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Dewpoint Barometric Pressure Pressure Trend Current

Wind Wind Gust

Heat Index Wind Run Wind Chill Precip Rate
Solar Energy Wet Bulb Temp Soil Temp
Return to Weather Site
Dew point
Dew point is the temperature to which air must be cooled for saturation (100%
relative humidity) to occur. The dew point is an important measurement used to
predict the formation of dew, frost, and fog. If dew point and temperature are
close together in the late afternoon when the air begins to turn colder, fog is likely
during the night. Dew forms when the air temperature is equal to or lower than
the dew point temperature, and the dew point temperature is above freezing.
Frost forms when the air temperature is equal to or lower than the dew point
temperature, and the dew point temperature--technically called the frost point
temperature--is below freezing. Dew point is also a good indicator of the airs
actual water vapor content, unlike relative humidity, which takes the airs
temperature into account. High dew point indicates high vapor content; low dew
point indicates low vapor content. In addition a high dew point indicates a better
chance of rain and severe thunderstorms. You can even use dew point to predict
the minimum overnight temperature. Provided no fronts or other weather pattern
changes are expected overnight , the afternoons dew point gives you an idea of
what minimum temperature to expect overnight, since the air is not likely to get
colder than the dew point anytime during the night. This is due to the release of
latent heat energy as water vapor changes phase from gas to liquid or gas to
solid, the overnight low temperature rarely drops below the dew point
temperature. Dew point depression (air temperature minus the dew point
temperature) vs. cloud coverage &/or cloud height (In general, when the surface
dew point depression is small, skies will be overcast and cloud bases close to the
Earth's surface.) Also a dew point of 70 F or higher makes the conditions
uncomfortable for strenuous activities as the body get very little help from
evaporative cooling. There is a fine line between being damp and being humid
and is determined by the how strenuous the person's activity is at that time.
Glen Allen Dew Point


Answers: Light, moderate, and heavy fog By Jack Williams 2012 Q: I have seen
heavy fog defined as having a visibility of less than 0.3 miles. But have never see
what defines a moderate or light fog. Is there some standard? Glen Allen, Va. A:
This sounds like a pretty simple question, but isnt. First, heres the definition of
fog from the American Meteorological Societys (AMS) Glossary of Weather and
Climate: A visible aggregate of minute water droplets suspended in the
atmosphere near the earths surface; a cloud in contact with the earths surface.
Fog is responsible for reducing visibility to less than 1 kilometer (5/8 mile).
Aviation weather observations and forecasts, intended for pilots, use fog when
it reduces visibility to 5/8 statute miles or less. Mist is reported and foerecast
for foggy conditions with visibility greater than 5/8 miles. Like you, Ive seen
NWS offices use the terms heavy fog, moderate fog, or light fog, but I
couldnt find these terms in the NWS online Glossary or the AMS Glossary. I
asked Chris Vaccaro, the NWS public relations chief. He sent me the following
from Paul Stokols, whos with the NWS Public Weather Services Branch: The
only official definition of fog intensity that I am aware of is in our directive for non
precipitation products (10-515) which defines a Dense Fog Advisory as a
product issued for Widespread or localized fog reducing visibilities to 1/4 mile or
less. The Weather element allows forecasters to differentiate between F+ (heavy
or Dense fog) , F (Fog or Moderate Fog), and F- (Light Fog) and the computer
worded forecasts pick up on these distinctions. However, there is no national
standard for these definitions. He notes that most NWS forecast offices would
use the code for heavy fog when the visibility is less than 1/4 mile, just fog
when the visibility is between 1/4 mile to 1 mile and light fog for visibility of 1
miles or more. These tend to be set by forecasters based on local climatology
for frequency of occurrence.
Glen Allen Camera to see Local Visibility

Barometric Pressure
The air that makes up our atmosphere exerts a pressure on the surface of the
earth. This pressure is known as atmospheric pressure. Generally, the more air
above an area, the higher the atmospheric pressure. This, in turn, means that
atmospheric pressure changes with altitude. For example, atmospheric pressure
is greater at sea-level than on a mountaintop. To compensate for this difference in
pressure at different elevations, and to facilitate comparison between locations
with different altitudes, meteorologists adjust atmospheric pressure so that it
reflects what the pressure would be if measured at sea-level. This adjusted
pressure is known as barometric pressure.
Barometric pressure changes with local weather conditions, making barometric
pressure an important and useful weather forecasting tool. High pressure zones

are generally associated with fair weather, while low pressure zones are generally
associated with poor weather. For forecasting purposes, the absolute barometric
pressure value is generally less important than the change in barometric
In general, rising pressure indicates improving weather conditions,
while falling pressure indicates deteriorating weather conditions.
Air pressure often indicates cloud coverage
Also cloud coverage generally indicates the daily maximum and minimum air
temperature range (In general, there is a greater temperature range when skies are clear, and a
smaller temperature range when skies are overcast.)
(In general, low air pressure is associated with cloudiness and a chance of
precipitation; high pressure is associated with fair weather and clear skies.)
Wind is cause by air flowing from higher pressure into lower pressure.
What causes pressure differences?
The high and low pressure systems usually develop due to temperature
Temperature differences result in pressure differences and this causes the air to
move Thus, the greater the change in the air pressure the greater the possibility
of strong winds. When it is windy outside, often there is a low pressure system
the air is moving toward. How fast the wind blows will depend on the pressure
differences between the high and low pressure systems. Very fast winds often
occur near cold fronts, low pressure systems. Wind can also blow faster when it
is forced into a narrow space. This can happen between buildings and within
mountain passes. Thus the following saying-- The higher the high and the lower
the low, the faster the wind will flow from the high to the low, and the stronger the
winds will blow.
Glen Allen Barometric Pressure - Scroll down to see the daily wind and pressure graphs .

Pressure Trend
"Rising Rapidly" - pressure increases more than 2 mb (>0.06") over past three
"Rising Slowly" - pressure increases more than 1 mb but less than 2 mb (> 0.02"
but < 0.06") over past three hours
"Steady" - pressure changes less than 1 mb (< 0.02") over past three hours
"Falling Slowly" - pressure falls more than 1 mb but less than 2 mb (> 0.02" but <
0.06") over past three hours
"Falling Rapidly" - pressure decreases more than 2 mb (>0.06") over past three

Wind Direction vs. Temperature - - When the wind is coming from the north, air temperatures are usually cooler;
Southerly winds usually bring warmer temperatures.
Along the East Coast of the U.S., easterly winds usually bring cooler air onshore during the
Summer and warmer air onshore during the Winter.

Sustained Wind
Sustained wind is the average direction and speed for the last 2 minutes.

Wind gust represents the highest wind speed observed in the last 10 minutes. Gusts are
displayed if the gust speed is above 10 mph and at least 5 mph higher than the current (2
minute average) wind speed.
Glen Allen Wind Information - Scroll down to see the daily wind and pressure graphs .

Solar Energy
What we call "Solar Energy" is technically known as global solar radiation, a
measure of the intensity of the suns radiation reaching a horizontal surface. The
Vantage Pro solar sensor measures both the direct sunlight component and the
diffuse (reflected & scattered light) component from the rest of the sky. The solar
radiation reading gives a measure in Watts per square meter (W/m 2). High Solar
Energy is the peak solar radiation measured during the calendar day.
By comparing the observed solar energy to the maximum possible for a given
time of the day and year a probable sky condition can be determined. Maximum
possible solar energy is derived by computing the deviation from the known solar
constant (1366 W/m2) as a function of the cosine of the sun's elevation above the
local horizon. Clear sky attenuation is applied to this value, as a cosine function
of the sun's elevation. The most intense possible radiation is always at solar
noon and tapers to zero at sunrise and sunset. Percent possible intensity is
displayed after the radiation value.
Glen Allen Solar Radiation Information - Scroll down to see the daily wind and
pressure graphs .

Heat Index
The Heat Index uses the temperature and the relative humidity to determine how
hot the air actually "feels." When humidity is low, the apparent temperature will
be lower than the air temperature, since perspiration evaporates rapidly to cool
the body. However, when humidity is high (i.e., the air is saturated with water
vapor) the apparent temperature "feels" higher than the actual air temperature,
because perspiration evaporates more slowly. (The daily high temperature
usually occurs sometime during the afternoon between 1PM and 3PM
Glen Allen Heat Index Information in Right Column

Wind Run

Wind run is measurement of the "amount" of wind passing the station during a
given period of time, expressed in either "miles of wind" or "kilometers of wind".
WeatherLink calculates wind run by multiplying the average wind speed for each
archive record by the archive interval.
For Example:
Average Wind Speed = 5 mph
Archive Interval = 30 minutes (0.5 hours)
Wind Run = 5 mph x 0.5 hours = 2.5 miles of wind
A Weather Station uses a 5 minute archive interval.
Then the 5 minute archive records are totaled for the 24 hour period from
midnight to midnight giving the wind run for the day in miles.
Glen Allen Wind Run Information near the Bottom of the Chart

Wind Chill
Wind chill temperature is how cold people and animals feel when outside. Wind
chill quantifies the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold.
As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down skin
temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. Therefore, the wind
makes it FEEL much colder. If the temperature is 0F and the wind is blowing at
15 mph, the wind chill is -19F. At this wind chill temperature, exposed skin can
freeze in 30 minutes.
The only effect wind chill has on inanimate objects, such as car radiators and
water pipes, is to shorten the amount of time for the object to cool. The
inanimate object cannot cool below the actual air temperature. For example, if
the temperature outside is -5F and the wind chill temperature is -31F,
then your car's radiator will not drop lower than -5F.
Note: 10-minute average wind speed is used to calculate wind chill
Glen Allen Wind Chill Information in the Third Column of the Chart

Precipitation Rate
The precipitation rate is calculated by measuring the time interval between each
measured precipitation increment of .01". When there is precipitation within the
archive period, the highest measured value is reported. When precipitation ends,
the rain rate will slowly decay based on the elapse time since the last measured
precipitation. If no precipitation is measured for 15 minutes the precipitation rate
is reset to zero.

Evaporation is the estimated amount of water vapor returned to the air based on
measured temperature, relative humidity, average wind speed, and solar

Wet Bulb Temperature

The wet bulb temperature is a measure of the amount of moisture, in the form of
invisible water vapor contained in the air. As the name implies it is measured by a
standard thermometer whose bulb is covered by a muslin sleeve that has been
moistened by pure water. This is the temperature air can be cooled to by

evaporating water into it and therefore the wet bulb temperature provides a good
estimate of how far temperatures will fall if it starts raining or snowing.
The principle of the wet bulb thermometer is as follows; water evaporates from
the muslin cover passing into the air in the form of invisible water vapor. In so
doing it absorbs heat from the thermometer bulb. The thermometer therefore
indicates a lower temperature than that of the dry bulb thermometer. The
difference between the readings of the dry and the wet thermometers is called the
depression of the wet bulb.
If the air contains nearly all the moisture it can possibly hold, evaporation from
the muslin will be slight and the depression of the wet bulb will be small.
However, if the air is very dry, containing little moisture, evaporation will be quite
rapid and the depression of the wet bulb will be quite large. In hot dry desert
climates depressions of over 25C have been observed, but at sea the depression
is seldom more than 5C. If the air contains all the moisture it can possibly hold,
there is no evaporation from the muslin, and the dry and wet bulb thermometers
will read the same. When this condition exists the air is said to be saturated.
Provided that the wet bulb is adequately moistened and given proper ventilation,
its reading will always be equal to or less than that of the dry bulb when the air
temperature is above freezing. Under certain conditions when the air temperature
is below freezing and there is ice on the wet bulb, its reading may be slightly
higher than the dry bulb. This is called a negative depression and usually occurs
with fog or precipitation. Negative depressions are rare.

Soil Temperature
Soil temperature is reported to the nearest degree Fahrenheit and is measured at
a depth of 5 inches and 12 inches depth beneath a grassy surface. This data is at
the following link.
Glen Allen Soil Temperatures - Scroll down to see the Weekly and Monthly Graphs

Sea & Weather (7)

Predicting imminent local weather


Prediction from local observations The origin of wind Atmospheric pressure Global circulation
Air masses Coastal weather in Europe The classic depression The classic anticyclone Fog
Professional Weather Forecasts Wind Waves
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"Mr Simple, I think we shall have some bad weather. The moon looks greasy and the stars want
snuffing. You'll have two reefs in the topsails afore morning."
Peter Simple, by Captain Frederick Marryat, 1834

Sea kayakers don't really need to predict sunshine, rain, temperature or humidity. Even the sea
state and ocean swell are seldom important except at an exposed beach. But we do need to know
the likely strength and direction of the wind. See Beaufort Scale For Kayakers.
A professional weather forecast gives accurate regional predictions but weather can vary quite a
lot over a distance of just a few kilometres, especially when a cold front is passing overhead.
There is a lot to be said for "nowcasting" which means using what you can personally see, hear
and feel to predict what is about to happen locally. If you get into the habit of keeping an eye on
the sky you can draw useful conclusions from local wind, cloud and atmospheric pressure.
Especially if you're willing to altimeter / barometer to record atmospheric pressure every
three hours.
Prediction from local observations

Look to windward for a good idea what weather you will experience in the next 30-60 minutes.
Dark clouds and rain usually mean strong winds. However strong winds also come under
cloudless skies so it is worth knowing more.
The origin of wind

Global winds
Some of the winds we experience are part of a planetary pattern which includes the Roaring
Forties and the Trade Winds. The prevailing south-westerly winds in Britain are part of this
pattern. See Global Circulation.
Low and high pressure systems
When air is heated, it expands and rises. At the bottom of any column of rising warm air is a
zone of low pressure. From all around, cooler, denser air flows towards it and is sucked upwards.
This familiar process of convection happens over a candle flame. It happens over a field of wheat
on a sunny day, creating small fluffy cumulus clouds and thermals for glider pilots.
It may happen over half an ocean if cold water is penetrated by a warmer current. Air picks up
warmth from the warmer water, expands, rises in a column, and cools at altitude until the
moisture within it condenses into clouds. The Coriolis effect of the Earth's rotation makes the
rising column of air rotate like water going down a plughole. Surface winds are created as air is
sucked into the base of the column. A weather system arises which is called a low or, in Europe,

a depression. Technically it's one example of a cyclone. Low pressure systems are strongly
associated with clouds and rain.
A high pressure system (air descending from high altitude, high pressure, usually fine weather) is
known as a high or anticyclone.
Local winds
Some winds are caused by local geography. In temperate climates with no nearby mountains they
seldom exceed 5 knots, so on their own they are not enough to affect a kayak trip but they can
turn a Force 3 wind into a Force 2 or 4.
Sea winds, also known as inflow winds, arise when the land heats up during the day. The air over
it starts to rise, drawing in cooler air from the sea. At night the land temperature falls below that
of the sea and the wind reverses.
In temperate Britain, the clear, calm weather of a summer anticyclone often encourages the
development of a sea breeze of 5 knots by mid-afternoon.
Sea winds are strongest in the tropics but they can be powerful in places along the coast of any
large land mass. According to the US Pilot Guide to the west coast "heating of the North
American continent helps draw air into the Strait of Juan de Fuca [between Vancouver Island
and the USA]. This sea breeze helps reinforce the prevailing [south-westerly] flow and results in
winds up to 30 knots in the late afternoon".
Valley winds occur where a range of mountains stands alongside a valley. On a hot summer
morning, the sun rapidly heats the air above the upper slopes of the mountain which becomes
warmer than the valley. An anabatic wind starts to blow up the valley and up the sides of the
mountains. Anabatic winds are usually quite gentle.
Later in the day, air temperatures in the valley increase above those on the mountain tops.
Relatively cold, dense air sinks into the valley and carries on descending, down the valley
towards the sea as a katabatic or fall wind. Especially if they come from a glacier or snowcovered mountains, katabatic winds can be powerful, causing sudden fierce winds far out to sea
and making life interesting for sea kayakers in a river mouth.
In Britain, katabatic winds seldom exceed 5 knots. On the coast of British Columbia, Squamish
winds sweep down fjords to the sea. In winter they arrive at the sea doing 35 knots and
sometimes a lot more. In the area of Juneau, Alaska, the cold descending Taku wind can be
Probably the best-known katabatic wind in Europe is the Mistral, which is created by cold air
from the Alps sinking into the Rhone valley, racing down the Rhone, over Marseille and south

out to sea. Other similar winds are the Bora which blows from the Balkans south-west over the
Adriatic, and the Meltemi which blows south over the Greek islands. They tend to start in the
early afternoon and blow at Force 4-7 until sunset. The Sailing Directions for the North Atlantic
& Mediterranean published by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency list thirty-seven
other winds of this sort in the Mediterranean alone. Last time we looked, the Sailing Directions
could be downloaded from this page on the site.
Fhn winds. Not a problem for sea kayakers, but worth mentioning. Where mountains stand by
the sea, it is well known that an onshore wind will be forced upwards until it sheds its moisture
as cloud and rain. If the prevailing wind is onshore, the usual weather on a mountainous coast is
overcast, wet and cool and the natural landscape is forest, boulders shaggy with moss, frequent
steep rivers and patches of bog. However if the wind blows offshore the coast may be warm and
dry because of fhn winds. Having already been forced up over the mountains from inland, wind
reaching the sea is dry and perhaps as much as 10C (18F) warmer than on the other side of the
Atmospheric pressure

We live at the bottom of a deep sea of air which imposes on us a pressure of about 1 kilogram per
square centimetre (14 pounds per square inch).
Atmospheric pressure is measured with a barometer and recorded in millibars (mb), otherwise
known as hectoPascals (hPa). The first barometer was a long glass tube sealed at one end, filled
with mercury and turned upside down. Its inventor, Torricelli, found that average atmospheric
pressure at sea level would support a column of mercury nearly 30 inches high in the tube, and
atmospheric pressure is still occasionally stated in inches of mercury (inHg).
Average pressure at sea level is defined as 1 atmosphere which is 1013 mb or 29.92 inHg.
Depressions are areas of low pressure which arise when warm air starts to rise above colder air
alongside. Air moves constantly into any depression from neighbouring areas of higher pressure,
in the form of wind. The greater the pressure difference, the stronger the wind.
The pressure at the centre of a deep depression may be 940 mb, a pressure difference of 70 mb
which will create strong winds or gales. If the atmospheric pressure where you are is falling
rapidly, it is a warning of imminent bad weather. Weather forecasts for shipping state the rate of
pressure change, usually as the amount by which the pressure has fallen or risen over the last
three hours. A pressure change of 0.1 to 1.5 mb in that period means isobars quite far apart,
winds gentle or moderate. A decrease in pressure of more than 6 mb in three hours means isobars
close together, winds strong and possibly getting much stronger. Some expedition sea kayakers
keep an eye on the rate of pressure change by wearing a wrist altimeter, which is just a digital

High pressure systems also create wind but the greatest pressure is seldom more than 1030 mb, a
pressure difference of only 15 mb. See The Classic Anticyclone below.
Just as contour lines on an ordinary map indicate a hill or valley by joining points of equal
height, so the isobars on a meteorological map indicate depressions and anticyclones by joining
points where the pressure is the same. If contour lines on a map are very close together they
indicate a steep hill, with the slope descending at a right-angle to the contour. Isobars very close
together indicate an intense pressure system with strong winds.
One might expect the wind to blow at a right-angle to the isobars, directly towards the lowest
pressure. In fact it blows nearly parallel to the isobars. This is caused by the rotation of the Earth,
and can be seen in the swirling spiral shape of clouds on satellite photos of a depression. In the
northern hemisphere, the wind blows anticlockwise round the centre of a low and clockwise
round the centre of a high.
Global circulation

Heated by the sun, air at the Equator constantly rises and spreads out at high altitude. It cools,
descends at the Poles and blows back towards the Equator.
The convection pattern resembles that over a candle flame, but the Earth's rotation and
differential heating of land and sea mean that it is complex and has seasonal changes. A lot of air
from the Equator cools and descends long before it reaches the Poles, along parallel lines about
35 degrees north and south of the Equator. The pattern is further distorted by differential heating
of central Asia in summer, resulting in monsoons. The result looks something like this. High
pressure is shown in red, low pressure in blue, and continuous winds in black. The Poles are not

There is always low atmospheric pressure at the Equator. There is always high atmospheric
pressure at the Poles and in northern Canada. There are belts of high atmospheric pressure along
the 35 degree lines or Horse Latitudes. Constant high pressure exists in the Atlantic around the
Azores and St Helena; in the Pacific west of California and Chile; and west of Australia.
Winds blow constantly from high pressure to low pressure. Because the Earth rotates, these
winds do not blow directly north-south but at an angle. This accounts for the westerly winds of
the Roaring Forties, north Atlantic and north Pacific, and the easterly Trade Winds each side of
the Equator.
Air masses

High altitude air descending to the Arctic is cold and will still be cold when it reaches Europe or
Canada. Unless it passed over an ocean on the way, it will also be dry. That makes it a "polar
continental" air mass.
High altitude air descending into the Azores High or the Pacific High gets warm and moist when
it reaches sea level, which makes it a "tropical maritime" air mass.
In the northern hemisphere, polar air masses spread out southward until they meet a northbound
tropical air mass. Because of their different heat and humidity, they don't easily mix. Warm
tropical air tends to ride up over cold, dense polar air. The line where they collide is parallel to
the Equator at about 50 degrees north, about the latitude of England and the US/Canadian border.
It is called the polar front, and it is unstable.

Rather than stay as a straight line, it often develops notches or "frontal waves". In the northern
hemisphere (illustrated) a swirl of cold air penetrates towards the Equator and warm air is carried
north. The black arrows show the direction of local winds at the front.
Where the tropical air meets cold Arctic air it rises, cools down and its moisture condenses into
clouds. The lines where the warm and cold air masses meet are called fronts and there you will
find cloud and wind. At a warm front, warm air is rising gently over cold air. On a weather map,
a warm front is conventionally marked as a line with semicircles. At the cold front, cold dense air
is wedging itself vigorously under warm air. This is marked as a line with triangles. If the cold
air mass slides underneath and lifts the warm air right off the ground you have an occluded front,
shown on weather maps as a line of alternate triangles and semicircles.
For most of us in temperate regions, the weather consists of one front after another. If a frontal
wave deepens, the warm moist air may become the "warm sector"of a classic depression. The
Earth's rotation causes depressions in the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere to spin
anticlockwise and move slowly to the east (blue arrows on the synoptic map below) producing
wind, cloud and rain.
Coastal weather in Europe

Climate is what you expect for the season, weather is what you get on the day.
Climate. The Atlantic coast of Europe is a cool, wet, windy place. The prevailing wind is south
westerly (it blows from the south west). By the time it reaches the coast, it has picked up a lot of
moisture which it drops when it reaches land and is forced upwards.
Unlike central and eastern Europe which have a continental climate with hot summers and cold
winters, the Atlantic coast has a temperate climate with cool wet summers and warm wet winters.
Scotland is further north than Moscow, on the same latitude as Hudson Bay and Labrador. One
might expect the sea to freeze in winter but in fact it is unusual for there to be even snow at sea
level. This is one effect of a northern swirl of the Gulf Stream known as the North Atlantic Drift.
Air temperatures at sea level in Britain are generally within the range 3 to 23 degrees centigrade /
Celsius, although they can spend a week as low as -2 or as high as 35 degrees. The north of
Scotland is typically 3-5 degrees cooler than the south of England.
Sea temperatures are, in summer, 14 to 16 degrees centigrade in England and Ireland and about
13 degrees in Scotland. Winter sea temperatures around Britain are usually between 6 and 9

Weather. The warmth has a price. The presence of the North Atlantic Drift in an otherwise cold
ocean powers rising columns of relatively warm air.
In other words, depressions up to 5000 km wide. These rotate anticlockwise while moving
slowly to the east (blue arrows), producing wind (red arrows), cloud and rain. They arrive on the
coast of Europe one after the other.
Especially in high latitudes and on coast which is directly exposed to the Atlantic, the weather
can change a lot in a short time.
Because northern Europe lies on the polar front it gets winds both from the Arctic and from the
Azores. The origin of the wind, and whether it passed mainly over land ("continental") or sea
("maritime") on the way, determines its warmth and its moisture content. That makes the
difference between a nice day and a bad one. An airstream reaching Britain from the south-west
is tropical maritime. It is warm and laden with moisture picked up over the Atlantic. This means
grey skies, mist and rain as it cools down. An airstream reaching Britain from the north east is
polar continental. It brings cold dry air from Scandinavia and arctic Russia.
In winter, the Mediterranean is dominated by the temperate low pressure belt. Winter
temperatures in the Mediterranean are not far off those of a British summer and there is frequent
wind and rain. The Mediterranean summer climate is very different to that of northern Europe
because the sun brings the subtropical high pressure belt northwards, which means constant
warm dry weather.
The classic depression

Depressions in temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere slowly rotate anticlockwise

while moving east.
The speed and direction of wind in the warm sector gives a good indication of the speed and
direction of travel of the whole depression. It can move east at anything from zero to 60 knots
but usually travels at 15 to 20 knots. So the weather you have today is more or less the weather
they had yesterday 500 km to the west.
A depression is a complex three-dimensional shape. Surface winds are just the bottom layer of it.
The isobars on a weather map show what is happening at sea level but above that is a column of
rising air. Into the base of this is drawn a swirl of warm, damp air from the south. This makes up
the warm sector of a depression. On a weather map, the warm sector classically takes the shape
of a rose thorn. In the northern hemisphere the eastern edge of the warm sector is called the
warm front, and the western edge is the cold front.

Each front forms a line from the centre to the outside edge, usually extending east and south
from the centre of the depression. The centre of a classic depression passes to the north of
Britain, so its warm and cold fronts bring cloud, rain and wind to the whole country. If the centre
of a depression passes to the south of you, you may still experience cloud and rain but you will
not get the strong wind and rapid change of wind direction associated with a cold front.
What do you feel and see as a depression passes over your location? If its centre is between you
and the nearest Pole you will see a characteristic succession of clouds. On this diagram the warm
sector is shown in pink; the warm front is the shallow gradient on the right; the cold front is the
steep gradient on the left with the thunderstorm; and the blue arrow shows the direction in which
the depression is travelling. The horizontal scale is 2500 km and the exaggerated vertical scale is
8000 metres.

The classic signs of an approaching warm front are:

Cirrus clouds (abbreviation Ci) and pressure starting to fall. Cirrus are high-altitude clouds of
ice crystals, appearing as white wisps and streaks ("mares tails") against a blue sky. They are up
in the jet stream, probably 750 km or more ahead of the warm front so on the weather map
above, that is what you would see in southern Norway. Depressions travel in the same direction
as the jet stream, and the streaks of cirrus point back to the centre of the depression. In the
northern hemisphere, if you stand with your back to the surface wind and the cirrus clouds show
that the centre of the approaching depression is to your left, the weather is about to deteriorate.
This is the "crossed winds rule". Over the next 24 hours you are likely to see a continued steady
fall in atmospheric pressure accompanied by...
Cirrostratus (abbreviation Cs). Below cirrus but still quite high. Cirrostratus covers most or all
of the sky in a very thin layer through which the sun can often be seen. On the weather map
above, that's the weather in the North Sea. Then...
Altostratus (abbreviation As). Below cirrostratus. Grey, overcast weather, perhaps drizzle.
Nimbostratus (Ns). Below altostratus. Low or very low rain clouds covering the sky in a thick
grey or dark layer. On a television weather forecast, you will often see a north-south belt of

continuous light rain 75 km wide, slowly heading east. This is the warm front. On the image
above, it is over north-east Scotland. As it goes over you, the wind veers (shifts in a clockwise
direction). Typically, a south wind becomes a west wind.
Between the warm front and the approaching cold front is the warm sector. This is a mass of
warm moist air, steadily losing its heat to the surface and to the cold air on each side. As it does
so, it cools down and sheds its moisture as haze, drizzle, low flat grey cloud (stratus or St), and
mist or fog which is the same thing but at ground level.
After 1 to 12 hours the cold front arrives. You may see it coming, as a wall of dark cloud on the
western horizon. The higher and darker the wall, the more violent the wind and rain. On the
image above, it has just reached the west coast of Ireland where they can expect:
Cumulonimbus (Cn). Tall, thick clouds which are low and often dark at the base. Expect an
hour or so of heavy rain and strong winds. There may be tall, black clouds with thunder and very
strong, gusty line squalls at sea level. As the front passes overhead, the atmospheric pressure
starts to rise again, sometimes sharply. The air temperature drops. You will probably notice a
sharp change of wind direction. Again, the wind veers, typically from south-west to north-west.
Except for the rain, visibility improves. Then...
Cumulus (Cu), cumulonimbus, stratocumulus (Sc). After the cold front there is often an
unstable period of low thick cloud, wind and showery rain. Then...
Altostratus. Grey, overcast, showery weather with an increase in atmospheric pressure. Then...
Cirrostratus. And maybe blue skies.
Classically, atmospheric pressure will steadily rise for 24 hours after the cold front passes and
then settle at a little more than 1000 mb. If it rises only slightly and then starts to go down,
probably another depression is in the way.
The classic anticyclone

On a weather map, a high may be as wide as a depression but its isobars are usually further apart,
indicating a smaller pressure difference and less wind. There is no warm sector, no fronts, and
wind created by an anticyclone blows the opposite way to that in a depression - outwards. In the
northern hemisphere, winds in an anticyclone blow clockwise. In the image above, an
anticyclone is sitting over central Europe.
High pressure is often associated with long periods of calm dry weather. In winter, this
classically means grey and overcast weather but in summer it means clear, sunny skies with a
slight haze. Occasionally it brings fog in coastal waters.

A high pressure area established in a particular location will affect the weather by deflecting
depressions so that they fade out or go elsewhere. There is almost always a high pressure area in
the Pacific west of California. A high pressure area often establishes itself temporarily over
Britain, Scandinavia or central or southern Europe.

Fog consists of water droplets condensing out of the air, which happens when relatively warm,
moist air is chilled. It can be defined as cloud at ground level. Mist reduces visibility to between
1000 and 5000 metres; fog reduces it to less than 1000 metres, and thick fog may reduce it to less
than 5 metres. Fog is common where a cold ocean current runs along a coast, as in
Newfoundland, or where seasonal winds cause an upwelling of cold water as on the California
On the European side of the Atlantic sea temperatures are much warmer and kayakers seldom
encounter thick fog, although your editor recalls several occasions in south Devon when it came
on in ten minutes, under a clear autumn sky. On one occasion it was so thick he could not see the
front of his own kayak and all sounds were muffled. He kept on going through the cold grey and
suddenly emerged into the brilliant sunshine of a warm September afternoon. Looking back,
there was a boiling white wall of stationary fog, 15 metres high.
Fog happens when particularly warm moist air heads away from the tropics and meets cooler air
or water. More often, it happens when air at an ordinary temperature and humidity is chilled.
This can happen in many ways. Hill fog is common in the mountains, where wind is chilled
when it is forced upwards by the rising ground. Fog in the lowlands occurs mainly in autumn and
winter when clear skies allow the land to cool overnight. This "radiation fog" may blow a
kilometre or so out to sea. However it tends to dissipate in contact with the sea, so there may
well be good visibility a few metres offshore, and in any case it generally burns off by midmorning.
True sea fog happens when moist air is suddenly chilled by contact with cooler water. It can
happen at any time of year, but mainly in winter and early spring. In Britain it is particularly
associated with the arrival in the English Channel and Irish Sea of warm, moist air brought by a
south-westerly airstream, within the warm sector of a depression. A fog bank can arrive at 30
mph on a warm, still day under a blue sky.