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I'm a student studying weather systems and believe I understand that high pressure systems are areas of colder descending air that tend to dissipate cloudiness and provide good weather and clear skies. Low pressure systems are areas of warmer rising air that can lead to the formation of clouds, perception, thunderstorms etc.

I've also studied the different types of fronts (cold, warm, occluded) and the types of weather they may bring.

Where I'm confused is what is general relationships between pressure systems and fronts. If I'm looking at a surface analysis chart to get a big picture understanding of the weather, do I view pressure systems and fronts independently? I know that if I see low pressure and a cold front to expect bad weather but could I see a cold front next to a high pressure system (and what would this mean)? I'm confused on how to consider both pressure and frontal systems together to understand whats going on. Any examples of how to interpret surface analysis charts would be appreciated

Thanks for the help!

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So, the number one key to understanding weather is that it is just stupidly, immensely complicated. Looking at a surface analysis tells me nothing about upper air goings-on, and vice versa. So most of what you learn in basic aviation weather is overly simplistic. I’ve found that dedicated weather courses such as NWS’s Jetstream are far more comprehensive in teaching you how to understand macro weather patterns.

Remember that a front is simply a boundary between 2 air masses. How these air masses are interacting at that frontal boundary is what determines the type of front (cold, warm, etc). The actual weather involved is dependent on tons of factors, including moisture, stability, the amount of lifting action produced at the front, etc. Cold fronts don’t always produce squall lines of thunderstorms, for example. Usually, however, there will be some sort of shift across the boundary, most noticeably in temperature but also in other ways as the new air mass comes overhead.

As to how fronts interact with high and low systems, so much depends on a variety of factors. A cold, high pressure air mass plowing underneath a warm lower pressure air mass (this is a cold front) is producing atmospheric lift, but if the air is stable you won’t get any sort of precipitation associated with it. What is the pressure status of the upper atmosphere? An upper level low trundling along up there can wreak all kinds of havoc regardless of the surface conditions. This is why these huge prediction models like GFS and HRRR are used to make forecasts. They can synthesize this data comprehensively to help meteorologists make predictions.

From an aviation perspective, I wouldn’t worry too much about becoming your own big-picture forecaster, at least not until you take a course in meteorology. Tons of free resources can do this for you with far more knowledge and expertise. The way weather is usually taught to private pilots sets new students up for potentially dangerous mistakes as they mis-identify whats actually happening in the atmosphere.

Let the experts and their products work for you as you learn. A great resource is the forecast discussions on AWC and on the NWS website. They are great tools to get a big picture understanding of the conditions in your region. I very rarely fly without reading them! In time, you start to begin to put the whole picture together.

Sorry for the long answer. Hope this helps!

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The front is what gives birth to the frontal depressions in the first place. These depressions contain their own portions of the front; that portion then moves along with the circulation in the depression. You can see that in this surface pressure chart of the polar front.

Image 1 Image source

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