Weather Characteristics

The earth is surrounded by an atmosphere that is divided into several layers. The world's weather systems are in the lower of these layers known as the "troposphere." This layer reaches as high as 40,000 feet. Weather is a result of an atmosphere, oceans, land masses, unequal heating and cooling from the sun, and the earth's rotation. The weather found in any one place depends on many things such as the air temperature, humidity (moisture content), air pressure (barometric pressure), how it is being moved, and if it is being lifted or not.

a. Air pressure is the "weight" of the atmosphere at any given place. The higher the pressure, the better the weather will be. With lower air pressure, the weather will more than likely be worse. In order to understand this, imagine that the air in the atmosphere acts like a liquid. Areas with a high level of this "liquid" exert more pressure on an area and are called high-pressure areas. Areas with a lower level are called low-pressure areas. The average air pressure at sea level is 29.92 inches of mercury (hg) or 1,013 millibars (mb). The higher in altitude, the lower the pressure.

(1) High Pressure. The characteristics of a high-pressure area are as follows:

• The airflow is clockwise and out.

• Otherwise known as an "anticyclone".

• Associated with clear skies.

• Generally the winds will be mild.

• Depicted as a blue "H" on weather maps.

(2) Low Pressure. The characteristics of a low-pressure area are as follows:

• The airflow is counterclockwise and in.

• Otherwise known as a "cyclone".

• Associated with bad weather.

• Depicted as a red "L" on weather maps.

b. Air from a high-pressure area is basically trying to flow out and equalize its pressure with the surrounding air. Low pressure, on the other hand, is building up vertically by pulling air in from outside itself, which causes atmospheric instability resulting in bad weather.

c. On a weather map, these differences in pressure are depicted as isobars. Isobars resemble contour lines and are measured in either millibars or inches of mercury. The areas of high pressure are called "ridges" and lows are called "troughs."

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