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WAVE CYCLONES

Wave cyclones form along fronts. Since our most familiar front is the polar front we will use this
one for our example. Here, the polar easterlies are blowing from east to west along the northern
side of the front, and the prevailing westerlies are blowing from west to east along the southern
side. At the front, waves will be formed, just exactly like waves are formed in the ocean.
Ocean waves are formed at the interface of two fluids of different densities -- air and water.
Atmospheric waves such as we are now talking about are also formed at such an interface. In
this case it is also the interface between two fluids of different densities, being colder, denser air
from the north and warmer, less dense air from the south.
As these winds blow past each other, ripples will form. They will form in ripples of different
sizes and lengths, and when the combinations are right, they will build from ripples into waves.
Let's take a look at one wave as it develops.
Starting with a straight-line polar front, under the right conditions a small ripple or wave will
begin to form. One it has begun, it will build in much the same fashion as an ocean wave does.
The warm mP air (westerly wind) from the south will now impinge on the south side of the
ripple, while the cold cP air from the north (easterly wind) will impinge on the north side.
This will build the wave deeper and deeper until at some point two things will happen. The
converging air will begin to revolve and lift, creating a local low pressure area, and as that
happens the low will become enclosed in roughly circular isobars, with a warm front at the head
of the mP air and a cold front behind it, where the leading edge of the following cP air is. These
two fronts originate at the apex of what was the original wave and fan out to the south.
This newly formed depression is what we know of as our synoptic scale weather maker. Once
formed it will track generally in the direction of the isobars in the warm sector, which will
generally be in the same direction as the (polar) front along which it was formed. This you will
note is also the direction of the upper air winds blowing along that front, namely the jet stream.
The cold front tends to move faster than the warm front. This means that as the depression
moves along, the cold front overtakes the warm front, first at the top near the center and
gradually farther and farther down. This is the occlusion of the system, and the new front thus
formed is the occluded front we have discussed. The net result is the gradual uplifting of the
warm sector of the depression to the point when the entire warm sector is lifted off the ground.
Once this happens the surface pressure gradient, and therefore the driving force for the system, is
lost and the low is said to fill and eventually disintegrate altogether.

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WEATHER ASSOCIATED WITH FRONTAL PASSAGE


The weather associated with our model frontal system provides a good way to describe the
weather building mechanics of the fronts. Of course this is an idealized system and nature rarely
follows such ideal patterns.
Figure 10-9 shows these cloud and precipitation patterns. Figure 10-10 (in The Atmosphere)
shows a satellite image of a nearly ideal system. Remembering that the winds aloft are generally
westerly, and it is the winds aloft that generally guide the surface depressions, we can accept that
these systems will move from east to west, more or less. Sometimes these systems can move in a
more northerly direction, especially east of the Mississippi. The systems move at a rate of about
20 to 50 km/hr (10 to 25 kts) and so cover between 240 to 600 nm per day.
If you are an observer at point A, the system will move over you so that you will end up (relative
to the system) at point E. The first signs you will see are the high, wispy mare's tails, or Ci.
These may be 1000 km (over 500 nm) ahead of the warm front. The barometer will begin to fall.
How fast it is falling may indicate the speed of approach or the intensity of the low. Over the
next 12 to 24 hours, the clouds will thicken and lower, from Ci to Cs to As to S and finally the
precipitation will begin with the Ns clouds.
As the front arrives, precipitation increases, and as it passes the temperature will rise, the
barometer will stop falling, and the wind will shift from SE to SW. (Note that this is a veering
wind. (A shift counter-clockwise is called a backing wind.)The precipitation will stop, the skies
will become mostly clear, although Ac or Cu may well be present due to the moisture content of
the warm air. These conditions will remain mostly steady until the near approach of the cold
front, a day or two later. Once you see the Cb clouds identifying the cold front it will be upon
you shortly, within a couple of hours. This brings the more vigorous and sometimes violent
weather of the cold front. Cb clouds, heavy downpours, thunderstorms, possibly hail, tornadoes,
and microbursts come with the abrupt passage of the cold front.
Sometimes a line of squall-line thunderstorms precedes the front by a short distance, but these
can be violent too, so they are not a warning of any use to us. The best warning is to know it will
be coming, watch the western sky, watch the barometer for the beginning of a rise, watch the
thermometer for the beginning of a rise, and watch the winds for the beginning of a shift from
the SW to the NW.
When the cold front passes all of the above occur and there will be a period of cold, clear high
pressure for a day or three before the next system comes along.
An observer located at position F, however, will observe a very different set of conditions as the
center of the low passes south of them. This observer will pass through the occluded portion of
the storm, and furthermore their winds will be out of the north--backing around from the E to the
NE to the NW. All this wind will be drawing down cold air from the north into this observer's
part of the system, so this area will more likely get snow, while the observer to the south is
getting rain or sleet.

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There will be no sharp contrasts at the fronts such as we saw farther south, but rather a general
drop in temperature and pressure as the occluded front approaches, a general and solid overcast
area with continuous precipitation.
The occluded front moves slower than the others, so it tends to drag behind, thus "lasting" longer
than the other parts of the storm. Furthermore the occluded portion tends to be the most violent,
with the strongest winds and heaviest precipitation, at least until the occlusion is complete and
the system begins to fill.

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