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Jim Porter

It does not matter if you fish, hunt, play golf, or just plan to cut the lawn tomorrow; you need to be able to reasonably forecast your probable weather. Not only does the ability to do so assist in planning future activities, it also helps keep us safe. And, Momma said we should ALWAYS be safe.

Now, I am not by any means a meteorologist, nor what someone might call a 'weatherman'. And, I am not going to teach you to be one. But, I am a guy who spends more time outdoors than in. I need to have a pretty good idea of what the weather may be and how it may change while I am out.

Like learning to find and catch fish, the ability to predict weather with some degree of accuracy is a learned, or acquired, skill. Some of it comes from listening to the weather forecasters and then watching the weather maps being played out on the television. It is sort of a 'see how right they were' game. I suspect most of my weather understanding, however, was learned from guessing wrong too many times. Over the years, I finally started notice enough situational patterns to better estimate what was most probable.

Weather patterns differ somewhat by locale. The first thing to do, is look at the general way weather changes in your area and the frequency. Pay attention to the actual weather conditions and what appears to be the root cause of them. Be aware that weather changes are most frequent in the spring and fall, with spring being the most volatile.

Most major weather changes are based on the formation and movements of cold and warm fronts and their associated barometric pressure highs and lows. High and low pressure areas are a result of areas of either strong updrafts (low pressure) or downdrafts (high pressure).

Low pressure is normally generated by a zone of rapidly rising hot air. One example is the formation of a tropical disturbance. Another is the effect of an approaching cold front. Hot, moist air rises until it condenses in sufficient quantities the cold upper atmosphere as clouds/water vapor. When enough water vapor saturates the thin air layer, it condenses and falls to Earth as rain. Due to the forces created by the Earth's rotation, columns of rising hot air (in the northern hemisphere) always tend to rotate in a counter-clockwise direction.

High pressure, on the other hand, is a function of cold, dense air that actually weighs more and tends to settle towards the Earth. As the cold air falls, its column tends to rotate in a clockwise direction. You can experience this rotational effect by noting that a column of water 'falling' from a sink or bath tub rotates in a clockwise direction (in the northern hemisphere).

Those basics said, we are now in a position to look at how fronts affect your weather and how we can use them to make our own predictions.

Refer to Figure 1. This is the depiction of an approaching cold front and the low pressure area that precedes it. Note the counter-clockwise circulation around the low (hence, the winds). Note that it as the front progresses, the winds associated with the low, at a given point, gradually shift from south-east, to south, and to south-west. That flow reaches down into the Pacific Baja and/or Gulf of Mexico and brings warm, moist air up into the States. This warm air is brought into a direct collision course with the approaching cold front. Cold air, being denser than warm air, tends to hug the surface, push under the warm air and drive it upwards. That continues to fuel the low pressure cell, as well as brings rain and storms. Once the winds behind the low reach a westerly direction, they begin to bring in the colder air and that completes the low pressure's influence.

Strong lows (the lower the pressure, the stronger the low in terms of weather effect) are usually caused by strong, rapidly moving cold fronts pushing into a mass of very warm, moist air. These fronts have more speed, the circulating winds associated with the lows reach out further, and they create more turbulence and volatile weather.

Figure 2 is the depiction of a high pressure center. Note how the winds rotate in a clock-wise direction. This shows that the winds gradually move from northwest, to north, to northeast, and finally to an easterly direction. The rotation of the high's winds bring in the cold air from the northern part of the hemisphere.

These examples of the structure of weather pressure systems show why we get rains and low pressure with an approaching cold front, and then why we get the winds, dropping temperatures and high pressure conditions after it passes.

One other item of interest we can deduct from looking at a weather map is an indication of wind speed. Go to Figure 3. This a part of a weather map that shows the barometric pressure contour lines, or isobars. Just like contour lines on a topographical lake map, the closer the isobar lines the more rapid the change being depicted. In a topographical map, closer lines mean the depth is changing more rapidly. With isobar lines, they mean the pressure is changing either fast or slow as you move from Point A to Point B. But, what you and I get from isobars is an expectation of wind. The CLOSER the isobar lines are, the stronger the wind, and vice-versa.

So, there is our quick weather forecasting lesson. Watching the position and movement of the fronts, we can tell which direction to expect the wind and when to expect rain, or those bluebird skies. Take a look at the isobars associated with the fronts and we get an idea of the wind strength to expect.


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