A. All of these factors are related to air pressure, which is the weight of the atmosphere at any given place. The lower the pressure, the more likely are rain and strong winds.
B. In order to understand this we can say that the air in our atmosphere acts very much like a liquid.
C. Areas with a high level of this liquid would exert more pressure on the Earth and be called a "high pressure area".
D. Areas with a lower level would be called a "low pressure area".
E. In order to equalize the areas of high pressure it would have to push out to the areas of low pressure.
F. The characteristics of these two pressure areas are as follows:
(1) High-pressure area. Flows out to equalize pressure.
(2) Low-pressure area. Flows in to equalize pressure.
G. The air from the high-pressure area is basically just trying to gradually flow out to equalize its pressure with the surrounding air; while the low pressure is beginning to build vertically. Once the low has achieved equal pressure, it can't stop and continues to build vertically; causing turbulence, which results in bad weather.
NOTE: When looking on the weather map, you will notice that these resemble contour lines. They are called "isobars " and are translated to mean, "equal pressure area".
H. Isobars. Pressure is measured in millibars or another more common measurement -"inches mercury".
I. Fitting enough, areas of high pressure are called "ridges" and areas of low pressure are called "troughs".
NOTE: The average air pressure at sea level is:
29.92 inches mercury.
J. As we go up in elevation, the pressure (or weight) of the atmosphere decreases.
EXAMPLE: At 18,000 feet in elevation it would be 500 millibars vice 1,013
millibars at sea level.
3. HUMIDITY. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air. All air holds water vapor, although it is quite invisible.
A. Air can hold only so much water vapor, but the warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. When the air has all the water vapor that it can hold, the air is said to be saturated (100% relative humidity).
B. If the air is then cooled, any excess water vapor condenses; that is, it's molecules join to build the water droplets we can see.
C. The temperature at which this happens is called the "condensation point". The condensation point varies depending on the amount of water vapor and the temperature of the air.
D. If the air contains a great deal of water vapor, condensation will form at a temperature of 20OC (68OF). But if the air is rather dry and does not hold much moisture, condensation may not form until the temperature drops to 0OC (32OF) or even below freezing.
E. Adiabatic Lapse Rate. The adiabatic lapse rate is the rate that air will cool on ascent and warm on descent. The rate also varies depending on the moisture content of the air.
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4. WINDS. As we stated earlier, the uneven heating of the air by the sun and rotation of the earth causes winds. Much of the world's weather depends on a system of winds that blow in a set direction. This pattern depends on the different amounts of sun (heat) that the different regions get and also on the rotation of the earth.
A. Above hot surfaces rising air creates a void. Cool air moves into and settles into the void. The cool air is either warmed up and begins to rise or it settles. This is dependent upon the sun's thermal energy. The atmosphere is always trying to equalize between high pressure and low pressure. On a large scale, this forms a circulation of air from the poles along the surface or the earth to the equator, where it rises and moves towards the poles again.
B. Once the rotation of the earth is added to this, the pattern of the circulation becomes confusing.
C. Because of the heating and cooling, along with the rotation of the earth, we have these surfaces winds. All winds are named from the direction they originated from:
(1) Polar Easterlies. These are winds from the polar region moving from the east. This is air that has cooled and settled at the poles.
(2) Prevailing Westerlies. These winds originate from approximately 30 degrees North Latitude from the west. This is an area where prematurely cooled air, due to the earth's rotation, has settled back to the surface.
(3) Northeast Tradewinds. These are winds that originate from approximately 30 degrees North from the Northeast. Also prematurely cooled air.
D. J et Stream. A jet stream can be defined as a long, meandering current of high speed winds near the tropopause (transition zone between the troposphere and the stratosphere) blowing from generally a westerly direction and often exceeding 250 miles per hour. The jet stream results from:
(1) Circulation of air around the poles and Equator.
(2) The direction of air flow above the mid latitudes.
(3) The actual path of the jet stream comes from the west, dipping down and picking up air masses from the tropical regions and going north and bringing down air masses from the polar regions.
NOTE: The average number of long waves in the jet stream is between three and five depending on the season. Temperature differences between polar and tropical regions influence this. The long waves influence day to week changes in the weather; there are also short waves that influence hourly changes in the weather.
E. Here are some other types of winds that are peculiar to mountain environments but don't necessarily affect the weather:
(1) Anabatic wind. These are winds that blow up mountain valleys to replace warm rising air and are usually light winds.
(2) Katabatic wind. These are winds that blow down mountain valley slopes caused by the cooling of air and are occasionally strong winds.
5. AIR MASSES. As we know, all of these patterns move air. This air comes in parcels known as "air masses". These air masses can vary in size from as small as a town to as large as a country. These air masses are named for where they originate:
A. Maritime. Over water.
B. Continental. Over land.
C. Polar. Above 60 degrees North.
D. Tropical. Below 60 degrees North.
E. Combining these give us the names and description of the four types of air masses:
(1) Continental Polar. Cold, dry air mass.
(2) Maritime Polar. Cold, wet air mass.
(3) Continental Tropical. Dry, warm air mass.
(4) Maritime Tropical. Wet, warm air mass.
F. The thing to understand about air masses, they will not mix with another air mass of a different temperature and moisture content. When two different air masses collide, we have a front which will be covered in more detail later in this period of instruction.
6. LIFTING/COOLING. As we know, air can only hold so much moisture depending on it's temperature. If we cool this air beyond its saturation point, it must release this moisture in one form or another, i.e. rain, snow, fog, dew, etc. There are three ways that air can be lifted and cooled beyond its saturation point.
A. Orographic uplift. This happens when an air mass is pushed up and over a mass of higher ground such as a mountain. Due to the adiabatic lapse rate, the air is cooled with altitude and if it reaches its saturation point we will receive precipitation.
B. Convention effects. This is normally a summer effect due to the sun's heat radiating off of the surface and causing the air currents to push straight up and lift air to a point of saturation.
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