High pressure zones are generally associated with fair weather while low pressure zones are generally associated with poor weather. For forecasting purposes, however, the absolute barometric pressure value is generally less important than the change in barometric pressure. In general, rising pressure indicates improving weather conditions while falling pressure indicates deteriorating weather conditions.

BLOWING SNOW
Snow that is raised by the wind to heights of six feet or greater. It is reported as "BLSN" in an observation and on the METAR.

CEILING
The lowest cloud layer that is reported as broken or overcast. If the sky is totally obscured, then it is the height of the vertical visibility. Related terms: measured ceiling and variable ceiling.

COLD FRONT
The leading edge of an advancing cold air mass that is under running and displacing the warmer air in its path. Generally, with the passage of a cold front, the temperature and humidity decrease, the pressure rises, and the wind shifts (usually from the southwest to the northwest in the Northern Hemisphere). Precipitation is generally at and/or behind the front, and with a fast-moving system, a squall line may develop ahead of the front. Related terms: occluded front and warm front.

CONUS
Continental United States.

CWA
County Warning Area.

CWFA
County Warning and Forecast Area.

DEEPENING
Used in describing the history of a low pressure system or an area of cyclonic circulation, it means a decrease in the central pressure of the system. Although it usually describes the action of a pressure system on a constant pressure chart, it also means a surface low is increasing in cyclonic circulation and acquiring more energy. The opposite of filling.

DEPRESSION
In meteorology, it is another name for an area of low pressure, a low, or trough. It also applies to a stage of tropical cyclone development and is known as a tropical depression to distinguish it from other synoptic features.

DEW POINT
Dew point is the temperature to which air must be cooled for saturation (100 relative humidity) to occur, providing there is no change in water vapor content. The dew point is an important measurement used to predict the formation of dew, frost, and fog. If dew point and temperature are close together in the late afternoon when the air begins to turn colder, fog is likely during the night. Dew point is also a good indicator of the air's actual water vapor content, unlike relative humidity, which takes the air's temperature into account. High dew point indicates high water vapor content; low dew point indicates low water vapor content. In addition a high dew point indicates a better chance of rain and severe thunderstorms. You can also use dew point to predict the minimum overnight temperature. Provided no new fronts are expected overnight and the afternoon Relative Humidity ? 50%.,, the afternoon's dew point gives you an idea of what minimum temperature to expect overnight, since the air cannot get colder than the dew point anytime.

DRY BULB THERMOMETER
A thermometer used to measure the ambient temperature. The temperature recorded is considered identical to air temperature. One of the two thermometers that make up a psychrometer.

DRY LINE
The boundary between the dry desert air mass of the Southwest U.S. and the moist air mass from the Gulf of Mexico. It usually lies north-south across the central and southern High Plains states during spring and summer. The passage of a dry line results in a sharp decrease in humidity, clearing skies, and a wind shift from southeasterly or south to southwesterly or west. Its presence influences severe weather development in the Great Plains.

ET
Evapotranspiration (ET) is a measurement of the amount of water vapor returned to the air in a given area. It combines the amount of water vapor returned through evaporation (from wet vegetation surfaces and the stoma of leaves) with the amount of water vapor returned through transpiration (exhaling of moisture through plant skin) to arrive at a total. Effectively, ET is the opposite of rainfall, and it is expressed in the same units of measure (Inches, millimeters).

FREEZING DRIZZLE
Drizzle, falling as a liquid, but freezing on impact with the colder ground or other exposed surfaces. It is reported as "FZDZ" in an observation and on the METAR.

FREEZING FOG
Freezing fog occurs when the water droplets that the fog is composed of are "supercooled." Supercooled water droplets remain in the liquid state until they come into contact with a surface upon which they can freeze. As a result, any object the freezing fog comes into contact with will become coated with ice. The same thing happens with freezing rain or drizzle. It is reported as "FZFG" in an observation and on the METAR.

FRONTAL PASSAGE
It is the passage of a front over a specific point on the surface. It is reflected by the change in dew point and temperature, the shift in wind direction, and the change in atmospheric pressure. Accompanying a passage may be precipitation and clouds. May be referred to as "fropa."

FROPA
Frontal Passage.

FUNNEL CLOUD
A violent, rotating column of air visibly extending from the base of a towering cumulus or cumulonimbus toward the ground, but not in contact with it. It is reported as "FC" in an observation and on the METAR.

GFS
Global Forecast System model; one of the operational forecast models run at NCEP with forecast output out to 240 hours (10 days).

GRADIENT HIGH WINDS
These high winds usually cover a large area and are due to synoptic-scale, extra-tropical low pressure systems.

GROUND CLUTTER
A pattern of radar echoes reflecting off fixed ground targets such as buildings or hills near the radar. This may hide or confuse the proper return echo signifying actual precipitation.

GUST
A sudden significant increase in or rapid fluctuations of wind speed. Peak wind must reach at least 16 knots (18 miles per hour) and the variation between peaks and lulls is at least 10 knots (11.5 miles per hour). The duration is usually less twenty seconds.

HEAT INDEX
The Heat Index uses temperature and the relative humidity to determine how hot the air actually feels. When humidity is low, the apparent temperature will be lower than the air temperature, since perspiration evaporates rapidly to cool the body. However, when humidity is high (i.e., the air is more saturated with water vapor) the apparent temperature "feels" higher than the actual air temperature, because perspiration evaporates more slowly.

HEAT LIGHTNING
Lightning that appears as a glowing flash on the horizon. It is actually lightning occurring in distant thunderstorms, just over the horizon and too far away for thunder to be heard.

HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEM
An area of relative pressure maximum that has diverging winds and a rotation opposite to the earth's rotation. This is clockwise the in Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the opposite of an area of low pressure or a cyclone. Related term: anticyclone

HOOK ECHO
A radar reflectivity pattern characterized by a hook-shaped extension of a thunderstorm echo, usually in the right-rear part of the storm (relative to its direction of motion). A hook often is associated with a mesocyclone, and indicates favorable conditions for tornado development.

HP STORM (or HP Supercell)
High-Precipitation storm (or High-Precipitation supercell). A supercell thunderstorm in which heavy precipitation (often including hail) falls on the trailing side of the mesocyclone.

Precipitation often totally envelops the region of rotation, making visual identification of any embedded tornadoes difficult and very dangerous. Unlike most classic supercells, the region of rotation in many HP storms develops in the front-flank region of the storm (i.e., usually in the eastern portion). HP storms often produce extreme and prolonged downburst events, serious flash flooding, and very large damaging hail events.

HUMIDITY
Humidity itself simply refers to the amount of water vapor in the air. However, the amount of water vapor that the air can contain varies with air temperature and pressure. Relative humidity takes into account these factors and offers a humidity reading which reflects the amount of water vapor in the air as a percentage of the amount the air is capable of holding. Relative humidity, therefore, is not actually a measure of the amount of water vapor in the air, but a ratio of the air's water vapor content to its capacity. When we use the term humidity on the screen, we mean relative humidity.

It is important to realize that relative humidity changes with temperature, pressure, and water vapor content. A parcel of air with a capacity for 10 g of water vapor which contains 4 g of water vapor, the relative humidity would be 40%. Adding 2 g more water vapor (for a total of 6 g) would change the humidity to 60%. If that same parcel of air is then warmed so that it has a capacity for 20 g of water vapor, the relative humidity drops to 30% even though water vapor content does not change. Relative humidity is an important factor in determining the amount of evaporation from plants and wet surfaces since warm air with low humidity has a large capacity to absorb extra water vapor.

INCHES OF MERCURY (inHg)
The name comes from the use of mercurial barometers which equate the height of a column of mercury with air pressure. One inch of mercury is equivalent to 33.86 millibars or 25.40 millimeters. First devised in 1644 by Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647), an Italian physicist and mathematician, to explain the fundamental principles of hydromechanics. Related term: barometric pressure.

INSTABILITY
The state of equilibrium in which a parcel of air when displaced has a tendency to move further away from its original position. It is the condition of the atmosphere when spontaneous convection and severe weather can occur. Air parcels, when displaced vertically, will accelerate upward, often forming cumulus clouds and possibly thunderstorms. Related terms: absolute instability, unstable and stability.

INVERSION
Generally, a departure from the usual increase or decrease in an atmospheric property with altitude. Specifically it almost always refers to a temperature inversion, i.e., an increase in temperature with height, or to the layer within which such an increase occurs. An inversion is present in the lower part of a cap.

ISOBAR
A line connecting points of equal pressure.

ISOHYET
A line connecting points of equal precipitation amounts.

ISOTACH
A line connecting points of equal wind speed.

ISOTHERM
A line connecting points of equal temperature.

JET STREAM
An area of strong winds that are concentrated in a relatively narrow band in the upper troposphere of the middle latitudes and subtropical regions of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Flowing in a semi-continuous band around the globe from west to east, it is caused by the changes in air temperature where the cold polar air moving towards the equator meets the warmer equatorial air moving polarward. It is marked by a concentration of isotherms and strong vertical shear. Related terms: arctic jet, low level jet, polar jet, and subtropical jet.

LAKE EFFECT SNOW
Snow showers that are created when cold dry air passes over a large warmer lake, such as one of the Great Lakes, and picks up moisture and heat.

LOW LEVEL JET (LLJ)
Strong winds that are concentrated in relatively narrow bands in the lower part of the atmosphere. It is often amplified at night. The southerly wind over the US Plains states during spring and summer is a notable example. Related term: jet stream.

LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM
An area of a relative pressure minimum that has converging winds and rotates in the same direction as the earth. This is counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Also known as an cyclone, it is the opposite of an area of high pressure, or a anticyclone. Related terms: closed low, cold low, and cut-off low.

MACROBURST
A large downburst with an outflow diameter of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) or larger and damaging winds.

MAV
AVN MOS Guidance.

MB
Millibar (a unit of atmospheric pressure; 1 millibar = 0.02953 inches of mercury).

MCC
Mesoscale Convective Complex. A large MCS, generally round or oval-shaped, which normally reaches peak intensity at night. The formal definition includes specific minimum criteria for size, duration, and eccentricity (i.e., "roundness"), based on the cloud shield as seen on infrared satellite photographs:
  • Size: Area of cloud top -32 degrees C or less: 100,000 square kilometers or more (slightly smaller than the state of Ohio), and area of cloud top -52 degrees C or less: 50,000 square kilometers or more.
  • Duration: Size criteria must be met for at least 6 hours.
  • Eccentricity: Minor/major axis at least 0.7.
MCCs typically form during the afternoon and evening in the form of several isolated thunderstorms, during which time the potential for severe weather is greatest. During peak intensity, the primary threat shifts toward heavy rain and flooding.

MCS
Mesoscale Convective System. A complex of thunderstorms which becomes organized on a scale larger than the individual thunderstorms, and normally persists for several hours or more. MCSs may be round or linear in shape, and include systems such as tropical cyclones, squall lines, and MCCs (among others). MCS often is used to describe a cluster of thunderstorms that does not satisfy the size, shape, or duration criteria of an MCC.

METAR
Acronym for METeorological Aerodrome Report. It is the primary observation code used in the United States to satisfy requirements for reporting surface meteorological data. Minimum reporting requirements includes wind, visibility, runway visual range, present weather, sky condition, temperature, dew point, and altimeter setting.

MICROBURST
A severe localized wind blasting down from a thunderstorm. It covers an area less than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) in diameter and is of short duration, usually less than 5 minutes. Related term: downburst.

MOS
Model Output Statistics.

NAM
North American Mesoscale model. Previously known as the Eta model, it was renamed on 1/25/05. On 6/20/06, the NAM was converted from using Eta physics to WRF (Weather Research Forecast) model physics.

NOR'EASTER
A northerly traveling cyclonic storm occurring off the east coast, of North America. These winter weather events are notorious for producing heavy snow, rain, and tremendous waves that crash onto Atlantic beaches, often causing beach erosion and structural damage. Wind gusts associated with these storms can exceed hurricane force in intensity. A nor'easter gets its name from the continuously strong northeasterly winds blowing in from the ocean ahead of the storm and over the coastal areas.

OCCLUDED FRONT
Also known as an occlusion, it is a complex front formed when a cold front overtakes a warm front. It develops when three thermally different air masses conflict. The type of frontal boundary they create depends on the manner in which they meet. Related terms: cold front and warm front.

OUTFLOW
Also referred to as an outflow boundary, it is the outward flow of air from a system, such as a thunderstorm. It is the result of cold downdrafts and its passage includes a wind shift and temperature drop. Related terms: bubble high and meso high.

POLAR AIR MASS
An air mass that forms over a high latitude region. Continental polar air (cP) is formed over cold surface regions and is typically very stable with low moisture. Maritime polar air (mP), produced over warmer waters, is less stable with high moisture.

POLAR FRONT
A semi-continuous, semi-permanent boundary between polar air masses and tropical air masses. An integral part of an early meteorological theory known as the Polar Front Theory.

POLAR JET
Marked by a concentration of isotherms and strong vertical shear, this jet is the boundary between the polar air and the subtropical air. It often divides into two branches, the north and the south, and marks the high speed core of the prevailing westerlies. It is associated with the location and motion of the high and low pressure areas of the middle latitudes, and therefore, is variable in position, elevation, and wind speed. Its position tends to migrate south in the Northern Hemispheric winter and north in the summer, and its core winds increase during the winter and become less strong in the summer.

RIDGE
An elongated area of high atmospheric pressure that is associated with an area of maximum anticyclonic circulation. The opposite of a trough.

RUC
Rapid Update Cycle. RUC model is a short term model. The standard RUC model is based on the NAM data system and is updated every hour for periods up to 12 hours. It basically reiterates a new forecast based on the current conditions, taking into account what was predicted and what's actually happening. It uses its own physics, different than the NAM. Other versions extending 24 hours and longer are being developed. I find the RUC not very useful, except for predicting mixed precipitation and changeover of snow to sleet.

SHEAR
It is the rate of change over a short duration. In wind shear, it can refer to the frequent change in wind speed within a short distance. It can occur vertically or horizontally. Directional shear is a frequent change in direction within a short distance, which can also occur vertically or horizontally. When used in reference to Doppler radar, it describes the change in radial velocity over short distances horizontally.

SHEAR LINE
A line of maximum horizontal wind shear. A narrow zone across which there is an abrupt change in the horizontal wind component parallel to it.

SNOW SQUALL
Snow squalls are intense, but limited duration, periods of moderate to heavy snowfall, accompanied by strong, gusty surface winds and possibly lightning (generally moderate to heavy snow showers). Snow accumulation may be significant.

SQUALL LINE
A solid or broken line of thunderstorms or squalls. The line may extend across several hundred miles.

SOLAR RADIATION
What we call "current solar radiation" is technically known as Global Solar Radiation, a measure of the intensity of the sun's radiation reaching a horizontal surface. This irradiance includes both the direct component from the sun and the reflected component from the rest of the sky. The solar radiation reading gives a measure of the amount of solar radiation hitting the solar radiation sensor at any given time, expressed in Watts /sq. meter (W/m2).

STABLE/STABILITY
Occurs when a rising air parcel becomes denser than the surrounding air. It will then return to its original position. When the density of the air parcel remains the same as the surrounding air after being lifted, it is also considered stable, since it does not have the tendency to rise or sink further. Contrast with unstable air and instability.

STATIONARY FRONT
A front which is nearly stationary or moves very little since the last synoptic position. May be known as a quasi-stationary front.

STRAIGHT-LINE WINDS
Any surface wind that is not associated with rotation. An example is the first gust from a thunderstorm, as opposed to tornadic winds.

SUPERCOOLED
The reduction of the temperature of any liquid below the melting point of that substance's solid phase. Cooling a substance beyond its nominal freezing point. Supercooled water is water that remains in a liquid state when it is at a temperature that is well below freezing. The smaller and purer the water droplets, the more likely they can become supercooled.

TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY/SUN/WIND (THSW) Index
The THSW Index uses humidity and temperature like the Heat Index, but also includes the heating effects of sunshine and the cooling effects of wind (like Wind chill) to calculate an apparent temperature of what it feels like out in the sun.

TROUGH
An elongated area of low atmospheric pressure that is associated with an area of minimum cyclonic circulation. The opposite of a ridge.

UPPER AIR/UPPER LEVEL
The portion of the atmosphere which is above the lower troposphere. It is generally applied to the levels above 850 millibars. Therefore, upper level lows and highs, troughs, winds, observations, and charts all apply to atmospheric phenomena above the surface.

UV (Ultra Violet) RADIATION
Energy from the sun reaches the earth as visible, infrared, and ultraviolet (UV) rays. Exposure to UV rays can cause numerous health problems, such as sunburn, skin cancer, skin aging, and cataracts, and can suppress the immune system.

WEDGE
Primarily refers to an elongated area of shallow high pressure at the earth's surface. It is generally associated with cold air east of the Rockies or Appalachians. It is another name for a ridge, ridge line, or ridge axis. Contrast with a trough. Wedge is also a slang term for a large, wide tornado with a wedge-like shape.

WIND CHILL
Wind Chill takes into account how the speed of the wind affects our perception of the air temperature. Our bodies warm the surrounding air molecules by transferring heat from the skin. If there is no air movement, this insulating layer of warm air molecules stays next to the body and offers some protection from cooler air molecules. However, wind sweeps that comfy warm air surrounding the body away. The faster the wind blows, the faster heat is carried away and the colder you feel.

Interesting Weather Facts
EARTHQUAKE FACT
The largest earthquake in American history, the New Madrid Earthquake occurred in the winter of 1811-12 in northwestern Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake located in Obion and Lake Counties was formed as a result of this earthquake.