- Convective outlook issued by the Storm Prediction Center. Abbreviation for Anticipated Convection; the term originates from the header coding [ACUS1] of the transmitted product.
- (usually pronounced ACK-kis) - AltoCumulus CAStellanus; mid-level clouds (bases generally 8 to 15 thousand feet), of which at least a fraction of their upper parts show cumulus-type development. These clouds often are taller than they are wide, giving them a turret-shaped appearance. ACCAS clouds are a sign of instability aloft, and may precede the rapid development of thunderstorms.
- Accessory Cloud
- A cloud which is dependent on a larger cloud system for development and continuance. Roll clouds, shelf clouds, and wall clouds are examples of accessory clouds.
- Transport of an atmospheric property by the wind. See cold advection, or warm advection.
- Air-mass Thunderstorm
- Generally, a thunderstorm not associated with a front or other type of synoptic-scale forcing mechanism. Air mass thunderstorms typically are associated with warm, humid air in the summer months; they develop during the afternoon in response to insolation, and dissipate rather quickly after sunset. They generally are less likely to be severe than other types of thunderstorms, but they still are capable of producing downbursts, brief heavy rain, and (in extreme cases) hail over 3/4 inch in diameter.
Since all thunderstorms are associated with some type of forcing mechanism, synoptic-scale or otherwise, the existence of true air-mass thunderstorms is debatable.
- Anticyclonic Rotation
- Rotation in the opposite sense as the Earth's rotation, i.e., clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere as would be seen from above. The opposite of cyclonic rotation.
- The flat, spreading top of a Cb (cumulonimbus), often shaped like an anvil. Thunderstorm anvils may spread hundreds of miles downwind from the thunderstorm itself, and sometimes may spread upwind.
- Anvil Crawler
- [Slang], a lightning discharge occurring within the anvil of a thunderstorm, characterized by one or more channels that appear to crawl along the underside of the anvil. They typically appear during the weakening or dissipating stage of the parent thunderstorm, or during an active MCS.
- Anvil Dome
- A large overshooting top or penetrating top.
- (severe levels) - A thunderstorm which contains winds of 35 to 49 knots (40 to 57 mph), or hail 1/2" or larger but less than 3/4" in diameter.
- A low, horizontal cloud formation associated with the leading edge of thunderstorm outflow (i.e., the gust front). Roll clouds and shelf clouds both are types of arcus clouds.
- Back-building Thunderstorm
- A thunderstorm in which new development takes place on the upwind side (usually the west or southwest side), such that the storm seems to remain stationary or propagate in a backward direction.
- Backing Winds
- Winds which shift in a counterclockwise direction with time at a given location (e.g. from southerly to southeasterly), or change direction in a counterclockwise sense with height (e.g. westerly at the surface but becoming more southerly aloft). The opposite of veering winds.
In storm spotting, a backing wind usually refers to the turning of a south or southwest surface wind with time to a more east or southeasterly direction. Backing of the surface wind can increase the potential for tornado development by increasing the directional shear at low levels.
- Baroclinic Zone
- A region in which a temperature gradient exists on a constant pressure surface. Baroclinic zones are favored areas for strengthening and weakening systems; barotropic systems, on the other hand, do not exhibit significant changes in intensity. Also, wind shear is characteristic of a baroclinic zone.
- Barotropic System
- A weather system in which temperature and pressure surfaces are coincident, i.e., temperature is uniform (no temperature gradient) on a constant pressure surface. Barotropic systems are characterized by a lack of wind shear, and thus are generally unfavorable areas for severe thunderstorm development. See baroclinic zone.
Usually, in operational meteorology, references to barotropic systems refer to equivalent barotropic systems - systems in which temperature gradients exist, but are parallel to height gradients on a constant pressure surface. In such systems, height contours and isotherms are parallel everywhere, and winds do not change direction with height.
As a rule, a true equivalent barotropic system can never be achieved in the real atmosphere. While some systems (such as closed lows or cutoff lows) may reach a state that is close to equivalent barotropic, the term barotropic system usually is used in a relative sense to describe systems that are really only close to being equivalent barotropic, i.e., isotherms and height contours are nearly parallel everywhere and directional wind shear is weak.
- A blizzard means that the following conditions are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer...
- Sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater; and
- considerable falling and/or blowing snow (i.e., reducing visibility frequently to less than ¼ mile).
- Blowing Dust or Sand
- Strong winds over dry ground, that has little or no vegetation, can lift particles of dust or sand into the air. These airborne particles can reduce visibility, cause respiratory problems, and have an abrasive affect on machinery. A concentration reducing the visibility to ¼ mile or less often poses hazards for travelers.
- Blowing Snow
- Blowing snow is wind-driven snow that reduces surface visibility. Blowing snow can be falling snow or snow that has already accumulated but is picked up and blown by strong winds. Blowing snow is usually accompanied by drifting snow.
- Boundary Layer
- In general, a layer of air adjacent to a bounding surface. Specifically, the term most often refers to the planetary boundary layer, which is the layer within which the effects of friction are significant. For the earth, this layer is considered to be roughly the lowest one or two kilometers of the atmosphere. It is within this layer that temperatures are most strongly affected by daytime insolation and nighttime radiational cooling, and winds are affected by friction with the earth's surface. The effects of friction die out gradually with height, so the "top" of this layer cannot be defined exactly.
There is a thin layer immediately above the earth's surface known as the surface boundary layer (or simply the surface layer). This layer is only a part of the planetary boundary layer, and represents the layer within which friction effects are more or less constant throughout (as opposed to decreasing with height, as they do above it). The surface boundary layer is roughly 10 meters thick, but again the exact depth is indeterminate. Like friction, the effects of insolation and radiational cooling are strongest within this layer.
- Bow Echo
- A radar echo which is linear but bent outward in a bow shape. Damaging straight-line winds often occur near the "crest" or center of a bow echo. Areas of circulation also can develop at either end of a bow echo, which sometimes can lead to tornado formation - especially in the left (usually northern) end, where the circulation exhibits cyclonic rotation.
- (or Capping Inversion) - A layer of relatively warm air aloft (usually several thousand feet above the ground) which suppresses or delays the development of thunderstorms. Air parcels rising into this layer become cooler than the surrounding air, which inhibits their ability to rise further. As such, the cap often prevents or delays thunderstorm development even in the presence of extreme instability. However if the cap is removed or weakened, then explosive thunderstorm development can occur. See CIN.
The cap is an important ingredient in most severe thunderstorm episodes, as it serves to separate warm, moist air below and cooler, drier air above. With the cap in place, air below it can continue to warm and/or moisten, thus increasing the amount of potential instability. Or, air above it can cool, which also increases potential instability. But without a cap, either process (warming/moistening at low levels or cooling aloft) results in a faster release of available instability - often before instability levels become large enough to support severe weather development.
- Convective Available Potential Energy. A measure of the amount of energy available for convection. CAPE is directly related to the maximum potential vertical speed within an updraft; thus, higher values indicate greater potential for severe weather. Observed values in thunderstorm environments often may exceed 1,000 joules per kilogram (j/kg), and in extreme cases may exceed 5,000 j/kg.
However, as with other indices or indicators, there are no threshold values above which severe weather becomes imminent. CAPE is represented on an upper air sounding by the area enclosed between the environmental temperature profile and the path of a rising air parcel, over the layer within which the latter is warmer than the former. (This area often is called positive area.) See also CIN.
- Cumulonimbus cloud, characterized by strong vertical development in the form of mountains or huge towers topped at least partially by a smooth, flat, often fibrous anvil. Also known colloquially as a "thunderhead."
- Cloud-to-Cloud lightning.
- Convection in the form of a single updraft, downdraft, or updraft/downdraft couplet, typically seen as a vertical dome or tower as in a towering cumulus cloud. A typical thunderstorm consists of several cells.
The term "cell" also is used to describe the radar echo returned by an individual shower or thunderstorm. Such usage, although common, is technically incorrect.
- Cloud-to-Ground lightning flash.
- Channeled High Winds
- In mountainous areas or in cities with tall buildings, air may be channeled through constricted passages producing high winds. Santa Ana winds and winds through passes from the cold Alaskan interior to the sea are examples of these winds. Channeled high winds are local in nature but can be extremely strong. These winds generally occur in well-defined areas
- Chinook or Foehn Wind
- These are warm, dry winds that occur in the lee of high mountain ranges. It is a fairly common wintertime phenomena in the mountainous west and in parts of Alaska. These winds develop in well-defined areas and can be quite strong.
- Convective INhibition. A measure of the amount of energy needed in order to initiate convection. Values of CIN typically reflect the strength of the cap. They are obtained on a sounding by computing the area enclosed between the environmental temperature profile and the path of a rising air parcel, over the layer within which the latter is cooler than the former. (This area sometimes is called negative area.) See CAPE.
- High-level clouds (16,000 feet or more), composed of ice crystals and appearing in the form of white, delicate filaments or white or mostly white patches or narrow bands. Cirrus clouds typically have a fibrous or hairlike appearance, and often are semi-transparent. Thunderstorm anvils are a form of cirrus cloud, but most cirrus clouds are not associated with thunderstorms.
- Closed Low
- A low pressure area with a distinct center of cyclonic circulation which can be completely encircled by one or more isobars or height contour lines. The term usually is used to distinguish a low pressure area aloft from a low-pressure trough. Closed lows aloft typically are partially or completely detached from the main westerly current, and thus move relatively slowly (see cutoff low).
- Cloud Streets
- Rows of cumulus or cumulus-type clouds aligned parallel to the low-level flow. Cloud streets sometimes can be seen from the ground, but are seen best on satellite photographs.
- Cold Advection
- Transport of cold air into a region by horizontal winds.
- Cold-air Funnel
- A funnel cloud or (rarely) a small, relatively weak tornado that can develop from a small shower or thunderstorm when the air aloft is unusually cold (hence the name). They are much less violent than other types of tornadoes.
- Cold Pool
- A region of relatively cold air, represented on a weather map analysis as a relative minimum in temperature surrounded by closed isotherms. Cold pools aloft represent regions of relatively low stability, while surface-based cold pools are regions of relatively stable air.
- Condensation Funnel
- A funnel-shaped cloud associated with rotation and consisting of condensed water droplets (as opposed to smoke, dust, debris, etc.).
- A pattern of wind flow in which air flows inward toward an axis oriented parallel to the general direction of flow. It is the opposite of difluence. Confluence is not the same as convergence. Winds often accelerate as they enter a confluent zone, resulting in speed divergence which offsets the (apparent) converging effect of the confluent flow.
- Generally, transport of heat and moisture by the movement of a fluid. In meteorology, the term is used specifically to describe vertical transport of heat and moisture, especially by updrafts and downdrafts in an unstable atmosphere. The terms "convection" and "thunderstorms" often are used interchangeably, although thunderstorms are only one form of convection. Cbs, towering cumulus clouds, and ACCAS clouds all are visible forms of convection. However, convection is not always made visible by clouds. Convection which occurs without cloud formation is called dry convection, while the visible convection processes referred to above are forms of moist convection.
- Convective Temperature
- The approximate temperature that the air near the ground must warm to in order for surface-based convection to develop, based on analysis of a sounding.
Calculation of the convective temperature involves many assumptions, such that thunderstorms sometimes develop well before or well after the convective temperature is reached (or may not develop at all). However, in some cases the convective temperature is a useful parameter for forecasting the onset of convection.
- A contraction of a vector field; the opposite of divergence. Convergence in a horizontal wind field indicates that more air is entering a given area than is leaving at that level. To compensate for the resulting "excess," vertical motion may result: upward forcing if convergence is at low levels, or downward forcing (subsidence) if convergence is at high levels. Upward forcing from low-level convergence increases the potential for thunderstorm development (when other factors, such as instability, are favorable). Compare with confluence.
- Cutoff Low
- A closed low which has become completely displaced (cut off) from basic westerly current, and moves independently of that current. Cutoff lows may remain nearly stationary for days, or on occasion may move westward opposite to the prevailing flow aloft (i.e., retrogression).
"Cutoff low" and "closed low" often are used interchangeably to describe low pressure centers aloft. However, not all closed lows are completely removed from the influence of the basic westerlies. Therefore, the recommended usage of the terms is to reserve the use of "cutoff low" only to those closed lows which clearly are detached completely from the westerlies.
- (Pronounced day-RAY-cho), a widespread and usually fast-moving windstorm associated with convection. Derechos include any family of downburst clusters produced by an extratropical MCS, and can produce damaging straight-line winds over areas hundreds of miles long and more than 100 miles across.
- Dew Point
- (or Dew-point Temperature) - A measure of atmospheric moisture. It is the temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation (assuming air pressure and moisture content are constant).
- (or Diffluence) - A pattern of wind flow in which air moves outward (in a "fan-out" pattern) away from a central axis that is oriented parallel to the general direction of the flow. It is the opposite of confluence.
Difluence in an upper level wind field is considered a favorable condition for severe thunderstorm development (if other parameters are also favorable). But difluence is not the same as divergence. In a difluent flow, winds normally decelerate as they move through the region of difluence, resulting in speed convergence which offsets the apparent diverging effect of the difluent flow.
- Daily; related to actions which are completed in the course of a calendar day, and which typically recur every calendar day (e.g., diurnal temperature rises during the day, and diurnal falls at night).
- The expansion or spreading out of a vector field; usually said of horizontal winds. It is the opposite of convergence. Divergence at upper levels of the atmosphere enhances upward motion, and hence the potential for thunderstorm development (if other factors also are favorable).
- A strong downdraft that induces an outburst of damaging winds on or near the ground.
- Drifting Snow
- Drifting snow is an uneven distribution of snowfall/snow depth caused by strong surface winds. Drifting snow may occur during or after a snowfall. Drifting snow is usually associated with blowing snow.
- Dry Line
- A boundary separating moist and dry air masses, and an important factor in severe weather frequency in the Great Plains. It typically lies north-south across the central and southern high Plains states during the spring and early summer, where it separates moist air from the Gulf of Mexico (to the east) and dry desert air from the southwestern states (to the west). The dry line typically advances eastward during the afternoon and retreats westward at night. However, a strong storm system can sweep the dry line eastward into the Mississippi Valley, or even further east, regardless of the time of day.
A typical dry line passage results in a sharp drop in humidity (hence the name), clearing skies, and a wind shift from south or southeasterly to west or southwesterly. (Blowing dust and rising temperatures also may follow, especially if the dry line passes during the daytime. These changes occur in reverse order when the dry line retreats westward. Severe and sometimes tornadic thunderstorms often develop along a dry line or in the moist air just to the east of it, especially when it begins moving eastward.
- Dry Microburst
- A microburst with little or no precipitation reaching the ground; most common in semi-arid regions. They may or may not produce lightning. Dry microbursts may develop in an otherwise fair-weather pattern; visible signs may include a cumulus cloud or small Cb with a high base and high-level virga, or perhaps only an orphan anvil from a dying rain shower. At the ground, the only visible sign might be a dust plume or a ring of blowing dust beneath a local area of virga.
- Dry Slot
- A zone of dry (and relatively cloud-free) air which wraps east- or northeastward into the southern and eastern parts of a synoptic scale or mesoscale low pressure system. A dry slot generally is seen best on satellite photographs.
- Generally, any forces that produce motion or affect change. In operational meteorology, dynamics usually refer specifically to those forces that produce vertical motion in the atmosphere.
- European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting. Operational references in forecast discussions typically refer to the ECMWF's medium-range forecast model. See MRF, UKMET.
- Elevated Convection
- Convection occurring within an elevated layer, i.e., a layer in which the lowest portion is based above the earth's surface. Elevated convection often occurs when air near the ground is relatively cool and stable, e.g., during periods of isentropic lift, when an unstable layer of air is present aloft.
In cases of elevated convection, stability indices based on near-surface measurements (such as the lifted index) typically will underestimate the amount of instability present. Severe weather is possible from elevated convection, but is less likely than it is with surface-based convection.
- Enhanced Wording
- An option used by the SPC in tornado and severe thunderstorm watches when the potential for strong/violent tornadoes, or unusually widespread damaging straight-line winds, is high.
The statement "THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF VERY DAMAGING TORNADOES" appears in tornado watches with enhanced wording. Severe thunderstorm watches may include the statement "THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF EXTREMELY DAMAGING WINDS," usually when a derecho event is occurring or forecast to occur.
- Entrance Region
- The region upstream from a wind speed maximum in a jet stream (jet max), in which air is approaching (entering) the region of maximum winds, and therefore is accelerating. This acceleration results in a vertical circulation that creates divergence in the upper-level winds in the right half of the entrance region (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow).
This divergence results in upward motion of air in the right rear quadrant (or right entrance region) of the jet max. Severe weather potential sometimes increases in this area as a result. See also exit region, left exit region.
- Equilibrium Level
- (or EL) - On an upper air sounding, the level above the level of free convection (LFC) at which the temperature of a rising air parcel again equals the temperature of the environment.
The height of the EL is the height at which thunderstorm updrafts no longer accelerate upward. Thus, to a close approximation, it represents the height of expected (or ongoing) thunderstorm tops. However, strong updrafts will continue to rise past the EL before stopping, resulting in storm tops that are higher than the EL. This process sometimes can be seen visually as an overshooting top or anvil dome.
The EL typically is higher than the tropopause, and is a more accurate reference for storm tops.
- Exit Region
- The region downstream from a wind speed maximum in a jet stream (jet max), in which air is moving away from the region of maximum winds, and therefore is decelerating. This deceleration results in divergence in the upper-level winds in the left half of the exit region (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow).
This divergence results in upward motion of air in the left front quadrant (or left exit region) of the jet max. Severe weather potential sometimes increases in this area as a result. See also entrance region, right entrance region.
- Excessive Heat
- Excessive heat occurs from a combination of high temperatures (significantly above normal) and high humidities. At certain levels, the human body cannot maintain proper internal temperatures and may experience heat stroke. The "Heat Index" is a measure of the effect of the combined elements on the body.
- F scale
- See Fujita Scale.
- Flash Flood
- A flood which is caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than 6 hours. Also, at times a dam failure can cause a flash flood, depending on the type of dam and time period during which the break occurs.
- The inundation of a normally dry area caused by an increased water level in an established watercourse, such as a river, stream, or drainage ditch, or ponding of water at or near the point where the rain fell.
- Flood/Flash Flood Warning
- Issued to inform the public that flooding is imminent or in progress.
- Flood/Flash Flood Watch
- Issued to inform the public and cooperating agencies that current and developing hydrometeorological conditions are such that there is a threat of flooding, but the occurrence is neither certain nor imminent.
- Fog is water droplets suspended in the air at the Earth's surface. Fog is often hazardous when the visibility is reduced to ¼ mile or less.
- A boundary or transition zone between two air masses of different density, and thus (usually) of different temperature. A moving front is named according to the advancing air mass, e.g., cold front if colder air is advancing.
- Fujita Scale
- (or F Scale) - A scale of wind damage intensity in which wind speeds are inferred from an analysis of wind damage:
||40-72 mph, light damage
||73-112 mph, moderate damage
||113-157 mph, considerable damage
||158-206 mph, severe damage
||207-260 mph, devastating damage
||261-318 mph, (rare) incredible damage
All tornadoes, and most other severe local windstorms, are assigned a single number from this scale according to the most intense damage caused by the storm.
- A freeze is when the surface air temperature is expected to be 32°F or below over a widespread area for a climatologically significant period of time. Use of the term is usually restricted to advective situations or to occasions when wind or other conditions prevent frost. "Killing" may be used during the growing season when the temperature is expected to be low enough for a sufficient duration to kill all but the hardiest herbaceous crops.
- Freezing Rain or Drizzle
- This occurs when rain or drizzle freezes on surfaces, such as the ground, trees, power lines, motor vehicles, streets, highways, etc. Small accumulations of ice can cause driving and walking difficulties while heavy accumulations produce extremely dangerous and damaging situations primarily by pulling down trees and utility lines.
- Frost describes the formation of thin ice crystals on the ground or other surfaces in the form of scales, needles, feathers, or fans. Frost develops under conditions similar to dew, except the temperatures of the Earth's surface and earthbound objects falls below 32°F. As with the term "freeze," this condition is primarily significant during the growing season. If a frost period is sufficiently severe to end the growing season or delay its beginning, it is commonly referred to as a "killing frost." Because frost is primarily an event that occurs as the result of radiational cooling, it frequently occurs with a thermometer level temperature in the mid-30s.
- Funnel Cloud
- A condensation funnel extending from the base of a towering cumulus or Cb, associated with a rotating column of air that is not in contact with the ground (and hence different from a tornado). A condensation funnel is a tornado, not a funnel cloud, if either a) it is in contact with the ground or b) a debris cloud or dust whirl is visible beneath it.
- Gradient High Winds
- These high winds usually cover a large area and are due to synoptic-scale, extra-tropical low pressure systems.
- Gust Front
- The leading edge of gusty surface winds from thunderstorm downdrafts; sometimes associated with a shelf cloud or roll cloud. See also gustnado or outflow boundary.
- (or Gustinado) - [Slang],
gust front tornado. A small tornado, usually weak and short-lived, that occurs along the gust front of a thunderstorm. Often it is visible only as a debris cloud or dust whirl near the ground. Gustnadoes are not associated with storm-scale rotation (i.e. mesocyclones); they are more likely to be associated visually with a shelf cloud than with a wall cloud.
- Heavy Snow
- This generally means...
In forecasts, snowfall amounts are expressed as a range of values, e.g., "8 to 12 inches." However, in heavy snow situations where there is considerable uncertainty concerning the range of values, more appropriate phrases are used, such as "...up to 12 inches..." or alternatively "...8 inches or more...".
- snowfall accumulating to 4" or more in depth in 12 hours or less; or
- snowfall accumulating to 6" or more in depth in 24 hours or less.
- A property of a moving fluid which represents the potential for helical flow (i.e. flow which follows the pattern of a corkscrew) to evolve. Helicity is proportional to the strength of the flow, the amount of vertical wind shear, and the amount of turning in the flow (i.e. vorticity).
Atmospheric helicity is computed from the vertical wind profile in the lower part of the atmosphere (usually from the surface up to 3 km), and is measured relative to storm motion. Higher values of helicity (generally, around 150 m2/s2 or more) favor the development of mid-level rotation (i.e. mesocyclones). Extreme values can exceed 600 m2/s2.
- High Wind
- Sustained wind speeds of 40 mph or greater lasting for 1 hour or longer, or winds of 58 mph or greater for any duration.
- (or 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.
- Generally, a measure of the water vapor content of the air. Popularly, it is used synonymously with relative humidity.
- Ice Storm
- An ice storm is used to describe occasions when damaging accumulations of ice are expected during freezing rain situations. Significant accumulations of ice pull down trees and utility lines resulting in loss of power and communication. These accumulations of ice make walking and driving extremely dangerous. Significant ice accumulations are usually accumulations of ¼" or greater.
- See upper level system.
- Incoming solar radiation. Solar heating; sunshine.
- The tendency for air parcels to accelerate when they are displaced from their original position; especially, the tendency to accelerate upward after being lifted. Instability is a prerequisite for severe weather - the greater the instability, the greater the potential for severe thunderstorms. See lifted index.
- 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.
- Isentropic Lift
- Lifting of air that is traveling along an upward-sloping isentropic surface.
Isentropic lift often is referred to erroneously as overrunning, but more accurately describes the physical process by which the lifting occurs. Situations involving isentropic lift often are characterized by widespread stratiform clouds and precipitation, but may include elevated convection in the form of embedded thunderstorms.
- Isentropic Surface
- A two-dimensional surface containing points of equal potential temperature.
- A line connecting points of equal pressure.
- A line connecting points of equal dew point temperature.
- A line connecting points of equal precipitation amounts.
- General term for a line connecting points of equal value of some quantity. Isobars, isotherms, etc. all are examples of isopleths.
- A line connecting points of equal wind speed.
- A line connecting points of equal temperature.
- Jet Max
- (or Speed Max, Jet Streak) - a point or area of relative maximum wind speeds within a jet stream.
- Jet Streak
- A local wind speed maximum within a jet stream.
- Jet Stream
- Relatively strong winds concentrated in a narrow stream in the atmosphere, normally referring to horizontal, high-altitude winds. The position and orientation of jet streams vary from day to day. General weather patterns (hot/cold, wet/dry) are related closely to the position, strength and orientation of the jet stream (or jet streams). A jet stream at low levels is known as a low-level jet.
- [Slang], a tornado that does not arise from organized storm-scale rotation and therefore is not associated with a wall cloud (visually) or a mesocyclone (on radar). Landspouts typically are observed beneath Cbs or towering cumulus clouds (often as no more than a dust whirl), and essentially are the land-based equivalents of waterspouts.
- Lapse Rate
- The rate of change of an atmospheric variable, usually temperature, with height. A steep lapse rate implies a rapid decrease in temperature with height (a sign of instability) and a steepening lapse rate implies that destabilization is occurring.
- Left Front Quadrant
- (or Left Exit Region) - The area downstream from and to the left of an upper-level jet max (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow). Upward motion and severe thunderstorm potential sometimes are increased in this area relative to the wind speed maximum. See also entrance region, right rear quadrant.
- Lifted Index (or LI)
- A common measure of atmospheric instability. Its value is obtained by computing the temperature that air near the ground would have if it were lifted to some higher level (around 18,000 feet, usually) and comparing that temperature to the actual temperature at that level. Negative values indicate instability - the more negative, the more unstable the air is, and the stronger the updrafts are likely to be with any developing thunderstorms. However there are no "magic numbers" or threshold LI values below which severe weather becomes imminent.
- Low-level Jet
- (abbrev. LLJ) - A region of relatively strong winds in the lower part of the atmosphere. Specifically, it often refers to a southerly wind maximum in the boundary layer, common over the Plains states at night during the warm season (spring and summer).
The term also may be used to describe a narrow zone of strong winds above the boundary layer, but in this sense the more proper term would be low-level jet stream.
- A convective downdraft with an affected outflow area of at least 2½ miles wide and peak winds lasting between 5 and 20 minutes. Intense macrobursts may cause tornado-force damage of up to F3 intensity.
- 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.
- 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.
- Medium Range
- In forecasting, (generally) three to seven days in advance.
- Meridional Flow
- Large-scale atmospheric flow in which the north-south component (i.e., longitudinal, or along a meridian) is pronounced. The accompanying zonal (east-west) component often is weaker than normal. Compare with zonal flow.
- A regional network of observing stations (usually surface stations) designed to diagnose mesoscale weather features and their associated processes.
- Size scale referring to weather systems smaller than synoptic-scale systems but larger than storm-scale systems. Horizontal dimensions generally range from around 50 miles to several hundred miles. Squall lines, MCCs, and MCSs are examples of mesoscale weather systems.
- Mesoscale High Winds
- These high winds usually follow the passage of organized convective systems and are associated with wake depressions or strong mesohighs.
- A convective downdraft with an affected outflow area of less than 2½ miles wide and peak winds lasting less than 5 minutes. Microbursts may induce dangerous horizontal/vertical wind shears, which can adversely affect aircraft performance and cause property damage.
- Moisture Convergence
- A measure of the degree to which moist air is converging into a given area, taking into account the effect of converging winds and moisture advection. Areas of persistent moisture convergence are favored regions for thunderstorm development, if other factors (e.g., instability) are favorable.
- Medium-Range Forecast model; one of the operational forecast models run at NCEP. The MRF is run once daily, with forecast output out to 240 hours (10 days).
- National Centers for Environmental Prediction; the modernized version of NMC.
- Negative-tilt Trough
- An upper level system which is tilted to the west with increasing latitude (i.e., with an axis from southeast to northwest). A negative-tilt trough often is a sign of a developing or intensifying system.
- Outflow Boundary
- A storm-scale or mesoscale boundary separating thunderstorm-cooled air (outflow) from the surrounding air; similar in effect to a cold front, with passage marked by a wind shift and usually a drop in temperature. Outflow boundaries may persist for 24 hours or more after the thunderstorms that generated them dissipate, and may travel hundreds of miles from their area of origin.
New thunderstorms often develop along outflow boundaries, especially near the point of intersection with another boundary (cold front, dry line, another outflow boundary, etc.; see triple point).
- An outlook is used to indicate that a hazardous weather or hydrologic event may develop. It is intended to provide information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event.
- A weather pattern in which a relatively warm air mass is in motion above another air mass of greater density at the surface. Embedded thunderstorms sometimes develop in such a pattern; severe thunderstorms (mainly with large hail) can occur, but tornadoes are unlikely.
Overrunning often is applied to the case of warm air riding up over a retreating layer of colder air, as along the sloping surface of a warm front. Such use of the term technically is incorrect, but in general it refers to a pattern characterized by widespread clouds and steady precipitation on the cool side of a front or other boundary.
- Overshooting Top
- (or Penetrating Top) - A dome-like protrusion above a thunderstorm anvil, representing a very strong updraft and hence a higher potential for severe weather with that storm. A persistent and/or large overshooting top (anvil dome) often is present on a supercell.
A short-lived overshooting top, or one that forms and dissipates in cycles, may indicate the presence of a pulse storm.
- Positive-tilt Trough
- An upper level system which is tilted to the east with increasing latitude (i.e., from southwest to northeast). A positive-tilt trough often is a sign of a weakening weather system, and generally is less likely to result in severe weather than a negative-tilt trough if all other factors are equal.
- Pulse Storm
- A thunderstorm within which a brief period (pulse) of strong updraft occurs, during and immediately after which the storm produces a short episode of severe weather. These storms generally are not tornado producers, but often produce large hail and/or damaging winds. See also overshooting top.
- Relative Humidity
- A dimensionless ratio, expressed in percent, of the amount of atmospheric moisture present relative to the amount that would be present if the air were saturated. Since the latter amount is dependent on temperature, relative humidity is a function of both moisture content and temperature. As such, relative humidity by itself does not directly indicate the actual amount of atmospheric moisture present. See dew point.
- (or Retrograde Motion) - Movement of a weather system in a direction opposite to that of the basic flow in which it is embedded, usually referring to a closed low or a longwave trough which moves westward.
- Right Entrance Region
- (or Right Rear Quadrant) - The area upstream from and to the right of an upper-level jet max (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow). Upward motion and severe thunderstorm potential sometimes are increased in this area relative to the wind speed maximum. See also exit region, left front quadrant.
- An elongated area of relatively high atmospheric pressure; the opposite of trough.
- Right Mover
- A thunderstorm that moves appreciably to the right relative to the main steering winds and to other nearby thunderstorms. Right movers typically are associated with a high potential for severe weather. (Supercells often are right movers.).
- Right Rear Quadrant
- see Right Entrance Region.
- Roll Cloud
- A low, horizontal tube-shaped arcus cloud associated with a thunderstorm gust front (or sometimes with a cold front). Roll clouds are relatively rare; they are completely detached from the thunderstorm base or other cloud features, thus differentiating them from the more familiar shelf clouds. Roll clouds usually appear to be "rolling" about a horizontal axis, but should not be confused with funnel clouds.
- (or Rope Funnel) - A narrow, often contorted condensation funnel usually associated with the decaying stage of a tornado. See rope stage.
- Rope Cloud
- In satellite meteorology, a narrow, rope-like band of clouds sometimes seen on satellite images along a front or other boundary. The term sometimes is used synonymously with rope or rope funnel.
- Rope Stage
- The dissipating stage of a tornado, characterized by thinning and shrinking of the condensation funnel into a rope (or rope funnel). Damage still is possible during this stage.
- Rapid Update Cycle, a numerical model run at NCEP that focuses on short-term (up to 12 h) forecasts and small-scale (mesoscale) weather features. Forecasts are prepared every 3 hours for the contiguous United States.
- Severe Local Storm
- A convective storm that usually covers a relatively small geographic area, or moves in a narrow path, and is sufficiently intense to threaten life and/or property. Examples include severe thunderstorms with large hail, damaging wind, or tornadoes. Although cloud-to-ground lightning is not a criteria for severe local storms, it is acknowledged to be highly dangerous and a leading cause of deaths, injuries, and damage from thunderstorms. A thunderstorm need not be severe to generate frequent cloud-to-ground lightning. Additionally, excessive localized convective rains are not classified as severe storms but often are the product of severe local storms. Such rainfall may result in related phenomena (flash floods) that threaten life and property.
- Severe Thunderstorm
- A thunderstorm that produces a tornado, winds of at least 58 mph (50 knots), and/or hail at least ¾" in diameter. Structural wind damage may imply the occurrence of a severe thunderstorm. A thunderstorm wind equal to or greater than 40 mph (35 knots) and/or hail of at least ½" is defined as approaching severe.
- Severe Thunderstorm Risk
- The relative coverage and/or threat for severe thunderstorms in a specified area. The following describes the possible density/risk of severe thunderstorms in an outlook area...
- APPROACHING - A non-severe category that indicates an area of strong convection; used to highlight areas where strong thunderstorms are anticipated but not expected to become severe.
- SLIGHT risk - Severe thunderstorms are expected; the severe storms may not have a mesoscale organization or may be isolated in areal extent with between 2-5% aerial coverage.
- MODERATE risk - Severe thunderstorms are expected and are anticipated to be more organized on the mesoscale. They will be more numerous or widespread than in the SLIGHT category. The potential for personal injury and/or significant property damage is significantly enhanced with between 6 and 10 percent coverage. A moderate risk indicates the possibility of a significant severe weather episode.
- HIGH risk - Severe thunderstorms are expected and are anticipated to be widespread. A dangerous situation exists with the strong potential for killer tornadoes, devastating windstorms, and widespread property damage. This category generally is confined for use in anticipated tornado outbreaks with more than 10 percent coverage. A high risk is rare and implies the possibility of a major severe weather outbreak.
- Variation in wind speed (speed shear) and/or direction (directional shear) over a short distance. Shear usually refers to vertical wind shear, i.e., the change in wind with height, but the term also is used in Doppler radar to describe changes in radial velocity over short horizontal distances.
- Shelf Cloud
- A low, horizontal wedge-shaped arcus cloud, associated with a thunderstorm gust front (or occasionally with a cold front, even in the absence of thunderstorms). Unlike the roll cloud, the shelf cloud is attached to the base of the parent cloud above it (usually a thunderstorm). Rising cloud motion often can be seen in the leading (outer) part of the shelf cloud, while the underside often appears turbulent, boiling, and wind-torn.
- Short Term Forecast
- A product used to convey information regarding weather or hydrologic events in the next few hours.
- Sleet is defined as pellets of ice composed of frozen or mostly frozen raindrops or refrozen partially melted snowflakes. These pellets of ice usually bounce after hitting the ground or other hard surfaces. Heavy sleet is a relatively rare event defined as an accumulation of ice pellets covering the ground to a depth of ½" or more.
- Smoke in various concentrations can cause significant problems for people with respiratory ailments. It becomes a more universal hazard when visibilities are reduced to ¼ mile or less.
- Snow Flurries
- Snow flurries are an intermittent light snowfall of short duration (generally light snow showers) with no measurable accumulation (trace category).
- Snow Showers
- A snow shower is a short duration of moderate snowfall. Some accumulation is possible.
- Snow Squalls
- 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.
- Speed Shear
- The component of wind shear which is due to a change in wind speed with height, e.g., southwesterly winds of 20 mph at 10,000 feet increasing to 50 mph at 20,000 feet. Speed shear is an important factor in severe weather development, especially in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere.
- Squall Line
- A solid or nearly solid line or band of active thunderstorms.
- Straight-line Winds
- Generally, any wind that is not associated with rotation, used mainly to differentiate them from tornadic winds.
- Having extensive horizontal development, as opposed to the more vertical development characteristic of convection. Stratiform clouds cover large areas but show relatively little vertical development. Stratiform precipitation, in general, is relatively continuous and uniform in intensity (i.e., steady rain versus rain showers).
- Low-level clouds, existing in a relatively flat layer but having individual elements. Elements often are arranged in rows, bands, or waves. Stratocumulus often reveals the depth of the moist air at low levels, while the speed of the cloud elements can reveal the strength of the low-level jet.
- A low, generally gray cloud layer with a fairly uniform base. Stratus may appear in the form of ragged patches, but otherwise does not exhibit individual cloud elements as do cumulus and stratocumulus clouds. Fog usually is a surface-based form of stratus.
- Surface-based Convection
- Convection occurring within a surface-based layer, i.e., a layer in which the lowest portion is based at or very near the earth's surface. Compare with elevated convection.
- SWEAT Index
- Severe Weather ThrEAT index. A stability index developed by the Air Force which incorporates instability, wind shear, and wind speeds as follows:
- SWEAT=(12 Td 850 ) + (20 [TT-49]) +( 2 f 850) + f 500 + (125
- Td 850 is the dew
point temperature at 850 mb,
- TT is the total-totals
- f 850 is the 850-mb wind speed (in knots),
- f 500 is the 500-mb wind speed (in knots), and
- s is the sine of the angle between the wind directions
at 500 mb and 850 mb (thus representing the directional shear in this layer).
SWEAT values of about 250-300 or more indicate a greater potential for severe weather, but as with all stability indices, there are no magic numbers.
The SWEAT index has the advantage (and disadvantage) of using only mandatory-level data (i.e., 500 mb and 850 mb), but has fallen into relative disuse with the advent of more detailed upper air sounding analysis programs.
- In general, the relationships between heat and other properties (such as temperature, pressure, density, etc.) In forecast discussions, thermodynamics usually refers to the distribution of temperature and moisture (both vertical and horizontal) as related to the diagnosis of atmospheric instability.
- (or Equivalent Potential Temperature) - The temperature a parcel of air would have if a) it was lifted until it became saturated, b) all water vapor was condensed out, and c) it was returned adiabatically (i.e., without transfer of heat or mass) to a pressure of 1000 millibars. Theta-e, which typically is expressed in degrees Kelvin, is directly related to the amount of heat present in an air parcel. Thus, it is useful in diagnosing atmospheric instability.
- Theta-e Ridge
- An axis of relatively high values of theta-e. Severe weather and excessive rainfall often occur near or just upstream from a theta-e ridge.
- A violently rotating column of air, usually pendant to a cumulonimbus, with circulation reaching the ground. It nearly always starts as a funnel cloud and may be accompanied by a loud roaring noise. On a local scale, it is the most destructive of all atmospheric phenomena.
- Total-Totals Index
- A stability index and severe weather forecast tool, equal to the temperature at 850 mb plus the dew point at 850 mb, minus twice the temperature at 500 mb. The total-totals index is the arithmetic sum of two other indices: the Vertical Totals Index (temperature at 850 mb minus temperature at 500 mb) and the Cross Totals Index (dew point at 850 mb minus temperature at 500 mb). As with all stability indices there are no magic threshold values, but in general, values of less than 50 or greater than 55 are considered weak and strong indicators, respectively, of potential severe storm development.
- Towering Cumulus
- A large cumulus cloud with great vertical development, usually with a cauliflower-like appearance, but lacking the characteristic anvil of a Cb. (Often shortened to "towering cu," and abbreviated TCU.)
- Tropical Cyclone Associated High Winds
- High winds that occur a few hundred miles or so inland from the coast of a landfalling tropical cyclone.
- Triple Point
- The intersection point between two boundaries (dry line, outflow boundary, cold front, etc.), often a focus for thunderstorm development. Triple point also may refer to a point on the gust front of a supercell, where the warm moist inflow, the rain-cooled outflow from the forward flank downdraft, and the rear flank downdraft all intersect; this point is a favored location for tornado development (or redevelopment).
- The upper boundary of the troposphere, usually characterized by an abrupt change in lapse rate from positive (decreasing temperature with height) to neutral or negative (temperature constant or increasing with height).
- The layer of the atmosphere from the earth's surface up to the tropopause, characterized by decreasing temperature with height (except, perhaps, in thin layers - see inversion, cap), vertical wind motion, appreciable water vapor content, and sensible weather (clouds, rain, etc.).
- An elongated area of relatively low atmospheric pressure, usually not associated with a closed circulation, and thus used to distinguish from a closed low. The opposite of ridge.
- A medium-range numerical weather prediction model operated by the United Kingdom METeorological Agency.
- A small-scale current of rising air. If the air is sufficiently moist, then the moisture condenses to become a cumulus cloud or an individual tower of a towering cumulus or Cb.
- Upper Level System
- A general term for any large-scale or mesoscale disturbance capable of producing upward motion (lift) in the middle or upper parts of the atmosphere. This term sometimes is used interchangeably with impulse or shortwave.
- Upslope Flow
- Air that flows toward higher terrain, and hence is forced to rise. The added lift often results in widespread low cloudiness and stratiform precipitation if the air is stable, or an increased chance of thunderstorm development if the air is unstable.
- Toward the source of the flow, or located in the area from which the flow is coming.
- Urban and Small Stream Flooding
- Flooding of small streams, streets, and low-lying areas, such as railroad underpasses and urban storm drains. This type of flooding is mainly an inconvenience and is generally not life threatening nor is it significantly damaging to property.
- (or UVV) - Upward Vertical Motion (or Velocity).
- Veering Winds
- Winds which shift in a clockwise direction with time at a given location (e.g., from southerly to westerly), or which change direction in a clockwise sense with height (e.g., southeasterly at the surface turning to southwesterly aloft). The latter example is a form of directional shear which is important for tornado formation. Compare with backing winds.
- Vertically-stacked System
- A low-pressure system, usually a closed low or cutoff low, which is not tilted with height, i.e., located similarly at all levels of the atmosphere. Such systems typically are weakening and are slow-moving, and are less likely to produce severe weather than tilted systems. However, cold pools aloft associated with vertically-stacked systems may enhance instability enough to produce severe weather.
- Vertically-Integrated Liquid water. A property computed by RADAP II and WSR-88D units that takes into account the three-dimensional reflectivity of an echo. The maximum VIL of a storm is useful in determining its potential severity, especially in terms of maximum hail size.
- Video Integrator and Processor, which contours radar reflectivity (in dBZ) into six VIP levels:
- VIP 1 (Level 1, 18-30 dBZ) - Light precipitation
- VIP 2 (Level 2, 30-38 dBZ) - Light to moderate rain.
- VIP 3 (Level 3, 38-44 dBZ) - Moderate to heavy rain.
- VIP 4 (Level 4, 44-50 dBZ) - Heavy rain
- VIP 5 (Level 5, 50-57 dBZ) - Very heavy rain; hail possible.
- VIP 6 (Level 6, >57 dBZ) - Very heavy rain and hail; large hail possible.
- Streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground. In certain cases, shafts of virga may precede a microburst; see dry microburst.
- Volcanic Ash
- A volcanic eruption can send an ash plume into the atmosphere reducing visibility at the ground and in the air. The chemical composition and abrasive characteristics of the particles varies widely and can seriously affect people and machinery on the ground and aircraft.
- A measure of the local rotation in a fluid flow. In weather analysis and forecasting, it usually refers to the vertical component of rotation (i.e., rotation about a vertical axis) and is used most often in reference to synoptic scale or mesoscale weather systems. By convention, positive values indicate cyclonic rotation.
- Vort Max
- (Slang; short for vorticity maximum), a center, or maximum, in the vorticity field of a fluid.
- VAD Wind Profile. A radar plot of horizontal winds, derived from VAD data, as a function of height above a Doppler Radar. The display is plotted with height as the vertical axis and time as the horizontal axis (a so-called time-height display), which then depicts the change in wind with time at various heights. This display is useful for observing local changes in vertical wind shear, such as backing of low-level winds, increases in speed shear, and development or evolution of nearby jet streams (including low-level jets).
- Wall Cloud
- A localized, persistent, often abrupt lowering from a rain-free base. Wall clouds can range from a fraction of a mile up to nearly five miles in diameter, and normally are found on the south or southwest (inflow) side of the thunderstorm. When seen from within several miles, many wall clouds exhibit rapid upward motion and cyclonic rotation.
However, not all wall clouds rotate. Rotating wall clouds usually develop before strong or violent tornadoes, by anywhere from a few minutes up to nearly an hour. Wall clouds should be monitored visually for signs of persistent, sustained rotation and/or rapid vertical motion.
"Wall cloud" also is used occasionally in tropical meteorology to describe the inner cloud wall surrounding the eye of a tropical cyclone, but the proper term for this feature is eyewall.
- Warm Advection
- Transport of warm air into an area by horizontal winds. Low-level warm advection sometimes is referred to (erroneously) as overrunning. Although the two terms are not properly interchangeable, both imply the presence of lifting in low levels.
- A warning is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property.
- A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so that those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.
- In general, a tornado occurring over water. Specifically, it normally refers to a small, relatively weak rotating column of air over water beneath a Cb or towering cumulus cloud. Waterspouts are most common over tropical or subtropical waters.
The exact definition of waterspout is debatable. In most cases the term is reserved for small vortices over water that are not associated with storm-scale rotation (i.e., they are the water-based equivalent of landspouts). But there is sufficient justification for calling virtually any rotating column of air a waterspout if it is in contact with a water surface.
- Wind Chill
- Increased wind speeds accelerate heat loss from exposed skin. No specific rules exist for determining when wind chill becomes dangerous. As a general rule, the threshold for potentially dangerous wind chill conditions is about -20°F.
- Zonal Flow
- Large-scale atmospheric flow in which the east-west component (i.e., latitudinal) is dominant. The accompanying meridional (north-south) component often is weaker than normal. Compare with meridional flow.