Weather Glossary - A

Absolute humidity
The mass of water vapour in a given volume of air. It represents the density
of water vapour in the air. See also Specific humidity, Relative humidity.

Absolute zero
The temperature at which (theoretically) there is no molecular/atomic
motion. (-273°C or -460°F). Absolute zero is the lowest possibly attainable

The process in which incident radiant energy is retained by a substance.

(Pronounced Ack-kas) AltoCumulus CAStellanus Latin - castle
Mid-level clouds (bases generally 2000 - 8000m), of which at least a fraction
of their upper parts show cumulus-type development. These clouds are often
taller than they are wide, giving them a turret-shaped appearance. AcCas
clouds are a sign of instability aloft, and may precede the rapid development
of thunderstorms.

Accessory cloud
A cloud which is dependent on a larger cloud system for development and
continuance. Roll clouds, shelf clouds and wall clouds are examples of
accessory clouds.

The growth of a precipitation particle by the collision of ice crystals or snow-
flakes with supercooled liquid droplets that freeze upon impact.

A thermodynamic process in which no heat is transferred to the surrounding

In an adiabatic process, compression of an air parcel results in an increase in
temperature, while expansion results in a decrease in temperature.

Transport of an atmospheric property, e.g. heat or moisture, by the wind.
See cold advection, moisture advection, and warm advection.
Advection fog
Fog which develops when a mass of relatively warm, moist air moves over a
cooler surface and cools the air below its dew point temperature. Advection
fog requires movement of air to form (hence the name). Advection fog is
common at sea where it is called sea fog.

The mixture of gases and particles which make up the Earth's atmosphere.

Air mass
A large body of air throughout which the horizontal temperature and
moisture characteristics are similar.

Air mass thunderstorm
Generally, a thunderstorm not associated with a front or other type of
synoptic-scale forcing mechanism. Air mass thunderstorms typically are
associated with warm, humid air in the summer months; they develop
during the afternoon in response to solar insolation and dissipate rather
quickly after sunset.

Air mass thunderstorms are generally less likely to be severe than other
types of thunderstorms, but they are still capable of producing downbursts,
brief heavy rain, and (in extreme cases) hail over 2cm in diameter.

Since all thunderstorms are associated with some type of forcing
mechanism, synoptic-scale or otherwise, the existence of true air-mass
thunderstorms is debatable. Therefore the term is somewhat controversial
and should be used with discretion.

Air pressure
A measure of the mass of air above a given point. Usually expressed in
millibars (mb) or hectopascals (hPa). Also known as atmospheric or
barometric pressure (pressure measured by a barometer).

The reflectivity of a surface. It is the percent of radiation reflected from a
surface compared to the radiation striking it. A perfectly reflective surface
would have an albedo of 100. The Earth’s albedo is around 30, snow has a
higher albedo, grasslands and forests a lower albedo.

An instrument to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level.
Generally, mean sea level is used for the reference level.

(Ac) Mid-level cloud (bases generally 2000 - 8000m), made up of grey,
puffy masses, sometimes appearing in parallel waves or bands. An indicator
of mid-level instability. Altocumulus can take on various forms such as Ac
Lenticularis, Ac Undulatus, Ac Castellanus, Altocumulus 'mackerel sky'.

Altocumulus Castellanus
A middle level cloud with vertical development that forms from altocumulus
clouds. It is composed primarily of ice crystals in its higher portions and
characterised by its turrets, protuberances or crenulated tops.

(As) Mid-level cloud composed of water droplets and ice crystals. Usually
gives the sun a watery or dimly visible appearance.

Anabatic winds
A local wind that flows up the side of valleys due to increased heating along
the valley walls. Often the anabatic wind results in cumulus clouds along the
ridges either side of the valley. See also Katabatic winds.

A device used to measure wind speed.

The departure of an element from its long-term average for the location
concerned. For example, if the average maximum temperature for
Melbourne in June is 14 degrees and on one particular day the temperature
only reaches 10 degrees, than the anomaly for that day is -4.

A large scale atmospheric circulation system in which the winds rotate anti
clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere (clockwise in Northern Hemisphere).
Anticyclones are areas of high atmospheric pressure and are generally
associated with light winds and stable weather conditions. Interchangeable
with High pressure system.

Anticyclonic rotation
Rotation in the opposite sense as the Earth's rotation, i.e., anticlockwise in
the Southern Hemisphere as seen from above. The opposite of cyclonic

The flat, spreading top of a Cb (cumulonimbus) often shaped like an anvil.
Thunderstorm anvils may spread hundreds of kilometres downwind from the
thunderstorm itself, and sometimes may spread upwind (see back sheared

Anvil crawler
[Slang] A lightning discharge occurring within the anvil of a thunderstorm,
characterized by one or more channels that appear to crawl along the
underside of the anvil. They typically appear during the weakening or
dissipating stage of the parent thunderstorm, or during an active mesoscale
convective system (MCS). Also called sheet lightning.

Anvil dome
A large overshooting top or penetrating top on a thunderstorm.

Apparent Temperature
The apparent temperature (AT), invented in the late 1970s, was designed to
measure thermal sensation in indoor conditions. It was extended in the early
1980s to include the effect of sun and wind. Only the modification due to
wind is taken into account on this site. The AT index used here is based on a
mathematical model of an adult, walking outdoors, in the shade (Steadman
1994). The AT is defined as; the temperature, at the reference humidity
level, producing the same amount of discomfort as that experienced under
the current ambient temperature and humidity.
Basically the ATis an adjustment to the ambient temperature (T) based on
the level of humidity. An absolute humidity with a dewpoint of 14°C is
chosen as a reference (this reference is adjusted a little with temperature).
If the humidity is higher than the reference then the AT will be higher than
T; and, if the humidity is lower than the reference, then AT will be lower
than T. The amount of deviation is controlled by the assumptions of the
Steadman human model. In practice the AT is more intuitive to use than the
WBGT, as it is an adjustment to the actual air temperature based on the
perceived effect of the extra elements such as humidity and wind. AT is
valid over a wide range of temperature, and it includes the chilling effect of
the wind at lower temperatures.
Version including the effects of temperature, humidity, and wind:
AT = Ta + 0.33×e - 0.70×ws - 4.00
Version including the effects of temperature, humidity, wind, and radiation:
AT = Ta + 0.348×e - 0.70×ws + 0.70×Q/(ws + 10) - 4.25where:Ta = Dry bulb
temperature (°C)e = Water vapour pressure (hPa) [humidity]ws = Wind speed (m/s) at an
elevation of 10 metersQ = Net radiation absorbed per unit area of body surface (w/m2)

A low, horizontal cloud formation associated with the leading edge of
thunderstorm outflow (i.e. the gustfront). Roll clouds and shelf clouds both
are types of arcus clouds.

An extremely dry climate - often referred to as a "desert" climate. Much of
Australia is considered arid.

Australian Severe Weather Association.

The mixture of gases and particles surrounding the Earth where weather

A reduction in the strength of a radar echo when there is widespread rainfall.
The second problem tends to occur in sitations where there is widespread
rainfall or convectve activity, such as when thunderstorms are occurring. In
this situation, some of the energy from the radar transmission is reflected by
the closer rainfall in a given direction leaving less energy to be reflected by
other rainfall in that same direction. Also, if there are mountains near the
radar site, there may not be enough signal for the detection of precipitation
behind the mountains.

Attenuation often results in the appearance of rainfall 'intensifying' as it
nears the radar site. One should check other radar sites in the vicinity (if
possible) to see if the rainfall is actually intensifying, or whether it is an
extensive rainband.

A glowing light display in the night-time sky caused by excited gases in the
upper atmosphere. In the Southern Hemisphere it is called the Aurora
Australis or Southern Lights, in the Northern Hemisphere Aurora Borealis
(Northern Lights).
One of the four seasons, indicating the transition between summer and
winter during the months March, April and May (southern hemisphere).
Autumn in Australia is characterised by the end of the northern wet season
and the beginning of the southern wet season. Autumn also brings and end
to the convective thunderstorm season in eastern states.

AViatioN model; one of the operational forecast previously models run at
NCEP. The AVN has been superseded by the Global Forecast System (GFS).

Abbreviation for Automatic Weather Station.

Weather Glossary - B
Back building thunderstorm
A thunderstorm in which new development takes place on the upwind side
(usually the west or northwest side), such that the storm seems to remain
stationary or propagate in a backward direction. Back-building
thunderstorms can lead to severe flash flooding.

Back sheared anvil
[Slang] A thunderstorm anvil which spreads upwind, against the upper-level
flow. A back-sheared anvil often implies a very strong updraft and hence a
possibly severe thunderstorm.

Backing winds
Winds that shift in an anticlockwise direction with time at a given location
(e.g. from southerly to south-easterly), or change direction in an
anticlockwise sense with height (e.g. easterly at the surface and becoming
more northerly aloft). The opposite of veering winds.

In storm spotting, a backing wind usually refers to the turning of a south or
southwest surface wind with time to a more east or south-easterly direction.
See also Veering winds.

Backscatter relates to radar signals being reflected off targets other than
precipitation such as aeroplanes, topography (mountains and hills), dust (for
example, radars in a desert locatality may suffer from dust echoes), birds
and swarms of insects. In addition, occasionally the atmosphere is such that
radar signals may be reflected off a broadscale temperature inversion such
as is the case with a synoptic scale anticyclone. Some of the false echoes
mentioned are transient (such as aeroplane reflections, dust and
temperature inversions) while others may be a persistent feature relating to
the radar site (eg. A mountain or hill).

Ball lightning
A rare form of long-lived lightning that appears as a small, glowing ball. Ball
lightning has been reported to pass through solid objects such as windows
and walls without dissipating. The actual process by which ball lightning
forms is still largely unknown.

A region in which a temperature (or density) gradient exists on a constant
pressure surface. Baroclinic zones are favoured areas for strengthening and
weakening synoptic scale weather systems.

Baroclinic instability is a situation that results from the tight thermal
gradients when air parcels are unstable to slantwise forcing. That is - forced
motion in certain directions both vertically and horizontally will result in an
acceleration of this motion. An air parcel in this situation will usually move
along an isentropic surface but can also be subject to other forms of forcing
dependent on the situation. Baroclinic instability is a key ingredient in mid-
latitude cyclogenesis.Baroclinic zones are also important driving mechanisms
of many of the oceans currents.

A device used to measure atmospheric pressure. The two most common
barometers are the mercury barometer and the aneroid barometer. The
mercury barometer was initially developed by Evangelista Torricelli in 1644.

1. A situation where temperature and pressure surfaces are coincident,
i.e., temperature is uniform (no temperature gradient) on a constant
pressure surface. Barotropic systems are characterized by a lack of
wind shear, and thus are generally unfavourable areas for severe
thunderstorm development. See also baroclinic.

Usually, in operational meteorology, references to barotropic systems
refer to equivalent barotropic systems - systems in which temperature
gradients exist, but are parallel to height gradients on a constant
pressure surface. In such systems, height contours and isotherms are
parallel everywhere and winds do not change direction with height.

As a rule, a true equivalent barotropic system can never be achieved
in the real atmosphere. While some systems (such as closed lows or
cut-off lows) may reach a state that is close to equivalent barotropic,
the term barotropic system usually is used in a relative sense to
describe systems that are really only close to being equivalent
barotropic, i.e., isotherms and height contours are nearly parallel
everywhere and directional wind shear is weak.

Beaufort Scale
One of the first scales to estimate wind speeds and the effects was created
by Britain's Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857). He developed the
scale in 1805 to help sailors estimate the winds via visual observations. The
scale starts with 0 and goes to a force of 12.

Weather Glossary - C
Cloud-to-Air lightning. Lightning which travels from a cloud to clear air
surrounding the storm.

Atmospheric conditions devoid of wind. In Oceanic terms it is the absence of
wind and swell.

Also called a capping inversion.

A layer of relatively warm air aloft (usually a few thousand metres above the
ground) which suppresses or delays the development of thunderstorms. Air
parcels rising into this layer become cooler than the surrounding air, which
inhibits their ability to rise further. As such, the cap often prevents or delays
thunderstorm development even in the presence of extreme instability.
However if the cap is removed or weakened, then explosive thunderstorm
development can occur. See CIN and sounding.

The cap is an important ingredient in most severe thunderstorm episodes, as
it serves to separate warm, moist air below and cooler, drier air above. With
the cap in place, air below it can continue to warm and/or moisten, thus
increasing the amount of potential instability. Or, air above it can cool, which
also increases potential instability. This can lead to the ‘loaded gun’ type
sounding. But without a cap, either process (warming/moistening at low
levels or cooling aloft) results in a faster release of available instability
through excess convection or mixing - often before instability levels become
large enough to support severe weather development.

Convective Available Potential Energy. A measure of the amount of energy
available for convection. CAPE is directly related to the maximum potential
vertical speed within an updraft; thus, higher values indicate greater
potential for severe weather. Observed values in thunderstorm environments
often may exceed 1,000 joules per kilogram (J/kg) and in extreme cases
may exceed 5,000 J/kg.

CAPE is represented on a sounding by the area enclosed between the
environmental temperature profile and the path of a rising air parcel, over
the layer within which the latter is warmer than the former. (This area often
is called positive area.) See also CIN and sounding.

However, as with other indices or indicators, there are no threshold values
above which severe weather becomes imminent.

Constant Altitude Plan Position Indicator. See also PPI.

CAPPI is a display format developed for visualising radar data. Data from
several radar scans at multiple angles are combined to form a composite
image that approximates a cross section through the atmosphere at a
constant altitude. All publicly available Bureau of Meteorology radar data is
transmitted in CAPPI format. CAPPI scans can be created a multiple
elevations. The Bureau of Meteorology radar data has a CAPPI altitude of
approximately 3000 metres.

Carbon dioxide
A gas (CO2) present in the atmosphere which plays an important role in the
greenhouse effect.

See Tropical Cyclone categories

See Cumulonimbus.

Cloud-to-Cloud lightning. Lightning which travels either within one
cumulonimbus cloud (intracloud lightning) or between two cumulonimbus

The lowest cloud layer that is reported as broken or overcast

Convection in the form of a single updraft, downdraft, or updraft/downdraft
couplet, typically seen as a vertical dome or tower as in a cumulus or
towering cumulus cloud. A typical thunderstorm consists of several cells (see
multicell thunderstorm).

The term "cell" can also be used to describe the radar echo returned by an
individual shower or thunderstorm, however this is a slang term.

The temperature scale where zero (0°C) is the temperature at which water
freezes and 100°C is where water boils (at sea level). Celsius can be
obtained from value in degrees Fahrenheit by the following formula C=(F-

Central Pressure
The atmospheric pressure at the centre of a high or low pressure system.

Centrifugal Force
The apparent force in a rotating system that deflects masses radially
outward from the axis of rotation. This force increases towards the equator
and decreases towards the poles.

Centripital force
The radial force acting to maintain an object in circular motion. An object (or
parcel of air) in circular motion is constantly accelerating (changing its
velocity) and the centripital force is the force which causes this acceleration.
It acts towards the centre of rotation of the motion.

Cloud-to-Ground lightning. A lightning strike which hits the ground.

Convective INhibition. A measure of the amount of energy needed in order
to initiate convection. Values of CIN typically reflect the strength of the cap.
They are obtained on a sounding by computing the area enclosed between
the environmental temperature profile and the path of a rising air parcel,
over the layer within which the latter is cooler than the former. (This area
sometimes is called negative area.) See CAPE and sounding.

(Cc) High-level, white cloud which does not produce shadows. It consists of
very small granular or rippled elements. This cloud is often described as
"mackerel sky" cloud.


(Cs) High, thin, sheet like clouds that often cover the entire sky. Composed
of ice crystals, they are often the cause of halos around the sun or moon.


(Ci) Latin - curl of hair
High-level clouds (5000 metres or more) composed of ice crystals and
appearing in the form of white, delicate filaments or white or mostly white
patches or narrow bands. Cirrus clouds typically have a fibrous or hairlike
appearance, and are often semi-transparent. Cirrus clouds are also largely
responsible for atmospheric optical phenomena such as halos and sundogs.
Thunderstorm anvils are often a form of cirrus cloud, but most cirrus clouds
are not associated with thunderstorms.


Cumulus conjestus. A particular style of cumulus cloud that gives observers
great mirth. It has even been reported that groups will engage in boiterous
joke telling and much laughter when conjestus is in abundance. The name is
derived from the Latin and essentially translates to 'cumulus with jest' or
'cumulus with humour'.

Classic Supercell
See Supercell.

The state of the sky when no clouds or obscurations are observed.

Clear air turbulence
Name given to turbulence that may occur in clear air without any visual
warning in the form of clouds.

Clear Slot
A local region of clearing skies or reduced cloud cover, indicating an
intrusion of drier air; often seen as a bright area with higher cloud bases on
the west or southwest side of a wall cloud. A clear slot is believed to be a
visual indication of a rear flank downdraft.

The atmospheric conditions over a long period of time. Generally refers to
the normal or mean course of the weather. Climate includes the future
expectation of long-term weather in the order of weeks, months or years in

The study of climate. It includes climatic data, the analysis of the causes of
the differences in climate, and the application of climatic data to the solution
of specific design or operational problems.

Closed low
A low pressure area with a distinct centre of cyclonic circulation which can be
completely encircled by one or more isobars or height contour lines. The
term is usually used to distinguish a low pressure area aloft from a low-
pressure trough. Closed lows aloft typically are partially or completely
detached from the main westerly current, and thus move relatively slowly
(see cut-off low).

Mass of water droplets or ice crystals caused by water vapour in the
atmosphere condensing or freezing. There are ten main cloud types, which
are further divided into 27 sub-types according to their height, shape, colour
and associated weather. They are given Latin names which describe their
characteristics, e.g. cirrus (a hair), cumulus (a heap), stratus (a layer) and
nimbus (rain-bearing).

Cloud cover forecasting terms

 Clear - skies free from cloud, fog, mist, dust or haze.
 Sunny - little chance of the sun being obscured by cloud. High-level cirrus clouds are
often thin and wispy, allowing a considerable amount of sunlight to penetrate them,
sufficient to produce shadows. In this case the day could be termed "sunny" even
though more than half the sky may be covered by cirrus cloud.
 Cloudy - Predominantly more cloud than clear sky for example, during the day the sun
would be obscured by cloud for substantial periods.
 Overcast - Sky completely covered by cloud.

Forecasts of cloud usually give an average, if no significant variations are expected. A clear
day, for example, may at times see a few cloud patches. Forecasters expecting variations in
cloud cover may use such terms as sunny breaks, sunny periods, cloudy periods, cloudy at
times, mostly sunny, mostly cloudy. If expecting a major change in cloud cover, they
usually indicate a distinct trend, eg becoming sunny, cloud increasing.

Cloud streets
Rows of cumulus or cumulus-type clouds aligned parallel to the low-level
wind flow. Cloud streets sometimes can be seen from the ground, but are
seen best on satellite photographs.

Cloud tags
Ragged, detached cloud fragments, also called fractus or scud.

Cold advection
Transport of cold air into a region by horizontal winds. See advection.

Cold air funnel
A funnel cloud or a small, relatively weak tornado that can develop from a
small shower or thunderstorm when the air aloft is unusually cold (hence the
name). They are much less violent than other types of tornadoes.

Cold core thunderstorms
Thunderstorms formed primarily due to steep lapse rates, especially when
very cold air aloft overlays warmer surface air.

Cold front
A moving boundary that separates cooler air from warmer air. A cold front is
named as such because the cold air is advancing on the warm air.On
satellite imagery, cold fronts are generally clearly marked cloud bands up to
several hundred kilometres wide. Preceding the front, winds normally tend
north or northwesterly, often leading to warmer temperatures. As the front
passes, the winds will normally swing west or southwesterly - and
temperatures will in most cases drop significantly.If there is sufficient
instability in the air preceding the front, showers or thunderstorms may
develop. Often there is a band of rain accompanying the front, either directly
ahead of or behind the front. Showers and thunderstorms are also possible
behind the front, again depending on the instability of the colder air
mass.Some cold fronts can develop along the southern coast of Australia
(more specifically in Victoria and NSW). These fronts are often only a squally
wind change, occasionally not even marked by significant cloudiness. See
Southerly Buster.

Cold pool
A region of relatively cold air, represented on a weather map analysis as a
relative minimum in temperature surrounded by closed isotherms. Cold
pools in the upper atmosphere represent regions of relatively low stability,
while surface-based cold pools are regions of relatively stable air.

Comma cloud
A synoptic-scale cloud pattern with a characteristic comma-like shape, often
seen on satellite photographs associated with large, intense low-pressure

Comma echo
A thunderstorm radar echo which has a comma-like shape. It often appears
during latter stages in the life cycle of a bow echo.

Condensation funnel
A funnel-shaped cloud associated with rotation and consisting of condensed
water droplets (as opposed to smoke, dust, debris, etc.). Often the early
stages of tornado formation.

The phase change of a gas to a liquid.

A pattern of wind flow in which air flows inward toward an axis oriented
parallel to the general direction of flow. It is the opposite of diffluence.
Confluence is not the same as convergence. Winds often accelerate as they
enter a confluent zone, resulting in speed divergence which offsets the
(apparent) converging effect of the confluent flow.

Same as cumulus congestus or towering cumulus.
(Condensation trail) A cloudlike streamer often seen behind jet aircraft flying
in clear, cold, humid air. It is caused by the hot exhaust (largely composed
of water) from aircraft engines mixing with the very cold air.

The transport of heat and moisture by the movement of a fluid. In
meteorology, the term is used specifically to describe vertical transport of
heat and moisture, especially by updrafts and downdrafts in an unstable
atmosphere. The terms convection and thunderstorms often are used
interchangeably, although thunderstorms are only one form of convection.

Cbs, towering cumulus and ACCAS all are visible forms of convection.
However, convection is not always made visible by clouds. Convection which
occurs without cloud formation is called dry convection, while the visible
convection processes referred to above are forms of moist convection.

Convective Condensation Level (CCL)
The height at which a parcel of air, if heated sufficiently from below will rise
adiabatically until it is saturated.

Convective temperature
The approximate temperature that the air near the ground must warm to in
order for surface-based convection to develop, based on analysis of a

A contraction of a vector field; the opposite of Divergence. Convergence in a
horizontal wind field indicates that more air is entering a given area than is
leaving at that level. To compensate for the resulting "excess", vertical
motion may result: upward forcing if convergence is at low levels, or
downward forcing (subsidence) if convergence is at high levels. Upward
forcing from low-level convergence increases the potential for thunderstorm
development (when other factors, such as instability, are favouale).
Compare with Confluence.

Core punch
[Slang] A penetration into the heavy precipitation core of a thunderstorm.
Core punching is not a recommended procedure for storm spotting or
Coriolis force
The apparent force observed on a free-moving body in a rotating system. On
the Earth, this deflective force results from the Earth’s rotation and causes
moving particles to deflect to the left in the Southern hemisphere and to the
right in the Northern hemisphere.

A pastel halo around the moon or sun created by the diffraction of water

The phase change from a gas to a solid. The opposite of sublimation.

Clouds which have vertical growth. Generally these clouds form from
buoyant lifting rather than forcing (orographic effects, see stratiform).
Cumuliform clouds produce showers rather than rain.

Cumuliform anvil
A thunderstorm anvil with visual characteristics resembling cumulus-type
clouds (rather than the more typical fibrous appearance associated with
cirrus). A cumuliform anvil arises from rapid spreading of a thunderstorm
updraft, and thus implies a very strong updraft. See anvil rollover, knuckles,

(Cb) Latin cumulus - to heap, nimbus - violent rain
Commonly known as thunderstorms. These clouds can produce heavy rain,
hail, strong winds and lightning. Several variations of the cumulonimbus are
the incus (anvil), which has a well-formed anvil of cirriform cloud. Calvus
(bald), which lacks the anvil. Often this is when the storm is still in the
developing stage. Cappilatus (hairlike, having hair) in which the anvil takes
on a fibrous or striated structure.

(Cu) Latin - to heap
Detached clouds, generally dense and with sharp outlines, showing vertical
development in the form of domes, mounds, or towers. Tops normally are
rounded while bases are more horizontal. Cumulus humilus are cumulus
clouds with little vertcal development. Cumulus mediocris show slightly more
vertical development, but indicate fair weather, giving them the name fair
weather cumulus. See also Cumulonimbus, Cumulus congestus, Towering

Cumulus congestus
(CuCg, or Cu2) Latin congerere - to pile up
A large cumulus cloud with great vertical development, usually with a
cauliflower-like appearance, but lacking the characteristic anvil of a Cb.
Same as towering cumulus. Another name used in Australia is Cj, but this is
a slang term.

Cut-off low
A closed low which has become completely displaced (cut off) from the basic
westerly current which flows across Australia's southern oceans, and moves
independently of that current (not including Tropical cyclones). Cut-off lows
may remain nearly stationary for days, or on occasion may move westward
opposite to the prevailing flow aloft (i.e., retrogression). An East Coast Low
is an example of a cut-off low. A cut-off low is often accompanied by a
blocking high. "Cut-off low" and "closed low" often are used interchangeably
to describe low pressure centres aloft. However, not all closed lows are
completely removed from the influence of the basic westerlies. Therefore,
the recommended usage of the terms is to reserve the use of "cut-off low"
only to those closed lows which are clearly detached completely from the

Cyclic storm
A thunderstorm that undergoes cycles of intensification and weakening
(pulses) while maintaining its individuality. Cyclic supercells are capable of
producing multiple tornadoes (i.e., a tornado family) and/or several bursts of
severe weather. A thunderstorm that undergoes only one cycle (pulse), and
then dissipates, is known as a pulse thunderstorm or air-mass

Development or intensification of a low-pressure centre (cyclone).

Large scale atmospheric circulations in which the winds rotate clockwise in
the Southern Hemisphere. Cyclones are areas of low atmospheric pressure
and are often associated with strong winds, cloud and rainfall. Cyclone is a
general term covering all cyclonic systems in the atmosphere and should not
be confused with Tropical Cyclone. Interchangeable with low pressure

Cyclonic circulation
(or cyclonic rotation) Circulation (or rotation) which is in the same sense as
the Earth's rotation, i.e., clockwise (in the Southern Hemisphere) as seen
from above. Winds around synoptic-scale low pressure systems circulate
cyclonically. Nearly all mesocyclones and strong or violent tornadoes exhibit
cyclonic rotation, but some smaller vortices, such as gustnadoes or dust
devils occasionally rotate anticyclonically (anticlockwise). Compare

Weather Glossary - D
Daily maximum temperature
In Australia the maximum temperature recorded for a given day represents
the highest temperature recorded in the 24 hours between 9am on that day
and 9am the following day. This temperature is usually reached during the
afternoon of the given day.

Daily minimum temperature
In Australia the minimum temperature recorded for a given day represents
the lowest temperature recorded in the 24 hours between 9am the previous
day and 9am that day. This temperature is usually reached during the early
hours of the given day.

Daily rainfall
In Australia the rainfall recorded for a given day represents the total
recorded in the 24 hours between 9am the previous day and 9am that day.

Dry Adiabatic Lapse Rate. The rate at which the temperature of dry
(unsaturated) air changes as it is raised or lowered adiabatically through the
atmosphere. The DALR is approximately -9.8K/km (temperature reduces as
the air is raised). See also SALR.

The colours shown on the weather radar images represent the different echo
intensities (reflectivity) measured in dBZ (decibels of Z) during each
elevation scan. "Reflectivity" is the amount of transmitted power returned to
the radar receiver. Reflectivity (designated by the letter Z) covers a wide
range of signals (from very weak to very strong). So, a more convenient
number for calculations and comparison, a decibel (or logarithmic) scale
(dBZ), is used.
The dBZ values increase as the strength of the signal returned to the radar
increases. Each weather radar image you see includes a colour scale. The
scale represents dBZ values of the energy reflected back to the radar from
precipitation and other airborne material (dBZ values from 5 to 75).

The scale of dBZ values is also related to the intensity of rainfall. Typically,
light rain is occurring when the dBZ value reaches 20. The higher the dBZ,
the stronger the rainrate. Depending on the type of weather occurring and
the area of the country, forecasters use a set of rainrates which are
associated to the dBZ values.

Hail is a good reflector of energy and will return very high dBZ values. Since
hail can cause the rainfall estimates to be higher than what is actually
occurring, users need to be wary of converting these high dBZ values into
rainfall rates. Typically, any value over 60 dBZ has a high correlation to hail
within a storm.

See also VIP.

Debris cloud
A rotating "cloud" of dust or debris, near or on the ground, often appearing
beneath a condensation funnel and surrounding the base of a tornado. This
term is similar to dust devil, although the latter typically refers to a
circulation which contains dust, but not necessarily any debris. A dust
plume, on the other hand, does not rotate. Note that a debris cloud
appearing beneath a thunderstorm will confirm the presence of a tornado,
even in the absence of a condensation funnel.

Used to give an element a ranking. For example, a decile rainfall map will
show whether the rainfall is above average, average or below average for a
chosen time period and area.

Used to describe a decrease in the central pressure of a low pressure

Delta T
Delta T is an important indicator for acceptable spraying conditions in the
agricultural industry. It is indicative of evaporation rate and droplet lifetime.
Delta T is calculated by subtracting the wet bulb temperature from the dry
bulb temperature.
The ratio of the mass of a substance to the volume occupied by it. Generally
given in units of kg/m³. The density of air is around 1 kg/m³, water around
1000 kg/m³. The density of both air and water vary with temperature. Water
has a higher density at 4°C than at 0°C and it is for this reason that ice
floats on water.

In meteorology it is another name for a low pressure system, an area of low
pressure or a trough.

A region of little or no rainfall. See also arid.

The droplets of water deposited on a surface when the water vapour in the
surrounding air condenses.

Dew point
(or dew point temperature) A measure of atmospheric moisture. It is the
temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation
(assuming air pressure and moisture content remain constant).

Diamond Dust
Very fine, small, unbranched ice crystals. Diamond dust is so fine that it
hangs in the air and is only visible as they glitter in the sun. Diamond dust
can also produce a range of halo effects around the sun and moon. Diamond
dust forms at temperatures below -30C and is most common over the high
antarctic plateau and parts of Canada and Siberia.

Also known as frost mist, frost in the air and snow mist.

A pattern of wind flow in which air moves outward (in a "fan-out" pattern)
away from a central axis that is oriented parallel to the general direction of
the flow. Opposite to confluence.

Difluence in an upper level wind field is considered a favourable condition for
severe thunderstorm development (if other parameters are also favourable).
But difluence is not the same as divergence. In a difluent flow, winds
decelerate as they move through the region of difluence, resulting in speed
convergence which offsets the apparent diverging effect of the flow.

Directional shear
The component of wind shear which is due to a change in wind direction with
height, e.g., southeasterly winds at the surface and southwesterly winds
aloft. A veering wind with height in the lower part of the atmosphere is a
type of directional shear often considered important for tornado

Distribution of showers and precipitation

 Few: Indicating timing not an area.
 Isolated: Showers which are well separated in space during a given period.
 Local: Restricted to relatively small areas.
 Patchy: Occurring irregularly over an area.
 Scattered: Irregularly distributed over an area. Showers which while not widespread,
can occur anywhere in an area. Implies a slightly greater incidence than isolated.
 Widespread: Occurring extensively throughout an area.

This term has several applications. Normally describes a low or trough that is
small in size and influence or is exhibiting signs of development.

Daily; related to actions which are completed in the course of a calendar
day, and which typically recur every calendar day (e.g., diurnal temperature
rises during the day, and diurnal falls at night).

The expansion or spreading out of a vector field; usually said of horizontal
winds. The opposite of convergence. Divergence at upper levels of the
atmosphere enhances upward motion, and hence the potential for
thunderstorm, rain or cloud development (if other factors also are

The region near the equator characterised by low pressure and light, shifting
winds. See also equatorial trough.

Doppler radar
Radar that can measure radial velocity, the instantaneous component of
motion parallel to the radar beam (i.e., toward or away from the radar
antenna). There are currently only two operational Doppler radars in
Australia, at Kurnell (Sydney) and Darwin.

A strong downdraft resulting in an outward burst of damaging winds on or
near the ground. Downburst winds can produce damage similar to a strong
tornado. Although usually associated with thunderstorms, downbursts can
occur with showers too weak to produce thunder. See dry and wet

A small-scale column of air that rapidly sinks toward the ground, usually
accompanied by precipitation as in a shower or thunderstorm. A downburst
is the result of a strong downdraft.

In the same direction as a stream or flow, or toward the direction in which
the flow is moving.

Fairly uniform precipitation (rain) composed exclusively of very small water
droplets (less than 0.5mm in diameter) very close to one another.

A prolonged absence or marked deficiency of precipitation.

Free from rain. Normally used when the preceding weather has been
relatively dry, and dry weather is expected to continue for at least a day or

A dry climate is one in which annual precipitation is exceeded by potential
evaporation and transpirtion.

Dry adiabat
A line of constant potential temperature on a thermodynamic chart. See

Dry bulb temperature
The shade temperature (degrees Celsius) registered by a mercury-in-glass
thermometer exposed in a white louvered box called a "Stevenson Screen"
which is raised on legs one metre above the ground.

Dry line
A boundary separating a moist and dry air mass. Shown on a synoptic chart
as a trough. Dry lines are common across inland QLD during the warmer
months of the year where convection will occur on the eastern side. An
important factor in severe weather frequency in the Great Plains (US). It
typically lies north-south across the central and southern high Plains states
during the spring and early summer, where it separates moist air from the
Gulf of Mexico (to the east) and dry desert air from the southwestern states
(to the west). The dry line typically advances eastward during the afternoon
and retreats westward at night. However, a strong storm system can sweep
the dry line eastward into the Mississippi Valley, or even further east,
regardless of the time of day. A typical dry line passage results in a sharp
drop in humidity (hence the name), clearing skies, and a wind shift from
south or southeasterly to west or southwesterly. (Blowing dust and rising
temperatures also may follow, especially if the dry line passes during the
daytime). These changes occur in reverse order when the dry line retreats
westward. Severe and sometimes tornadic thunderstorms often develop
along a dry line or in the moist air just to the east of it, especially when it
begins moving eastward. See LP storm.

Dry line bulge
A bulge in the dry line, representing the area where dry air is advancing
most strongly at lower levels (i.e., a surface dry punch). Severe weather
potential is increased near and ahead of a dry line bulge.

Dry line storm
Generally, any thunderstorm that develops on or near a dry line. The term is
often used synonymously with low-precipitation thunderstorms, since the
latter usually occur near the dry line.

Dry microburst
A microburst with little or no precipitation reaching the ground; most
common in semi-arid or arid regions. They may or may not produce
lightning. Dry microbursts may develop in an otherwise fair-weather pattern;
visible signs may include a cumulus cloud or small Cb with a high base and
high-level virga, or perhaps only an orphan anvil from a dying rain shower.
At the ground, the only visible sign might be a dust plume or a ring of
blowing dust beneath a local area of virga. Compare with wet microburst.

Dry Season
The months from April through to October where tropical areas of Australia
are dominated by dry southeasterly winds (trade winds). Scrub fires are
common in the latter part of the dry season due to vegetation drying out.

Dry slot
A zone of dry (and relatively cloud-free) air which wraps west- or south-
westwards into the southern and eastern parts of a synoptic scale or
mesoscale low pressure system. A dry slot is seen best on satellite
photographs. A dry slot should not be confused with clear slot, which is a
storm-scale phenomenon.

Duration of precipitation

 Brief: Short duration
 Intermittent:Precipitation which ceases at times
 Occasional: Precipitation which while not frequent, is recurrent.
 Continuos: Precipitation which does not cease, or ceases only briefly.
 Periods of rain: rain is expected to fall most of the time, but there will be breaks.

Dust devil
A small atmospheric vortex not associated with a thunderstorm, which is
made visible by a rotating cloud of dust or debris (dust whirl). Dust devils
form in response to surface heating during fair, hot weather; they are most
frequent in arid or semi-arid regions. Other names for dust devils include the
'willy-willy' and the 'cock-eyed bob'.

Dust plume
A non-rotating 'cloud' of dust raised by straight-line winds. Often seen in a
microburst or behind a gust front.

If rotation is observed, then the term dust whirl or debris cloud should be

Dust storm
A storm which carries a large amount of dust into the atmosphere. Particles
of dust and or sand are energetically lifted to great heights by strong and
turbulent winds.

Dust whirl
A rotating column of air rendered visible by dust. Similar to debris cloud; see
also dust devil, gustnado, tornado.
Generally, any forces that produce motion or affect change in the
atmosphere. In operational meteorology, dynamics usually refer specifically
to those forces that produce vertical motion in the atmosphere.

Weather Glossary - E
East Coast Low (ECL)
An intense low pressure systems that often develop very rapidly (sometimes
explosively) in the Tasman Sea close to (within 5° usually) the east coast of
Australia. It often brings gale-force or storm-force winds, phenomenal seas
and localised heavy rainfall, and may persist for a few days.

ECLs are responsible for many of the extreme rainfall maxima along the
NSW coastline.

ECLs are generally "cut off" from the usual westerly airflow.

Easterly wave
A migratory wave like trough or disturbance in tropical regions that moves
from east to west. Normally it moves slower then the winds in which it is
embedded. It is often associated with tropical cyclone development.

The energy return of a radar signal after it has hit the target.

European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting. Operational
references in forecast discussions typically refer to the ECMWF's global
forecast model, which provides forecasts out to 7 days.

A small disturbance of wind in a large wind flow which can produce

Ekman spiral
An idealised description of the way wind-driven ocean currents vary with
depth. In the atmosphere, it represents the way the wind varies from the
surface upwards in the planetary boundary layer.

Ekman transport is the net water transport due to the Ekman spiral. In the
southern hemisphere, net mass transport is 90° to the left of the surface
wind direction. Ekman transport away from the eastern Australian coast
(caused by prolonged northerly winds) results in upwelling near the coast.

El Niño
The extensive warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that leads to
a major shift in weather patterns across the Pacific. In Australia (particularly
eastern Australia), El Niño events are associated with cooler sea surface
temperatures and an increased probability of drier conditions. See La Niña,

Elevated convection
Convection occurring within an elevated layer, i.e. a layer in which the
lowest portion is based above the earth's surface. Elevated convection often
occurs when air near the ground is relatively cool and stable, e.g. during
periods of isentropic lift, when an unstable layer of air is present aloft. In
cases of elevated convection, stability indices based on near-surface
measurements (such as the lifted index) typically will underestimate the
amount of instability present. Severe weather is possible from elevated
convection, but is less likely than it is with surface-based convection. Also
called high-based convection.

The measure of height with respect to a point on the earth’s surface above
sea level.

Energy Helicity Index (EHI)
An index that incorporates vertical shear and instability, designed for the
purpose of forecasting supercell thunderstorms. It is related directly to
storm-relative helicity in the lowest 2 km (SRH, in m²/s²) and CAPE (in J/kg)
as follows:

EHI=(CAPEx SRH)/160,000.

Thus, higher values indicate unstable conditions and/or strong vertical shear.
Since both parameters are important for severe weather development,
higher values generally indicate a greater potential for severe weather.
Vaues of 1 or more are said to indicate a heightened threat of tornadoes;
values of 5 or more are rarely observed, and are said to indicate potential
for violent tornadoes. However, as with most indices, there are no magic
numbers or critical threshold values to confirm or predit the occurence of
tornadoes of a particular intensity.
Enhanced V
A pattern seen on satellite infrared photographs of thunderstorms, in which
a thunderstorm anvil exhibits a V-shaped region of colder cloud tops
extending downwind from the thunderstorm core. The enhanced V indicates
a very strong updraft, and therefore a higher potential for severe weather.

Enhanced V should not be confused with V notch, which is a radar signature.

El Niño/Southern Oscillation. The condition in the tropical Pacific Ocean
where the reversal of surface air pressure at opposite ends of the Pacific
induces westerly winds, a strengthening in the equatorial countercurrent and
extensive ocean surface warming.

Entrance region
The region upstream from a wind speed maximum in a jetstream (jet max),
in which air is approaching (entering) the region of maximum winds, and
therefore is accelerating. This acceleration results in a vertical circulation
that creates divergence in the upper-level winds in the left half of the
entrance region (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow).
This divergence results in upward motion of air in the Left Rear Quadrant (or
Left EntranceRegion) of the jet max. Severe weather potential sometimes
increases in this area as a result. See also Exit Region, Right Exit Region.

Equatorial trough
The zone of relatively low pressure, which lies between the subtropical
anticyclones of the two hemispheres.

Equilibrium level
(EL) On a sounding, the level above the level of free convection (LFC) at
which the temperature of a rising air parcel again equals the temperature of
the environment.

The height of the equilibrium level is the height at which thunderstorm
updrafts no longer acelerate upward. Thus, to a close approximation, it
represents the height of expected (or ongoing) thunderstorm tops. However,
strong updrafts will continue to rise past the equilibrium level before
stopping, resulting in storm tops that are higher than the equilibrium level.
This process sometimes can be seen visually as an overshooting top or anvil

The equilibrium level typically is higher than the tropopause, and is a more
accurate reference for storm tops.

Equivalent Potential Temperature
The temperature a parcel of air would have if

 it is lifted until it became saturated,
 all water vapour is condensed out, and
 returned adiabatically (i.e., without transfer of heat or mass) to a pressure of 1000

Equivalent Potential Temperature, typically expressed in degrees Kelvin, is directly related
to the amount of heat present in an air parcel. Thus, it is useful in diagnosing atmospheric

Same as Theta e.

The phase change between a liquid and a gas.

The total amount of water that is transferred from the earth’s surface to the
atmosphere. It is made up of evaporation and transpiration.

Exit region
The region downstream from a wind speed maximum in a jetstream (jet
max), in which air is moving away from the region of maximum winds, and
therefore is decelerating. This deceleration results in divergence in the
upper-level winds in the right half of the exit region (as would be viewed
looking along the direction of flow). This divergence results in upward
motion of air in the right front quadrant (or right exit region) of the jet max.
Severe weather potential sometimes increases in this area as a result. See
also entrance region, left entrance region.

Extratropical cyclone
A cyclone (low pressure system) that possesses a cold core. Any low
pressure system that forms outside the tropics is extratropical. A tropical
cyclone will become extratropical if it drifts into temperature regions and
becomes cold cored.

The centre of a tropical cyclone, characterised by a circular area of light
winds and rain free skies. They can range in size from about 10km to 90km.
Eye wall
The wall of dense thunderstorms that surrounds the eye of a Tropical
Cyclone. Generally around 50-100km in diameter and the region of strongest
winds and heaviest rainfall.

Weather Glossary - F
F scale
See Fujita Scale.

Fahrenheit scale
The temperature scale where 32°F is the freezing point of water and 212°F
is the boiling point (at sea level).

Fahrenheit temperature scale
Thermodynamic scale of temperature. Temperature in degrees Fahrenheit
can be obtained from value in degrees Celsius by the following formula:

Feeder bands
Lines or bands of low-level clouds that move (feed) into the updraft region of
a thunderstorm, usually from the north through east (i.e., parallel to the
inflow). Same as inflow bands. This term also is used in tropical meteorology
to describe the spiral-shaped bands of convection surrounding and moving
toward the centre of a tropical cyclone.

Feels Like
The 'Feels Like' Index displayed in the Observations pages on Weatherzone
is a combination of the heat index and wind chill factor.

Distance, measured in the upward wind direction. Fetch is important in
determining swell size. The longer the fetch the higher the swell.

Describes cloud cover when between 1/8th and 2/8th of the sky is obscured
by cloud.

Describes an increase in the central pressure of a low pressure system.
[Slang] FLash bANG, a very close lightning strike followed immediately by

Flanking line
A line of cumulus or towering cumulus clouds connected to and extending
outward from the most active part of a thunderstorm, normally on the
northwest side. The line normally has a stair-step appearance, with the
tallest clouds closest to the main storm and generally coincides with the
pseudo-cold front. See HP storm and supercell.

Flash flood
Heavy rainfall and localised flooding of short duration with a relatively high
peak discharge. Often caused by severe thunderstorms or intense rainfall
events such as an East Coast Low. For severe thunderstorms, a flash flood
event is considered to be a 1 in 10 year rainfall event.

Flash flooding
Short duration localised flooding caused by heavy rainfall with a relatively
high peak discharge. Often caused by severe thunderstorms or intense
rainfall events such as an East Coast Low. For severe thunderstorms, a flash
flood event is considered to be a 1 in 10 year rainfall event.

A flood occurs when water inundates (covers) land which is normally dry.

Foehn effect
The warming effect of air flowing down the leeward side of a mountain
range. The heating and drying of the air is due to adiabatic compression of
the air as it flows down the slope.

As air rises up the western side of the Great Dividing Range it cools at the
dry adiabatic lapse rate (DALR). If there is sufficient moisture, then this
mositure will condense and the air will then cool at the saturated adiabatic
lapse rate (SALR) which is less than the DALR. As the air descends the
eastern side of the Great Dividing Range, the air will warm at the DALR. If
condensation does occur, then the air will warm faster as it descends than it
cooled as it ascended. Thus the air temperature is greater on the lee side of
the Range.

The Foehn effect is one of the reasons Sydney can reach very warm
temperatures in summer (due to northwest winds from the Blue Mountains),
and rarely gets extremely cold in winter (southwest winds off the Southern

A dense mass of small water droplets suspended in the air near the ground.
Visibility is reduced to less than 1 kilometre. See also Radiation fog,
Advection Fog, Upslope fog and Mist.

Forced convection
Motion forced by mechanical forces such as deflection or friction. A cold front
will cause forced convection as warmer is forced vertically above advancing
cooler air.

Forward flank downdraft
The main region of downdraft in the forward, or leading, part of a supercell,
where most of the heavy precipitation is. Compare with rear flank
downdraft. See pseudo-warm front and supercell.

Latin - to break or fracture
Ragged, detached cloud fragments.

Free convection
Motion caused only by density differences in a fluid. See also Level of Free

The phase change of a liquid to solid.

Freezing rain
Rain that becomes supercooled and freezes on impact with the ground or
with objects on the earth's surface. Freezing rain can cause great damage,
due to the weight of ice accumulating on structures in extreme events.
Freezing rain is not a common event in Australia.

A boundary or transition zone between two air masses of different density,
and thus (usually) of different temperature. A moving front is named
according to the advancing air mass, e.g., cold front if colder air is
advancing. Fronts can be a region of localised lifting, leading to rainfall or

The process where a front is either created or intensifying. Occurs when two
adjacent air masses exhibiting different characteristics are brought together
by prevailing winds.

Deposits of white ice crystals or frozen dew drops on objects on or near the
ground. Formed when the surface temperature falls below freezing (0°).

Fujita Scale
(or F Scale) A scale of wind damage intensity in which wind speeds are
inferred from an analysis of wind damage:

Maximum wind
F number Damage
Light - trees damged, possibly uprooted, street signs
F0 (weak) 65-115 km/h
F1 (weak) 116-180 km/h Moderate - trees snapped, windows broken.
181-250 km/h Considerable - weak structures, caravans destroyed.
F3 Severe - trees levelled, cars overturned, walls removed
251-330 km/h
(strong) from buildings
331-420 km/h Devastating - houses destroyed completely
F5 Incredible - Cars thrown, asphalt lifted from highways, large
(violent) buildings destroyed

All tornadoes, and most other severe local windstorms, are assigned a single
number from this scale according to the most intense damage caused by the

Funnel cloud
A condensation funnel extending from the base of a towering cumulus or Cb,
associated with a rotating column of air that is not in contact with the ground
(and hence different from a tornado). A condensation funnel is a tornado, not
a funnel cloud, if either

 it is in contact with the ground or
 a debris cloud or dust whirl is visible beneath it.
The phase from a solid to a liquid.
Weather Glossary - G

Winds with a mean speed of between 33 knots and 48 knots, or roughly
between 61 km/h and 89 km/h.

Global Analysis and Spectral Prognosis (or Global AnalysiS and Prediction).
The medium range global numerical forecast model operated by the Bureau
of Meteorology. GASP is run twice daily, with model output available around
six hours after each run out to 7 days. GASP has a horizontal resolution of
around 85 km and 29 vertical levels.

General Circulation Model. A computer simulation of the atmosphere. They
determine the future state of the atmosphere from initial known conditions.
Examples include MLaps and GFS.

Geopotential height
The altitude of a layer in the atmosphere. It is used to define isobaric
surfaces on upper level charts.

Geostrophic wind
The theoretical wind generated when pressure gradient forces are exactly
balanced by the Coriolis force. Most atmospheric motions are not
geostrophic, due to frictional and other effects.

Global Forecast System. The operational numerical weather forecasting
model run by NCEP. The GFS superceded the AVN and MRF models, on
which it is largely based. Forecast data from the GFS is available out to 180
hours at full resolution and 16 days at a reduced resolution.

The process of freezing water in cloud formation. In thunderstorms,
glaciation usually indicates strong updrafts and potential for hail. Glaciation
is also believed to be required for lightning formation.
Global radiation
Global (short wave) radiation includes radiation energy reaching the ground
directly from the sun, and energy received indirectly from the sky, scattered
downwards by clouds, dust particles etc.

Abbreviation of Greenwich Mean Time. See also Zulu, UTC.

Gradient wind
A theoretical wind that results from a balance between the pressure
gradient, Coriolis and centrifugal forces. It is a better approximation than
the geostrophic wind as it accounts for the curvature of real weather

Ice particles between 2 and 5mm in diameter that form in a cloud by the
process of accretion.

Green flash
A small green flash of light that occasionally appears on the upper part of
the sun as it rises or sets.

Greenhouse effect
A natural warming process of the Earth. When the sun's energy reaches the
earth some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed. The
absorbed energy warms the Earth's surface, which then emits heat energy
back toward space as long wave radiation. This outgoing long wave radiation
is partially trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane
and water vapour, which then radiate the energy in all directions, warming
the Earth's surface and atmosphere.

Without these greenhouse gases the Earth's average surface temperature
would be about 33°C cooler.

Ground clutter
A pattern of radar echoes from fixed ground targets (buildings, hills, etc.)
near the radar. Ground clutter may hide or confuse precipitation echoes near
the radar antenna.

[Slang] Anything in the atmosphere that restricts visibility for storm
spotting, such as fog, haze, precipitation (steady rain or drizzle), widespread
low clouds (stratus), etc.

A sudden increase of wind speed of short duration, usually a few seconds.

The leading edge of gusty surface winds from thunderstorm downdrafts;
sometimes associated with a shelf cloud or roll cloud. See also downburst,
gustnado, outflow boundary.

Gustfront tornado. A small tornado, usually weak and short-lived, that
occurs along the gust front of a thunderstorm. Often it is visible only as a
debris cloud or dust whirl near the ground. Gustnadoes are not associated
with storm-scale rotation (i.e. mesocyclones); they are more likely to be
associated visually with a shelf cloud than with a wall cloud.

A large circular, surface ocean current that results from broadscale
atmospheric forcing, eg South Pacific Gyre.

Weather Glossary - I
Abbreviation for International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Ice Pellets
Precipitation in the form of pellets of ice with diameter 5mm or less.

Inflow bands
(or Feeder Bands) Bands of low clouds, arranged parallel to the low-level
winds and moving into or toward a thunderstorm. They may indicate the
strength of the inflow of moist air into the storm and hence its potential
severity. Spotters should be especially wary of inflow bands that are curved
in a manner suggesting cyclonic rotation; this pattern may indicate the
presence of a mesocyclone.

Inflow jets
Local jets of air near the ground flowing inward toward the base of a
Inflow notch
A radar signature characterized by an indentation in the reflectivity pattern
on the inflow side of the storm. The indentation often is V-shaped, but this
term should not be confused with V-notch. Supercell thunderstorms often
exhibit inflow notches, usualy in the right quadrant of a classic supercell, but
sometimes in the eastern part of an HP storm or in the rear part of a storm
(rear inflow notch).

Inflow stinger
A inflow band with a stinger-like shape.

Infrared satellite image
Infrared (IR) satellite images are a picture of cloud cover, using the infrared
spectrum rather than the visible. IR satellite images indicate the
temperature of the cloud-top, by measuring the heat radiating from the
clouds. The colder the cloud-top, the brighter the cloud will be on the
resulting satellite image. Severe thunderstorms normally have very cold
tops, so will show up as bright spots on images.

In general, the clouds will be colder than the land or ocean, so the clouds
will be easy to identify. In winter months the land surface can reach
temperatures similar to the top of low cloud cover, making it difficult to
distinguish cloud from the land. Low cloud can also occasionally be difficult
to identify on IR images.See also Satellite images.

The coastal waters zone adjacent to the coastline within which the majority
of small craft operate and which is usually within 5 to 10 nautical miles of
the coastline.

Incoming solar radiation. Solar heating, sunshine.

The tendency for air parcels to accelerate when they are displaced from their
original position; especially, the tendency to accelerate upward after being
lifted. Instability is a prerequisite for severe weather - the greater the
instability, the greater the potential for severe thunderstorms. See lifted
index and sounding.

Intensity of precipitation
Slight or light:

 Rain: Individual drops easily identified, puddles form slowly, small streams may flow in
 Drizzle: Can be felt on the face but is not visible. Produces little runoff from roads or
roofs. Generally visibility is reduced, but not less than 1000 m.
 Snow: Small sparse flakes. Generally visibility is reduced, but not less than 1000 m.
 Hail: Sparse hailstones of small size, often mixed with rain.


 Rain: Rapidly forming puddles, down pipes flowing freely, some spray visible over hard
 Drizzle: Window and road surfaces streaming with moisture. Visibility generally
between 400 and 1000 m.
 Snow: Large numerous flakes and visibility generally between 400-1000 m.
 Hail: particles numerous enough to whiten the ground.
 Heavy:
 Rain: falls in sheets, misty spray over hard surfaces, may cause roaring noise on roof.
 Drizzle: Visibility reduced to less than 400 m.
 Snow: Numerous flakes of all sizes. Visibility generally reduced below 400 m.
 Hail: A proportion of the hailstones exceed 6 mm diameter.

Inter Tropical Convergence Zone
A relatively narrow zone of persistent thunderstorms in tropical waters. It
marks the meeting or convergent point of winds originating from both the
northern and southern hemispheres. The ITCZ usually lies poleward of the
Equatorial trough.

Generally, a departure from the usual increase or decrease in an
atmospheric property with altitude. Specifically it almost always refers to a
temperature inversion, i.e., an increase in temperature with height, or to the
layer within which such an increase occurs.

Inversions are common in winter when there is a large anticyclone present.
Subsiding air in the anticyclone warms as it descends and produces a layer
of warmer air around 1000-2000m above the surface. This inversion is
strengthened at night due to radiational cooling of the lowest levels of the

Inversions can trap pollutants in the lower parts of the atmosphere, leading
to poor visibility, especially in winter when wood fires increase the levels of
particles in the atmosphere.
An inversion is present in the lower part of a cap. See sounding.

The line of equal change in atmospheric pressure during a certain time
period. It marks the change in pressure tendency.

Isentropic lift
Lifting of air that is travelling along an upward-sloping isentropic surface.

Isentropic lift often is referred to erroneously as overrunning, but more
accurately describes the physical process by which the lifting occurs.
Situations involving isentropic lift often are characterized by widespread
stratiform clouds and rain, but may include elevated convection in the form
of embedded thunderstorms.

Isentropic surface
A two-dimensional surface containing points of equal potential temperature.

A line connecting points of equal pressure.

Isobaric surfaces
A surface of equal pressure. Isobaric surfaces are used in upper level charts
where geopotential heights are contoured to decribe the upper level
features. These charts are typically produced at standard levels such as
850hPa, 700hPa, 500hPa etc. In additional to geopotential height, these can
charts are also used to display a variety of parameters such as streamlines,
vorticity, moisture, temperature and so on.Also known as a constant
pressure surface.

A line connecting points of equal dew point temperature.

A line connecting points of equal precipitation amounts.

General term for a line connecting points of equal value of some quantity.
Isobars, isotherms, etc. all are examples of isopleths.

A line connecting points of equal wind speed.

A line connecting points of equal temperature

Weather Glossary - J
Jet max
(Speed Max, Jet Streak) A point or area of relative maximum wind speeds
within a jetstream.

Jet streak
A local wind speed maximum within a jetstream.

Relatively strong winds concentrated in a narrow stream in the atmosphere,
normally referring to horizontal, high-altitude winds. The position and
orientation of jetstreams vary from day to day. General weather patterns
(hot/cold, wet/dry) are related closely to the position, strength and
orientation of the jetstream (or jetstreams). A jetstream at low levels is
known as a low level jet.

Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The JTWC issues warnings and forecasts for
tropical systems across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Glossary - K
Katabatic wind
A local wind which develops due to cool, dense air flowing downhill. The
cooler air is generally a result of night time radiational cooling in the lower
layers of the atmosphere, but katabatic winds also occur over snow fields
and glaciers. See also anabatic winds.

A front where the warm air descends the frontal surface, except in the low

Unit of thermodynamic temperature. Zero Kelvin is absolute zero (-
273.15°C). Temperatures in Kelvin can be obtained from temperatures in
Celsius by the formulae K=C+273.2.
Kelvin-Helmholtz billows
A phenomenon that occurs in a high-shear environment between two layers
of fluid which are stably stratified (i.e. a denser fluid beneath a lighter fluid).

Kinetic energy
The energy a body possesses as a consequence of its motion. Defined as half
the product of its mass and the square of its speed.

The unit of speed equal to 1 nautical mile/hour, or 1.85 km/h. The knot is
commonly used to report wind speed and ocean current speed.

[Slang] Lumpy protrusions on the edges, and sometimes the underside, of a
thunderstorm anvil. They usually appear on the upwind side of a back-
sheared anvil, and indicate rapid expansion of the anvil due to the presence
of a very strong updraft. They are not mammatus clouds. See also
cumuliform anvil, anvil rollover.

Køppen's classification of climates
Classification of climate based on annual and monthly means of temperature
and precipitation which also takes into account the vegetation limits. It is a
tool for presenting the world pattern of climate and for identifying important
deviations from this pattern.

Weather Glossary - L
La Niña
The extensive cooling of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. In Australia
(particularly eastern Australia), La Niña events are associated with warmer
ocean temperatures and increased probability of wetter conditions. See El

Smooth, non-turbulent fluid flow. Often used to describe cloud formations
which appear to be shaped by a smooth flow of air travelling in parallel
layers or sheets.

Land breeze
A coastal breeze which flows from land to sea, usually at night. It forms as
continental air cools below the temperature of a nearby maritime airmass
and sets up a thermally driven circulation. The land breeze is occasionally
refered to as a katabatic wind. See also Sea breeze. The land breeze is
generally lighter than a sea breeze, around 5-10 knots.

[Slang] A tornado that does not arise from organized storm-scale rotation
and therefore is not associated with a wall cloud (visually) or a mesocyclone
(on radar). Landspouts typically are observed beneath Cb's or towering
cumulus clouds (often as no more than a dust whirl), and essentially are the
land-based equivalents of waterspouts.

Limited Area Prediction System. One of the regional numerical forecast
model operated by the BoM. LAPS is run twice daily (00Z and 12Z) and gives
forecasts of 72 hours. LAPS has an operational horizontal resolution of
around 35km and 29 vertical levels. LAPS does have the capability to be
operated at around 5km resolution, but this is over much smaller domains
and largely only for research purposes.

Lapse rate
The rate of change of an atmospheric variable, usually temperature, with
height. A steep lapse rate implies a rapid decrease in temperature with
height (a sign of instability) and a steepening lapse rate implies that
destabilization is occurring. See Sounding, DALR, SALR.

Large scale
See synoptic-scale.

Latent heat
Latent heat is a form of energy released or absorbed by a phase change of
water. It results from the individual molecules releasing a small amount of
energy as they drop to a less energetic state.

Lifted Condensation Level. The level where condensation (saturation) occurs
if one lifts an unsaturated surface parcel dry-adiabatically.

Graphically on the skew-T plot it is the point where the dry adiabat
(originating at the parcel temperature) and mixing ratio lines (originating at
the parcel dew point temperature) intersect.

The side of a mountain, hill or range that is sheltered from the wind. The
opposite of windward.

Left Entrance Region
(or Left Rear Quadrant) The area upstream from and to the left of an upper-
level jet max (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow).
Upward motion and severe thunderstorm potential are sometimes increased
in this area relative to the wind speed maximum. See also exit region, Right
Front Quadrant.

Left mover
A thunderstorm that moves appreciably to the left relative to the main
steering winds and to other nearby thunderstorms. Left movers typically are
associated with a high potential for severe weather. (Supercells are often left
movers.) See right mover, splitting storm.

Left Rear Quadrant
See Left Entrance Region.

Latin - lens, lentil
Clouds having a lens or almond shape, usually elongated and with well-
defined outlines. Occurs when a moist airstream crosses a mountain barrier,
resulting in waves in the flow. Lenticular clouds form at the crest of the wave
when the moisture in the air condenses.

Lenticular clouds are most commonly seen in either stratocumulus or

Line Echo Wave Pattern. A bulge in a thunderstorm line producing a wave-
shaped "kink" in the line. The potential for strong outflow and damaging
straight-line winds increases near the bulge, which often resembles a bow
echo. Severe weather potential is also increased with storms near the crest
of a LEWP.

Level of Free Convection. The first level on an atmospheric sounding where
the temperature of a parcel raised from the surface is greater than the
surrounding environment. This means that the parcel is now free to continue
rising without the need of any additional energy input from the environment
- hence it is "free" to continue convecting.

Lifted index
(or LI) A common measure of atmospheric instability. Its value is obtained
by computing the temperature that air near the ground would have if it were
lifted to some higher level (usually 500mb) and comparing that temperature
to the actual temperature at that level. Negative values indicate instability -
the more negative, the more unstable the air is, and the stronger the
updrafts are likely to be with any developing thunderstorms. However there
are no "magic numbers" or threshold LI values below which severe weather
becomes imminent. See sounding.

The flash of light accompanying a sudden electrical discharge which takes
place from or inside a cloud, or less often from high structures, the ground
or mountains.

Lightning is caused when the negative charge in the lower part of the cloud
and the positive charge in the upper part of the cloud become so great the
air within the cloud breaks down to allow an electrical current to flow
through it and discharge. The mechanism of charge separation is still highly
debated. See also thunder.

Loaded gun
[Slang] A sounding characterized by extreme instability but containing a
cap, such that explosive thunderstorm development can be expected if the
cap can be weakened or the air below it heated sufficiently to overcome it
(the convective temperature). See sounding.

Longwave trough
A trough in the prevailing westerly flow aloft which is characterized by large
length and (usually) long duration. Generally, there are no more than about
five longwave troughs around the Southern Hemisphere at any given time.
Their position and intensity govern general weather patterns (e.g., hot/cold,
wet/dry) over periods of days, weeks, or months.

Smaller disturbances (e.g., shortwave troughs) typically move more rapidly
through the broader flow of a longwave trough, producing weather changes
over shorter time periods (a day or less).

Low clouds
Clouds with bases below 6000 feet and are stratiform or cumuliform in

Low latitudes
The latitude belt between 30° and 0° North and South.

Low level jet
(abbreviation LLJ) A region of relatively strong winds in the lower part of the
atmosphere. Specifically, it often refers to a southerly wind maximum in the
boundary layer, common over the Plains states (US) at night during the
warm season (spring and summer).

The term also may be used to describe a narrow zone of strong winds above
the boundary layer, but in this sense the more correct term would be low-
level jetstream.

Low pressure system
See Cyclone.

LP storm
(or LP Supercell) Low-precipitation storm (or low-precipitation supercell). A
supercell thunderstorm characterized by a relative lack of visible
precipitation. Visually similar to a classic supercell, except without the heavy
precipitation core.

LP storms often exhibit a striking visual appearance; the main tower often is
bell-shaped, with a corkscrew appearance suggesting rotation. They are
capable of producing tornadoes and very large hail. Radar identification often
is difficult relative to other types of supercells, so visual reports are very
important. LP storms almost always occur on or near a dry line, and thus are
sometimes referred to as dry line storms.

LP supercell thunderstorms often have a small updraft base as seen in this
thunderstorm near Hart, Texas.

Weather Glossary - M
A downburst affecting an area greater than 4 kilometres across and having
damaging winds. Macrobursts are generally longer-lived than the smaller

Macrobursts have been documented to 'wrap-up' into weak tornadoes,
however these would be classified as gustnadoes as they are not directly
associated with storm-scale rotation.

See also microburst.

The meteorological scale covering an area ranging from a continent to the
entire globe.

Madden-Julian Oscillation
The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), also referred to as the 30-60 day or
40-50 day oscillation, is the main intra-annual fluctuation that explains
weather variations in the tropics. The MJO affects the entire tropical
troposphere, but is most evident in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.
The MJO involves variations in wind, sea surface temperature (SST),
cloudiness, and rainfall. Because most tropical rainfall is convective, and
convective cloud tops are very cold (emitting little longwave radiation), the
MJO is most obvious in the variation of outgoing longwave radiation (OLR),
as measured by an infrared sensor on a satellite.

Latin - mammary

Mammatus clouds are rounded, smooth, sack-like protrusions hanging from
the underside of a cloud. May occur with cirrus, altocumulus, altostratus,
stratocumulus and cumulonimbus. Mammatus clouds often accompany
severe thunderstorms, but do not produce severe weather; they may
accompany non-severe storms as well. See HP storm, LP storm and

Mesoscale Convective Complex.

A large MCS, generally round or oval-shaped, which normally reaches peak
intensity at night. The formal definition includes specific minimum criteria for
size, duration, and eccentricity (i.e., "roundness"), based on the cloud shield
as seen on infrared satellite photographs:

 Size: Area of cloud top -32 °C or less: 100,000 square kilometres or more and area of
cloud top -52 °C or less: 50,000 square kilometres or more.
 Duration: Size criteria must be met for at least 6 hours.
 Eccentricity: Minor/major axis at least 0.7.
MCC's typically develop during the afternoon and evening in the form of several isolated
thunderstorms, during which time the potential for severe weather is greatest. During peak
intensity, the primary threat shifts toward heavy rain and flash flooding.

Mesoscale Convective System. A complex of thunderstorms which becomes
organized on a scale larger than the individual thunderstorms, and normally
persists for several hours or more. MCS's may be round or linear in shape,
and include systems such as tropical cyclones, squall lines, and MCCs
(among others). MCS is often used to describe a cluster of thunderstorms
that does not satisfy the size, shape, or duration criteria of an MCC.

Medium range
In forecasting, (generally) three to seven days in advance.

Meridional flow
Large-scale atmospheric flow in which the north-south component (i.e.,
longitudinal, or along a meridian) is pronounced. The accompanying zonal
(east-west) component often is weaker than normal. Compare with zonal

Comes from the Greek meaning 'middle'. A common prefix used in
meteorology to describe features that are intermediate in size or
position.See mesoscale

A high resolution version of LAPS. Meso-LAPS (or MLAPS) has a resolution of
12.5km and a smaller domain than LAPS. Meso LAPS runs out to 48 hours.

A storm-scale region of rotation, around 3-10 kilometres in diameter and
often found in the left rear flank of a supercell (or often on the eastern, or
front, flank of an HP storm). The circulation of a mesocyclone covers an area
much larger than the tornado that may develop within it.

Properly used, mesocyclone is a radar term; it is defined as a rotation
signature appearing on Doppler radar that meets specific criteria for
magnitude, vertical depth, and duration. Therefore, a mesocyclone should
nto be considered a visually-observable phenomenon (although visual
evidence of rotation, such as curved inflow bands, may imply the presence
of a mesocyclone).
A mesoscale high pressure area, usually associated with MCSs or their

(or Sub-synoptic Low) A mesoscale low-pressure centre. Severe weather
potential often increases in the area near and just ahead of a mesolow.

Mesolow should not be confused with mesocyclone, which is a storm-scale

Used to describe weather systems that lie in between synoptic scale and
local scale. This generally means weather features that are between 25km
and 250km in size. Examples of mesoscale systems are mesoscale
convective systems (MCS), squall lines and southerly busters.

A mesoscale model will have a grid resolution small enough to resolve these
features. This usually means a resolution of 25km or smaller. See also meso

METeorological Aviation Report. An evaluation of selected weather elements
from a site on or near the ground according to a set of procedures.

It may include type of report, station identifier, date and time of report, a
report modifier, wind, visibility, runway visual range, weather and
obstructions to vision, sky condition, temperature and dew point, altimeter
setting and remarks.

METARS are normally issued either hourly or half hourly, but if there is a
significant change in conditions at the site, a SPECI (special report) may be
issued. See also SYNOP.

Weather outlooks of temperature, rainfall, winds and relative humidity.
Presented as a graph, these outlooks are extracted directly from the latest
computer weather prediction models.

The science and study of the atmosphere and atmospheric phenomena.
A small, concentrated downburst affecting an area less than 4 kilometres
across. Most microbursts are rather short-lived (5 minutes or so), but on
rare occasions they have been known to last up to 6 times that long.

The smallest scale of meteorological phenomena that range in size from a
few centimetres to a few kilometres.

Mid latitudes
The areas between about 30 degrees and 55 degrees latitude.

Mid level cooling
Local cooling of the air in middle levels of the atmosphere (roughly 8,000-
25,000' or 2,000-8,000m), which can lead to destabilization of the entire
atmosphere if all other factors are equal. Mid-level cooling can occur, for
example, with the approach of a mid-level cold pool.

Middle clouds
Clouds with bases between 6000 and 18000 feet.

Middle latitudes
The latitude belt roughly between 35° and 60° North and South.

A refraction phenomenon the makes an image appear to be displaced from
its true position. It is most common close to the ground on hot days, when
the surface layer of the atmosphere is much warmer than the layer above,
resulting in lower density and different optical properties of this surface

Similar to fog, but visibility is greater than 1 kilometre.

Mixed layer
Upper portion of the boundary layer in which air is thoroughly mixed by

See Meso LAPS.
See GCM.

Moisture advection
Transport of moisture by horizontal winds.

Moisture convergence
A measure of the degree to which moist air is converging into a given area,
taking into account the effect of converging winds and moisture advection.
Areas of persistent moisture convergence are favoured regions for
thunderstorm development, if other factors (e.g., instability) are favourable.

A seasonal wind in the tropics. The northern Australian monsoon season
generally lasts from December to March. It is associated with the inflow of
moist west to northwest winds into the monsoon trough, producing
convective cloud and heavy rainfall over northern Australia.

These moisture-laden winds originate from the Indian Ocean and southern
Asian waters. The northern Australian wet season encompasses the
monsoon months but can extend several months either side, say between
October and April.

Morning Glory
An elongated cloud band common across Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf
Country in northern QLD. It is visually similar to a roll cloud, usually
appearing in the morning hours when the atmosphere is relatively stable.
Morning glories result from perturbations related to gravitational waves in a
stable boundary layer. They are similar to ripples on a water surface.
Several parallel morning glories often can be seen propagating in the same

Mountain wave
A wave in the atmosphere caused by a barrier such as a mountain. Is
sometimes marked by lenticular clouds to the leeward side of a mountain.

Medium-Range Forecast model; one of the operational forecast models run
at NCEP. The MRF is run once daily, with forecast output out to 240 hours
(10 days).
Mean Sea Level. It is necessary to convert the pressure readings to
equivalent mean sea level pressures, otherwise the horizontal changes in
pressure would be overwhelmed by vertical variations simply due to
differences in altitude between observing stations.

In this way, a Mean Sea Level Pressure map will then show pressures
affected by changing weather conditions, not because of changing altitude.

Multicell thunderstorm
A thunderstorm consisting of two or more cells, of which most or all are
often visible at a given time as distinct domes or towers in various stages of

Nearly all thunderstorms (including supercells) are multi-cellular, but the
term often is used to describe a storm which does not fit the definition of a

Multiple vortex tornado
(or Multi-vortex tornado) a tornado in which two or more condensation
funnels or debris clouds are present at the same time, often rotating about a
common centre or about each other. Multiple-vortex tornadoes can be
especially damaging. See suction vortex.

[Slang] A thunderstorm with a well-defined anvil rollover, and thus having a
visual appearance resembling a mushroom.

Weather Glossary - N
Nacreous cloud
Clouds that have a soft, pearly lustre and form at altitudes of around 25-30
km. Also called mother-of-pearl clouds.

Nautical mile
The distance of 1 minute of latitude. 1 nautical mile equals 1.85km.

National Centres for Environmental Prediction; the modernized version of

Negative tilt trough
An upper level system which is tilted to the east with increasing latitude
(i.e., with an axis from southeast to northwest). A negative-tilt trough often
is a sign of a developing or intensifying system.

NEXt-Generation Weather RADar. Technologically-advanced weather radar
being deployed to replace WSR-57 and WSR-74 units in the US. NEXRAD is a
high-resolution Doppler radar with increased emphasis on automation,
including use of algorithms and automated volume scan. NEXRAD units are
known as WSR-88D.

Nested Grid Model; one of the operational forecast models run at NCEP. The
NGM is run twice daily, with forecast output out to 48 hours.

(NOGAPS) Operational forecast model run by the Fleet Numerical
Meteorology and Oceanography Centre. Forecast output to 144 hours. The
NOGAPS model is run primarily for operational use by the US Navy.

(Ns) Latin "nimbus" - violent rain, "stratus" - layer
A dark grey-looking cloud that often covers the entire sky. Some definitions
of Nimbostratus include a required rainfall rate. Steady rain or snow
generally falls from nimbostratus.

The most abundant gas in air, comprising 78% by volume. It is colourless
and odourless.

National Meteorological Centre (U.S.).

National Meteorological Operations Centre (Aus). Responsible for the
operation of the Australian weather service, issuing real-time analysis and
prediction products, maintaining a nation-wide weather watch and support
the operational communications and computing infrastructure.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (U.S.).

Noctilucent clouds
Wavy, thin clouds that are seen at twilight in polar regions. They form at
altitudes of 80-90 km and are made visible by sunlight reflecting off the
underside of the cloud.

Related to night-time, or occurring at night.


A short-term weather forecast, generally out to six hours or less.

National Severe Storms Laboratory, in Norman OK, USA. (Sometimes
pronounced NES-sel.)

Numerical Weather Prediction. NWP uses simplified mathematical equations
of motion to simulate various processes in the atmosphere.

National Weather Service (U.S.).

Weather Glossary - O
Occluded mesocyclone
A mesocyclone in which air from the rear-flank downdraft has completely
enveloped the circulation at low levels, cutting off the inflow of warm
unstable low-level air.

A frontal system which forms when a cold front overtakes a warm front.
When the air behind the front is cooler than the air ahead, it is called a cold
occlusion, when the air ahead is milder, it is a warm occlusion.

The coastal water zone seaward of inshore waters.
Related to, or caused by, physical geography (such as mountains or sloping

Orographic lift
Lifting of air caused by its passage up and over mountains or other sloping

Orographic rain
Precipitation that results from Orographic lift

Orphan anvil
[Slang] An anvil from a dissipated thunderstorm, below which no other
clouds remain.

Outflow boundary
A storm-scale or mesoscale boundary separating thunderstorm-cooled air
(outflow) from the surrounding air; similar in effect to a cold front, with
passage marked by a wind shift and usually a drop in temperature. Outflow
boundaries may persist for 24 hours or more after the thunderstorms that
generated them dissipate, and may travel hundreds of kilometres from their
area of origin. New thunderstorms often develop along outflow boundaries,
especially near the point of intersection with another boundary (cold front,
dry line, another outflow boundary, etc.; see triple point).

Describes cloud cover when 8/8ths of the sky is covered in cloud.

Radar term indicating a region of high reflectivity at middle and upper levels
above an area of weak reflectivity at low levels. (The latter area is known as
a weak-echo region, or WER.) The overhang is found on the inflow side of a
thunderstorm (normally the south or southeast side). See BWER.

A weather pattern in which a relatively warm air mass is in motion above
another air mass of greater density at the surface. Embedded thunderstorms
sometimes develop in such a pattern; severe thunderstorms (mainly with
large hail) can occur, but tornadoes are unlikely.

Overrunning often is applied to the case of warm air riding up over a
retreating layer of colder air, as along the sloping surface of a warm front.
Such use of the term technically is incorrect, but in general it refers to a
pattern characterized by widespread clouds and steady precipitation on the
cool side of a front or other boundary.

Overshooting top
(or penetrating top) A dome-like protrusion above a thunderstorm anvil,
representing a very strong updraft and hence a higher potential for severe
weather with that storm. A persistent and/or large overshooting top (anvil
dome) often is present on a supercell. A short-lived overshooting top, or one
that forms and dissipates in cycles, may indicate the presence of a pulse
storm or a cyclic storm. See HP storm, LP storm, and supercell.

The second most abundant gas in air, comprising 21% by volume. It is a
colourless and odourless gas.

One of several gases that make up the Earth's atmosphere. It is the
triatomic form of oxygen and makes up approximately one part in three
million of all of the gases in the atmosphere. If all the ozone contained in the
atmosphere from the ground level up to a height of 60 km could be
assembled at the earth's surface, it would comprise a layer of gas only about
3 millimetres thick. Ozone is toxic at high concentrations because it reacts
strongly with other molecules.

Weather Glossary - P

(Pa) The unit of pressure (force per unit area) Kg/m². Average air pressure
is 1013.25 hPa (101325 Pa).

Pendant echo
Radar signature generally similar to a hook echo, except that the hook shape
is not as well defined.

Penetrating top
See overshooting top.

The term for denoting thresholds or boundary values in frequency
distributions. Thus the 5th percentile is that value which marks off the
lowest 5 per cent of the observations from the rest, the 50th percentile is
the same as the median, and the 95th percentile exceeds all but 5 per cent
of the values. When percentiles are estimated by ranking the items of a
finite sample, the percentile generally falls between two of the observed
values, and the midway value is often taken. (From Bureau of Meteorology

Latin - cap
A cloud in the form of a cap above or attached to the upper part of a
cumuliform cloud, indicating strong updrafts within the cloud.

Polar Jet
Marked by concentrations of isotherms and strong vertical wind shear this
jet is the boundary between polar air and subtropical air. Its position
migrates north in the Southern Hemisphere winter and south in the summer.

Popcorn convection
[Slang] Showers and thunderstorms that form on a scattered basis with little
or no apparent organization, usually during the afternoon in response to
diurnal heating. Individual thunderstorms are typically of the type
sometimes referred to as air-mass thunderstorms: they are small, short-
lived, very rarely severe, and they almost always dissipate near or just after

Positive area
The area on a sounding representing the layer in which a lifted parcel would
be warmer than the environment; thus, the area between the environmental
temperature profile and the path of the lifted parcel. See sounding. Positive
area is a measure of the energy available for convection; see CAPE.

Positive CG
A CG flash that delivers positive charge to the ground, as opposed to the
more common negative charge. Positive CGs have been found to occur more
frequently in some severe thunderstorms. Their occurrence is detectable by
most lightning detection networks, but visually it is not possible to
distinguish between a positive CG and a negative CG. (Some claim to have
observed a relationship between staccato lightning and positive CGs, but this
relationship is as yet unproven.)

Positive tilt trough
An upper level system which is tilted to the west with increasing latitude
(i.e., from southwest to northeast). A positive-tilt trough often is a sign of a
weakening weather system, and generally is less likely to result in severe
weather than a negative-tilt trough if all other factors are equal.

Potential temperature
The temperature a parcel of dry air would have if brought adiabatically (i.e.,
without transfer of heat or mass) to a standard pressure level of 1000 mb.

Plan Position Indicator. A radar scanning method which uses a single
elevation of the radar antenna to detect and range rainfall surrounding the
site. Multiple PPI scans at various elevations are often combined to create a
CAPPI (Constant Altitude Plan Position Indicator) display of the radar data.
This is the most common type of radar display used in Australia.

Plan Position Indicates No Echoes, referring to the fact that a radar detects
no precipitation within its range.

Pre frontal trough
An elongated area of low pressure preceding a cold front. Is usually
associated with a shift in wind direction and a slight temperature drop.

Precipitable water
The vertical integral of the water content in a column of the atmosphere,
and is measured in millimetres. It is a measure of the amount of water that
can be "wrung out" of the atmosphere. High values (above 40mm) indicate
the potential for heavy rainfall.

Any or all of the forms of water particles, whether liquid (e.g. rain, drizzle)
or solid (e.g. hail, snow), that fall from a cloud or group of clouds and reach
the ground.

Duration of precipitation

 Brief: Short duration.
 Intermittent: Precipitation which ceases at times.
 Occasional: Precipitation which while not frequent, is recurrent.
 Frequent: Showers occurring regularly and often.
 Continuous: Precipitation which does not cease, or ceases only briefly.
 Periods of rain: Rain is expected to fall most of the time, but there will be breaks.

Distribution of showers and precipitation

 Few: Indicating timing not an area.
 Isolated: Showers which are well separated in space during a given period.
 Local: Restricted to reatively small areas.
 Patchy: Occurring irregularly over an area.
 Scattered: Irregularly distributed over an area. Showers which while not widespread,
can occur anywhere in an area. Implies a slightly greater incidence than isolated.
 Widespread: Occurring extensively throughout an area.

The force per unit area. In meteorology, pressure refers to the weight of air
in a column directly above a point.
The standard atmospheric pressure at mean sea level is 1013.25 hPa,
though surface pressures of 870 hPa (Typhoon Tip, October 1979) and 1084
hPa (Agata, Siberia, December 1968) have been recorded.

Pressure gradient
The pressure change over a fixed distance at a fixed altitude. The larger the
pressure gradient the stronger the winds.

Prevailing wind
A wind that blows from one direction more frequently than any other during
a given period.

Probabilities, or Probabilistic Forecasts
An attempt to convey the uncertainty in a forecast by expressing its
likelihood of occurrence as a percentage. High probabilities do not guarantee
an outcome - they merely indicate that that outcome is highly likely.

An instrument designed to measure horizontal winds directly above its
location, and thus measure the vertical wind profile. Profilers operate on the
same principles as Doppler radar.

Prognostic chart
A chart displaying a forecast of meteorological elements

Pseudo-cold front
A boundary between a supercell's inflow region and the rear-flank downdraft
(or RFD). It extends outward from the mesocyclone centre, usually toward
the south or southwest (but occasionally bows outward to the east or
southeast in the case of an occluded mesocyclone), and is characterized by
advancing of the downdraft air toward the inflow region. It is a particular
form of gustfront. See also pseudo-warm front.

Pseudo-warm front
A boundary between a supercell's inflow region and the forward-flank
downdraft (or FFD). It extends outward from at or near the mesocyclone
centre, usually toward the east or southeast, and normally is either nearly
stationary or moves northward or north-eastwards ahead of the
mesocyclone. See pseudo-cold front and beaver tail.

Pulse storm
A thunderstorm within which a brief period (pulse) of strong updraft occurs,
during and immediately after which the storm produces a short episode of
severe weather. These storms generally are not tornado producers, but
often produce large hail and/or damaging winds. See air mass thunderstorm,
cyclic storm.

Positive Vorticity Advection. Advection of higher values of vorticity into an
area, which often is associated with upward motion (lifting) of the air
(Northern Hemisphere). PVA typically is found in advance of disturbances
aloft (i.e., shortwaves), and is a property which often enhances the potential
for thunderstorm development.

Clouds which form on top of a rising column of smoke over a fire. These can
produce precipitation and/or lightning in rare cases.

Weather Glossary - Q
QFE is calculated by adjusting the station level pressure for the difference
between the barometer level and the aerodrome reference level, assuming
International Standard Atmosphere(ISA) conditions. An Altimeter set to QFE
will read zero when the aircraft is on the runway.

The pressure setting used by aircraft altimeters to give an indication above
MSL. The QNH pressure calculation assumes a standard ICAO atmosphere.
Most AWS stations installed by the Bureau of Meteorology report pressure in
QNH rather than standard MSLP. The difference between the two values can
be as much as 3hPa for elevated locations.

Quasi-stationary front
A front that shows little or no horizontal movement. By convention, the term
applies to a front this is moving at 5 knots or less. The slow horizontal
motion combined with considerable vertical motion of the warm air, often
gives rise to persistent and sometimes severe amounts of precipitation
leading to local flooding.

Weather Glossary - R
Radio Detection And Ranging. An electronic instrument used to detect
precipitation by the ability of rain droplets (and other hydrometeors) to
reflect microwaves (radio waves) back to a receiver.

Radial velocity
The component of motion toward or away from a given location. As "seen"
by Doppler radar, it is the component of motion parallel to the radar beam.
(The component of motion perpendicular to the beam cannot be seen by the
radar. Therefore, strong winds blowing strictly from left to right or from right
to left, relative to the radar, can not be detected.)

The process by which is energy is propagated through any medium by virtue
off the wave motion of that medium.

Radiation fog
Occurs on calm, clear nights when a moist layer at the surface is cooled to
its dew point.

Radiational cooling
The cooling of the earth’s surface and the adjacent air due to outgoing

Precipitation of liquid water that falls from stratiform cloud, with diameter
greater than 0.5mm. It is generally steadier than showers. Precipitation
(from stratiform cloud) with droplets less than 0.5mm is called drizzle.
Rain day
A rain day occurs when a daily rainfall of at least 0.2 mm is recorded.

Rain foot
[Slang] A horizontal bulging near the surface in a precipitation shaft, forming
a foot-shaped prominence. A rain foot (bulging to the right in this image) is
a visual indication of a wet microburst.

Rain free base
A dark, horizontal cloud base with no visible precipitation beneath it. It
typically marks the location of the thunderstorm updraft. Tornadoes may
develop from wall clouds attached to the rain-free base or from the rain-free
base itself - especially when the rain-free base is on the south or southwest
side of the main precipitation area.

Note that the rain-free base may not actually be rain free; hail or large rain
drops may be falling. For this reason, updraft base is more accurate. See HP
storm, LP storm and supercell.

Rain gauge
An instrument used to measure the amount of rain that has fallen.

Rain shadow
A region on the leeward side of a mountain or similar barrier where
precipitation is less than on the windward side. For example, eastern TAS is
in the rain shadow of the central plateau receives far less rain than western

The total liquid product of precipitation or condensation from the
atmosphere, as received and measured in a rain gauge.

Rear flank downdraft
(or RFD) A region of dry air subsiding on the back side of, and wrapping
around, a mesocyclone. It often is visible as a clear slot wrapping around the
wall cloud. Scattered large precipitation particles (rain and hail) at the
interface between the clear slot and wall cloud may show up on radar as a
hook or pendant; thus the presence of a hook or pendant may indicate the
presence of an RFD. See supercell.

Reference Climate Station
A climatological station, the data of which are intended for the purpose of
determining climatic trends. This requires long periods (not less than thirty
years) of homogeneous records, where human-influenced environmental
changes have been and/or are expected to remain at a minimum. Ideally the
records should be of sufficient length to enable the identification of secular
(lasting for ages) changes of climate.

A radar term referring to the ability of a radar target to return energy.
Reflectivity is used to derive echo intensity, and to estimate precipitation
intensity and rainfall rates. See VIP.

Relative humidity
A dimensionless ratio, expressed in percent, of the amount of atmospheric
moisture present relative to the amount that would be present if the air were
saturated. Since the latter amount is dependent on temperature, relative
humidity is a function of both moisture content and temperature. As such,
relative humidity by itself does not directly indicate the actual amount of
atmospheric moisture present. See dew point.

(or Retrograde Motion) Movement of a weather system in a direction
opposite to that of the basic flow in which it is embedded, usually referring
to a closed low or a longwave trough which moves westward at mid-

Return flow
South winds on the back (west) side of an eastward-moving surface high
pressure system. Return flow over the central and eastern United States
typically results in a return of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico (or the
Atlantic Ocean).

An elongated area of relatively high atmospheric pressure. Generally
associated with light winds and clear weather.

Right Exit Region
(or Right Front Quadrant) The area downstream from and to the right of an
upper-level jet max (as would be viewed looking along the direction of flow).
Upward motion and severe thunderstorm potential sometimes are increased
in this area relative to the wind seed maximum. See also entrance region,
left rear quadrant.

Right Front Quadrant
See Right Exit Region

Right mover
A thunderstorm which moves to the right relative to the steering winds, and
to other nearby thunderstorms; often the southern part of a splitting storm.
See also left mover.

Roll cloud
A low, horizontal tube-shaped arcus cloud associated with a thunderstorm
gust front (or a cold front). Roll clouds are relatively rare; they are
completely detached from the thunderstorm base or other cloud features,
thus differentiating them from the more familiar shelf clouds. Roll clouds
usually appear to be "rolling" about a horizontal axis, but should not be
confused with funnel clouds.

In satellite meteorology, a narrow, rope-like band of clouds sometimes seen
on satellite images along a front or other boundary.

(or Rope Funnel) A narrow, often contorted condensation funnel usually
associated with the decaying stage of a tornado. See rope stage.

Rope Cloud
The term sometimes is used synonymously with rope or rope funnel.

Rope stage
The dissipating stage of a tornado, characterized by thinning and shrinking
of the condensation funnel into a rope (or rope funnel). Damage still is
possible during this stage.

Rossby waves
The movement of ridges and troughs in the upper wind patterns, primarily
the jet stream.

Weather Glossary - S
Precipitation consisting of small (generally less than 5mm in diameter)
transparent ice pellets. Often a precursor to snow.

Saturated Adiabatic Lapse Rate. The rate at which the temperature of
saturated air (air at 100% relative humidity) will vary as it is raised or
lowered through the atmosphere. The SALR varies with temperature and
pressure, however it is always less than the DALR. The SALR can be as low
as -3K/km (temperature reducing as the air is raised).

The SALR is less than the DALR due to latent heat release as water vapour in
the air is condensed. This latent heat release acts to raise the temperature
of the surrounding air.

Satellite image
Images of the Earth taken from a satellite. The most common is the infrared
image which indicates the temperature of the cloud tops (or the land or sea
in cloud free areas). Infrared satellite images are most commonly used, as
they can be used day and night.Visible satellite images are useful for
identifying low cloud features (which do not appear bright on infrared
images), however visible images can only be taken during daylight
hours.Water vapour images are used to identify moisture in the atmosphere
that may not be in the form of clouds. These images show water vapour
from around 800 hPa (2000m) and upwards.

Describes the cloud cover when between 3/8ths and 4/8ths of the sky is
obscured by cloud

(or fractus) Small, ragged, low cloud fragments that are unattached to a
larger cloud base and often seen with and behind cold fronts and
thunderstorm gustfronts. Such clouds are generally associated with cool
moist air, such as thunderstorm outflow.

Scud cloud forming ahead of a supercellular thunderstorm near
Muswellbrook, NSW.

Sea waves
Waves generated by the wind blowing at the time, and in the recent past, in
the area of observation. They are generally smaller and choppier than swell
Sea breeze
A local onshore wind. Cooler, more humid air from over the sea flows onto
the coast to replace the warm air rising over the land. On sunny days the
land heats up more quickly and to a greater extent than the sea. The air in
contact with the land warms and expands and the resulting changes in the
pressure and temperature differences and distributions generate the sea
breeze circulation. At night, when the land cools more quickly and to a
greater extent than the sea, the reverse land breeze circulation can develop.

Sea fog
Fog which develops when the sea temperature is less than the dew point of
the air above it. Sea fog is also called advection fog, because the formation
of the fog nearly always requires the advection of warmer air over a cooler

In Australia, the seasons are defined by grouping the calendar months in the
following way:

 Spring - the three transition months September, October and November.
 Summer - the three hottest months December, January and February.
 Autumn - the transition months March, April and May.
 Winter - the three coldest months June, July and August.

These definitions reflect the lag in heating and cooling as the sun appears to move
southward and northward across the equator. They are also useful for compiling and
presenting climate-based statistics on time scales such as months and seasons.

These definitions do not apply in tropical regions. There are two more distinct seasons - wet
and dry.

Severe thunderstorm
A thunderstorm which produces any or several of the following:

 Hail 2 cm in diameter or larger.
 Flash flooding
 Wind gusts in excess of 48 knots (96 km/h)
 Tornado

The variation in wind speed (speed shear) and/or direction (directional
shear) over a short distance. Shear usually refers to vertical wind shear, i.e.
the change in wind with height, but the term is also used in Doppler radar to
describe changes in radial velocity over short horizontal distances.

Shelf cloud
A low, horizontal wedge-shaped cloud, associated with a thunderstorm
gustfront or a cold front, even in the absence of thunderstorms. Unlike the
roll cloud, the shelf cloud is attached to the base of the parent cloud above it
(usually a thunderstorm). Rising cloud motion often can be seen in the
leading (outer) part of the shelf cloud, while the underside often appears
turbulent, boiling, and wind-torn.

Shortwave trough
(or shortwave) A disturbance in the mid or upper levels of the atmosphere
which induces upward motion ahead of it. If other conditions are favourable,
the upward motion can contribute to thunderstorm development ahead of a
shortwave trough.

Intermittent precipitation (snow, sleet, liquid water) from cumuliform cloud,
usually of short duration which starts and ends suddenly. Can be very heavy
as in thunderstorms (cumulonimbus).

Significant wave height
The average of the highest one third of the waves. The likely maximum
wave height can be up to twice the significant wave height, occuring around
1 in 2000 waves.

A mixture of rain and snow or falling snow that is melting into rain.

Smog - contraction for 'smoke fog'. An unpleasant fog in which smoke or
other atmospheric pollutants (sea spray, dust) have an important part in
causing the fog to thicken.

Precipitation of ice crystals, most of which are branched (sometimes star
shaped). In cold conditions, snowflakes may be tiny, individual crystals. At
warmer temperatures, snowflakes may clump or freeze together to produce
larger snowflakes.

Snow level
The elevation in mountainous terrain where precipitation changes from rain
to snow.

A plot of the vertical profile of temperature and dew point (and often winds)
above a fixed location. Soundings are used extensively in severe weather
forecasting, e.g., to determine instability, locate temperature inversions,
measure the strength of the cap, obtain the convective temperature, etc.

Southerly buster
An abrupt southerly wind change, often producing strong and squally winds
and sometimes accompanied by thunderstorms. These occur along the NSW
coastline, mainly during the summer months. The Southerly Buster is not
associated with a low pressure system in the Tasman, rather it is a shallow
cold front moving up the coast from Victoria and Tasmania.

Southern Oscillation Index
The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is calculated from the monthly or
seasonal fluctuations in the air pressure difference between Tahiti and

Positive SOI values indicate increased probability of above average rainfall
over northern and eastern Australia. Positive SOI,s are associated with lower
air pressure over Darwin, stronger Pacific trade winds and warmer sea
temperatures to the north of Australia. This is popularly known as a La Niña

Negative SOI values suggest drier weather or a reduction in rainfall over
eastern and northern Australia. Negative SOIs indicate higher air pressure
over Darwin and a decrease in the strength of the Pacific Trade Winds.
Sustained negative SOI values are linked to El Niño episodes.

Speed shear
The component of wind shear which is due to a change in wind speed with
height, e.g., southwesterly winds of 20 knots at 10,000 feet increasing to 50
knots at 20,000 feet. Speed shear is an important factor in severe weather
development, especially in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere.

Spin up
[Slang] A small-scale vortex initiation, such as what may be seen when a
gustnado, landspout, or suction vortex forms.
Splitting storm
A thunderstorm which splits into two storms which follow diverging paths (a
left mover and a right mover). The right mover typically moves faster than
the original storm, the left mover, slower.

Of the two, the right mover is most likely to weaken and dissipate (but on
rare occasions can become a very severe anticyclonic-rotating storm), while
the left mover is the one most likely to become a supercell.

The transition months of September, October and November between winter
and summer (in the Southern hemisphere). In Australia spring is
characterized by the onset of the northern wet season and eastern
thunderstorm season. Spring also brings an end to the southern wet season.

A sudden increase in the mean wind speed which lasts for several minutes at
least before returning to near its previous value. A squall may include many

Squall line
A solid or nearly solid band of active thunderstorms. Generally, the distance
between individual storms is less than the diameter of the individual storms.
Accompanied by strong, squally winds. Generally occur in situations of little
directional wind shear but strong speed shear.

Sea Surface Temperature

Occurs when a rising air parcel is denser than the surrounding air.

Staccato lightning
A CG lightning discharge which appears as a single very bright, short-
duration stroke, often with considerable branching.

Steering winds
A prevailing synoptic scale flow which governs the movement of smaller
features embedded within it.

Stevenson Screen
A standard white louvered box which contains standard meteorological
instruments such as wet and dry-bulb thermometers. All BoM weather
stations have their instruments inside a Stevenson screen.

Storm force winds
Winds with mean speed exceeding 48 knots or roughly 89 km/h. Storm force
winds are the strongest winds used in midlatitudes. In tropical areas,
Hurricane force is used to describe winds with a mean speed in excess of 64

Storm relative
Measured relative to a moving thunderstorm, usually referring to winds,
wind shear, or helicity.

Referring to weather systems with sizes on the order of individual
thunderstorms - generally around 10 km. See synoptic scale, mesoscale.

Straight line winds
Generally, any wind that is not associated with rotation, used mainly to
differentiate them from tornadic winds. Straight line winds occur from
downbursts and can reach wind speeds similar to torndaic speeds.

Having extensive horizontal development, as opposed to the more vertical
development characteristic of convection. Stratiform clouds cover large
areas but show relatively little vertical development. Stratiform precipitation,
in general, is relatively continuous and uniform in intensity (i.e., steady rain
versus rain showers).

(Sc) Low-level clouds, existing in a relatively flat layer but having individual
elements. Elements often are arranged in rows, bands, or waves.
Stratocumulus often reveals the depth of the moist air at low levels, while
the speed of the cloud elements can reveal the strength of a low-level jet (if

Layer of the atmosphere between about 10 and 50 kilometres above the
(St) Latin - layer
A low, generally grey cloud layer with a fairly uniform base. Stratus may
appear in the form of ragged patches, but otherwise does not exhibit
individual cloud elements as do cumulus and stratocumulus clouds. Fog is
usually a surface-based form of stratus.

Grooves or channels in cloud formations, arranged parallel to the flow of air
and therefore depicting the airflow relative to the parent cloud. Striations
often reveal the presence of rotation, as in the barber pole or "corkscrew"
effect often observed with the rotating updraft of an LP storm.

Sub synoptic low
Essentially the same as mesolow.

Sub tropical jet
The boundary between subtropical air and tropical air, marked by a
concentration of isotherms and vertical shear. Migrates north in the southern
hemisphere winter.

The phase change from a solid to a gas. The opposite of crystallisation.

Sinking (downward) motion in the atmosphere, usually over a broad area.
Generally associated with anticyclonic conditions, high pressure and clear

The region between the tropical and temperate regions, between 23.5 and
about 35 to 40 North and South. This is generally an area of semi
permanent high pressure and low precipitation, explaining why much of
Australia is arid or semi arid.

Suction vortex
(sometimes Suction spot) A small but very intense vortex within a tornado
circulation. Several suction vortices typically are present in a multiple-vortex
tornado. Much of the extreme damage associated with violent tornadoes (F4
and F5 on the Fujita scale) is attributed to suction vortices.

The three hottest months December, January and February (for the southern
hemisphere). Summer in Australia marks the middle of the northern wet
season and southern dry season.

Direct radiation from the sun, as opposed to the shading of a location by
other obstructions.

A thunderstorm with a persistent rotating updraft. Supercells are rare, but
are responsible for a remarkably high percentage of severe weather events -
especially tornadoes, extremely large hail and damaging straight-line winds.
They frequently travel to the left of the main environmental winds (i.e., they
are left movers).

Radar characteristics often (but not always) include a hook or pendant,
bounded weak echo region (BWER), V-notch, mesocyclone, and sometimes a
TVS. Visual characteristics often include a rain-free base (with or without a
wall cloud), tail cloud, flanking line, overshooting top, and back-sheared
anvil, all of which normally are observed in or near the right rear or
southwest part of the storm.

Storms exhibiting these characteristics are often called classic supercells;
however HP storms and LP storms are also supercell varieties.

A supercell thunderstorm in inland Queensland.

Supercooled water
Water which has been cooled below 0 °C but remains in liquid form. Occurs
when no seed crystal or nucleus is present around which a crystal structure
can form.

Surface based convection
Convection occurring within a surface-based layer, i.e., a layer in which the
lowest portion is based at or very near the earth's surface. Compare with
elevated convection.

Severe Weather ThrEAT index. A stability index developed by the US Air
Force which incorporates instability, wind shear, and wind speeds as follows:

SWEAT=(12 Td 850 ) + (20 (TT-49)) +( 2 f 850) + f 500 + (125 (s+0.2))

 Td 850 is the dew pint temperature at 850 mb,
 TT is the total-totals index,
 f 850 is the 850-mb wind speed (in knots),
 f 500 is the 500-mb wind speed (in knots), and
 s is the sine of the angle between the wind directions at 500 mb and 850 mb (thus
representing the directional shear in this layer).

SWEAT values of about 250-300 or more indicate a greater potential for severe weather,
but as with all stability indices, there are no magic numbers.

The SWEAT index has the advantage (and disadvantage) of using only mandatory-level data
(i.e., 500 mb and 850 mb), but has fallen into relative disuse with the advent of more
detailed sounding analysis programs.

Swell waves
Waves which have travelled into the area of observation after having been
generated by previous winds in other areas. These waves may travel
thousands of kilometres from their origin before dying away. There may be
swell present even if the wind is calm and there are no 'sea' waves.

SYNOPtic report. Similar to a METAR, but gives additional details of the
weather at a site. SYNOP's are only reported at most every three hours.

Synoptic chart
Any map or chart that depicts meteorological or atmospheric conditions.

(or large scale) A size scale referring generally to weather systems with
horizontal dimensions of several hundred kilometres or more. Most high and
low pressure areas seen on weather maps are synoptic-scale systems.
Compare with mesoscale, storm-scale.

Weather Glossary - T
Tropical Limited Area Prediction System. A modified version of the LAPS
numerical model, covering tropical latitudes in the western Pacific (over

T Rolls
[Slang] same as transverse rolls.

Tail cloud
A horizontal, tail-shaped cloud (not a funnel cloud) at low levels extending
from the precipitation cascade region of a supercell toward the wall cloud
(i.e., it usually is observed extending from the wall cloud toward the north or
northeast). The base of the tail cloud is about the same as that of the wall
cloud. Cloud motion in the tail cloud is away from the precipitation area and
towards the wall cloud, with rapid upward motion often observed near the
junction of the tail and wall clouds. See supercell.

A measure of heat in an object. It is a physical quantity characterising the
random motion of molecules within a body. The most common scale is the
Celsius scale with 0°C the freezing point of water at sea level. This
corresponds to 273.15 K in the Kelvin scale which has its zero at absolute
zero, the lowest physically possible temperature.

A vertical temperature gradient in a water body appreciably greater than
gradients above or below.

Thermodynamic chart
(or Aerological diagram) A chart containing contours of pressure,
temperature, moisture, and potential temperature, all drawn relative to each
other such that basic thermodynamic laws are satisfied. Such a chart is
typically used to plot atmospheric soundings, and to estimate potential
changes in temperature, moisture, etc. if air were displaced vertically from a
given level. A thermodynamic chart thus is a useful tool in diagnosing
atmospheric instability.

In general, the relationships between heat and other properties (such as
temperature, pressure, density, etc.) In forecast discussions,
thermodynamics usually refers to the distribution of temperature and
moisture (both vertical and horizontal) as related to the diagnosis of
atmospheric instability.
An instrument used to measure temperature.

Theta e
See Equivalent Potential Temperature

Thickness usually refers to the depth of the 1000-500 hPa layer in the
atmosphere. However charts are also produced for thicknesses of other
layers in the atmosphere as well. The thickness gives an indication of the
mean temperature within a layer; lower thicknesses indicate colder air,
higher thicknesses warmer air.

Forecast MSL charts will also often show the 1000-500 hPa thickness as
dashed lines. The thickness on these charts is usually given in decametres.
So the 540 line indicates the 1000-500 hPa layer is 5400 metres deep.

Thickness charts in general and the 1000-500 hPa thinkness charts in
particular are also very useful for determining baroclinic zones and
development. Thickness lines can also indicate the steering direction of
surface highs and lows.

The loud booming sound associated with a lightning strike. A lightning strike
rapidly heats a column of air (to conduct the charge) which expands
outwards. This expansion results in a compression wave in the air which we
hear as thunder. The "rolling thunder" sound is a result of the thunder
echoing off surrounding hills and buildings, and also the thunder originating
from sections of the lightning stroke at different distances from the

A good rule of thumb to tell how far away a storm is to count the seconds
between seeing a lightning strike and hearing the thunder from it. Divide
this number by three to tell approximately how many kilometres away the
storm is.

Convective showers which produce lightning. Heavy rain, strong winds and
hail are all possible in thunderstorms.

Tilted storm
(or tilted updraft) A thunderstorm or cloud tower which is not purely vertical
but instead exhibits a slanted or tilted character. It is a sign of vertical wind
shear, a favourable condition for severe storm development.

A violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground and extending
from the base of a thunderstorm. A condensation funnel does not need to
reach to the ground for a tornado to be present; a debris cloud beneath a
thunderstorm is all that is needed to confirm the presence of a tornado,
even in the total absence of a condensation funnel.

Tornado family
A series of tornadoes produced by a single supercell, resulting in damage
path segments along the same general line.

Total-Totals index
A stability index and severe weather forecast tool, equal to T850 + Td850 - 2

The total-totals index is the arithmetic sum of two other indices: the Vertical
Totals Index (T850 - T500) and the Cross Totals Index (Td850 - T500). As with
all stability indices there are no magic threshold values, but in general,
values of less than 50 or greater than 55 are considered weak and strong
indicators, respectively, of potential severe storm development.

(Short for towering cumulus) A cloud element showing appreciable upward
vertical development.

Towering cumulus
Same as cumulus congestus. Often shortened to "towering cu" abbreviated

A trace of rain is reported by rainfall observers when a little precipitation can
be seen in the rain gauge, but there is less than 0.1 mm in total. The
precipitation could be from any source such as rain, drizzle, dew, melted
frost, melted hail or melted snow. It is quite often reported as 'tce' or 'tr' in
rainfall bulletins. Rainfall amounts between 0.1 mm and 0.2 mm are
reported as 0.2 mm in rainfall bulletins.

Trade winds
East to southeast winds (in the southern hemisphere) which affect tropical
and sub-tropical regions, including the northern half of Australia.

Latin - to shine through, transparent
Clouds that cover a large part of the sky and are sufficiently thin to reveal
the position of the sun or moon.

The process by which water in plants is transferred as water vapour to the

Transverse bands
Bands of clouds oriented perpendicular to the flow in which they are
embedded. They often are seen best on satellite photographs. When
observed at high levels (i.e., in cirrus formations), they may indicate severe
or extreme turbulence. Transverse bands observed at low levels (called
transverse rolls or T rolls) often indicate the presence of a temperature
inversion (or cap) as well as directional shear in the low- to mid-level winds.
These conditions often favour the development of strong to severe

Transverse rolls
Elongated low-level clouds arranged in parallel bands and aligned parallel to
the low-level winds but perpendicular to the mid-level flow. Transverse rolls
are one type of transverse band, and often indicate an environment
favourable for the subsequent development of supercells. Since they are
aligned parallel to the low-level inflow, they may point toward the region
most likely for later storm development.

Triple Point
The intersection point between two boundaries (dry line, outflow boundary,
cold front, etc.), often a focus for thunderstorm development.

Triple point also may refer to a point on the gustfront of a supercell, where
the warm moist inflow, the rain-cooled outflow from the forward flank
downdraft, and the rear flank downdraft all intersect; this point is a favoured
location for tornado development (or redevelopment).

In thermodynamics, triple point refers to the temperature and air pressure
at which a material (e.g. water) can exist in all three phases (liquid, solid
and gas) in equilibrium. The triple point for water is 0.01°C (273.16K) and
607.8 Pa.

Tropical Cyclone
A tropical depression of sufficient intensity to produce sustained gale force
winds (sustained winds of 63 km/h or greater with gusts in excess of 90
km/h). The typical structure consists of bands of cumulonimbus clouds which
spiral towards a clear central eye, though this can be obscured by high cirrus
cloud.Tropical cyclones are associated with extremely strong winds,
torrential rain, storm surges (in coastal areas) and huge seas.The name
Tropical cyclone is usually used for systems in the southwest Pacific and
Indian Oceans, while other names such as tropical storms, hurricanes and
typhoons are used in other parts of the world. If they attain maximum mean
winds above 117 km/h (63 knots) they are called Severe Tropical Cyclones
(Category 3 or above).

Tropical Cyclone categories
Negligible house damage. Damage to some crops, trees and caravans. Craft
may drag moorings.A Category 1 cyclone's stongest winds are GALES with
gusts to 125 km/h.These winds correspond to Beaufort 8 and 9 (Gales and
strong gales).

Minor house damage. Significant damage to signs, trees and caravans.
Heavy damage to some crops. Risk of power failure. Small craft may break
moorings.A Category 2 cyclone's strongest winds are DESTRUCTIVE winds
with gusts of 125 -170 km/h.These winds correspond to Beaufort 10 and 11
(Storm and violent storm).

Some roof and structural damage. Some caravans destroyed. Power failures
likely.A Category 3 cyclone's strongest winds are VERY DESTRUCTIVE winds
with gusts of 170 - 225 km/h.These winds correspond to the highest
category on the Beaufort scale, Beaufort 12 (Hurricane).

Significant roofing loss and structural damage. Many caravans destroyed and
blown away. Dangerous airborne debris. Widespread power failures.A
Category 4 cyclone's strongest winds are VERY DESTRUCTIVE winds with
gusts of 225 - 280 km/h.These winds correspond to the highest category on
the Beaufort scale, Beaufort 12 (Hurricane).

Extremely dangerous with widespread destruction.A Category 5 cyclone's
strongest winds are VERY DESTRUCTIVE winds with gusts of more than 280
km/h.These winds correspond to the highest category on the Beaufort scale,
Beaufort 12 (Hurricane).

Tropical disturbance
An area of organized convection, originating in the tropics, that maintains its
identity for more than 24 hours. It is often the first developmental stage of a
tropical depression or tropical cyclone.

Tropical Storm
Term used in the northern hemisphere for a tropical cyclone.

The region of the earth located between 23.5° North and 23.5° South.

The upper boundary of the troposphere, usually characterized by an abrupt
change in lapse rate from positive (decreasing temperature with height) to
neutral or negative (temperature constant or increasing with height). In
mid-latitudes, it is around 10km high, but can be much higher in tropical
latitudes, and lower in polar regions.

The lowest (major) layer of the atmosphere from the earth's surface up to
the tropopause (at around 10 km in mid-latitudes) where most of the Earth’s
weather occurs. It is characterized by decreasing temperature with height
(except, perhaps, in thin layers - see inversion, cap), vertical wind motion,
appreciable water vapour content, and sensible weather (clouds, rain, etc.).

An elongated area of relatively low atmospheric pressure, usually not
associated with a closed circulation, and thus used to distinguish from a
closed low. Usually marks a sharp boundary in wind direction and is
associated with cloudiness and shower or storm development. A trough can
often denote an airmass boundary. This may be an area of sharp
temperature or humidity gradients. Convergence along these troughs can
result in showers or thunderstorms. In more southern latitudes in Australia,
troughs forming along strong temperature gradients are often responsible
for summertime cool changes. A cold front is a trough that exhibits particular
characteristics that warrant special identification. In the tropics, troughs
(particularly over the ocean) are often driven by troughs or disturbances in
the upper levels that causes convergence in the lower levels. These are also
known are tropical waves and are often a precursor tropical cyclone

A state of fluid flow in which the instantaneous velocities exhibit irregular
and apparently random fluctuations. Theses fluctuations are capable of
transporting atmospheric properties.

Turkey tower
[Slang] A narrow, individual cloud tower that develops and falls apart
rapidly, leaving cloud fragments suspended in elevated regions. The sudden
development of turkey towers from small cumulus may signify the breaking
of a cap.

Tornadic Vortex Signature. Doppler radar signature in the radial velocity field
indicating intense, concentrated rotation - more so than a mesocyclone. Like
the mesocyclone, specific criteria involving strength, vertical depth, and time
continuity must be met in order for a signature to become a TVS. Existence
of a TVS strongly increases the probability of tornado occurrence, but does
not guarantee it. A TVS is not a visually observable feature.

Abbreviation for The Weather Company.

[Slang] A tornado.

Term used in the northwestern Pacific for a tropical cyclone with maximum
winds above 117 km/h (63 knots).

Weather Glossary - U
A medium-range numerical weather prediction model operated by the United
Kingdom METeorological Agency.

Ultraviolet radiation
Electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths shorter than visible light, but
longer than x-rays. Exposure to too much UV radiation can cause skin

Changeable or variable weather.

Unstable air
Air in which static instability exists. This condition is determined by the
vertical gradients of air temperature and humidity.

A small-scale current of rising air. If the air is sufficiently moist, then the
moisture condenses to become a cumulus cloud or an individual tower of a
towering cumulus or Cb.

Updraft base
Alternate term for a rain free base.

Upper level
The portion of the atmosphere above the lower troposphere. It is generally
applied to levels above 850 hPa.

Upper level system
A general term for any large-scale or mesoscale disturbance capable of
producing upward motion (lift) in the middle or upper parts of the
atmosphere. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with impulse or

Upslope flow
Air that flows toward higher terrain, and hence is forced to rise. The added
lift often results in widespread low cloudiness and stratiform precipitation if
the air is stable, or an increased chance of thunderstorm development if the
air is unstable.

Upslope fog
Fog that forms when warm moist air is forced up a slope by wind.

Toward the source of the flow, or located in the area from which the flow is
The rise of colder, deep ocean waters along a coast due to the movement of
surface water away from the coast.

Abbreviation for Universal Time Coordinate. See also Zulu, GMT.

Weather Glossary - V
W Weather Glossary - W

Walker Circulation
The Walker circulation is an atmospheric circulation of air over the equatorial
Pacific Ocean. It is caused by the pressure gradient force that results from
high pressure over the eastern pacific and low pressure over Indonesia. The
Walker circulation is seen at the surface as easterly trade winds which move
water and air towards the west. The ocean is some 60 cm higher in the
eastern Pacific as the result of this motion. The water is returned to the east
at the Ocean floor while the air is returned in the upper atmosphere. An El
Niño episode is characterised by a breakdown of this water and air cycle,
resulting in relatively warm water and moist air in the eastern Pacific. A La
Nina episode is characterised by an intensification of the circulation

Walker Cycle
Transition and movement of water around the Earth involving evaporation,
transpiration, condensation, precipitation, percolation, runoff, and storage. It
moves into the atmosphere as water vapour through evaporation from water
surfaces or through transpiration from plants. The vapour condenses in the
atmosphere to form clouds and returns to the surface as precipitation. Water
falling on land is destined for one of many fates. If it falls as snow it can
spend some time in a snow or ice-field before moving off as a glacier and
perhaps eventually becoming part of an iceberg. Or it might melt and join a
river. If it falls as liquid drops it might be retained in the soil as moisture for
plants, or it might join a river, or be stored for a time in a lake or reservoir.
Ultimately it will either find its way back to the ocean or be evaporated back
into the atmosphere, from where it will move along through various
branches of the eternal water cycle.

Wall cloud
A localized, persistent, often abrupt lowering from a rain-free thunderstorm
base. Wall clouds can range from a fraction of a mile up to nearly five miles
in diameter, and normally are found on the north or northwest (inflow) side
of the thunderstorm. When seen from within several kilometres, many wall
clouds exhibit rapid upward motion and cyclonic rotation. However, not all
wall clouds rotate. Rotating wall clouds usually develop before strong or
violent tornadoes, by anywhere from a few minutes up to nearly an hour.
Wall clouds should be monitored visually for signs of persistent, sustained
rotation and/or rapid vertical motion.

"Wall cloud" is also used occasionally in tropical meteorology to describe the
inner cloud wall surrounding the eye of a tropical cyclone, but the proper
term for this feature is eyewall.

A wall cloud attached to a supercell thunderstorm.

Warm advection
Transport of warm air into an area by horizontal winds.

Low-level warm advection sometimes is referred to (incorrectly) as
overrunning. Although the two terms are not properly interchangeable, both
imply the presence of lifting in low levels.

Warm front
A moving boundary that separates warmer air from cooler air. A warm front
is named as such because the warm air is advancing on the cold air. These
are not common in mainland Australia but cross TAS regularly during winter.

Water vapour
Water vapour is gaseous water present in the atmosphere. The amount of
water vapour present in the atmosphere depends on the temperature and
pressure of the air, however it rarely exceeds a few grams of water vapour
per kilogram of air, even in clouds.

Water vapour pressure
The atmospheric pressure which is exerted by water vapour.

Water vapour satellite images
Water vapour (WV) satellite images indicate the amount of moisture present
in the mid-to-upper atmosphere (from 500 hPa upwards). Areas of high
humidity will show as bright white, while dry areas will be dark. WV images
are useful for forecasting where heavy rain is possible, where the jet
streams lie, or identifying dynamical features such as upper level highs or

In general, a tornado occurring over water. Specifically, it normally refers to
a small, relatively weak rotating column of air over water beneath a Cb or
towering cumulus cloud. Waterspouts are most common over tropical or
subtropical waters.

The exact definition of waterspout is debatable. In most cases the term is
reserved for small vortices over water that are not associated with storm-
scale rotation (i.e., they are the water-based equivalent of landspouts). But
there is sufficient justification for calling virtually any rotating column of air a
waterspout if it is in contact with a water surface.

Wave Height
Generally taken as the height difference between the wave crest and the
preceding trough.

Wave Length
The mean horizontal distance between successive crests (or troughs) of a
wave pattern.

Wave period
The average time interval between passages of successive crests (or
troughs) of waves.

Weather warnings
In Australia, state by state warnings of impending or actual weather that has
the potential to cause loss of life or damage to property. These are issued by
the BoM.

(or Wedge Tornado) [Slang] A large tornado with a condensation funnel that
is at least as wide (horizontally) at the ground as it is tall (vertically) from
the ground to cloud base.

The term "wedge" often is used somewhat loosely to describe any large
tornado. However, not every large tornado is a wedge. A true wedge
tornado, with a funnel at least as wide at the ground as it is tall, is very rare.

Wedges often appear with violent tornadoes (F4 or F5 on the Fujita Scale),
but many documented wedges have been rated lower. Some violent
tornadoes may not appear as wedges (e.g., Xenia, OH on 3 April 1974,
which was rated F5 but appeared only as a series of suction vortices without
a central condensation funnel). Whether or not a tornado achieves "wedge"
status depends on several factors other than intensity - in particular, the
height of the environmental cloud base and the availability of moisture below
cloud base. Therefore, spotters should not estimate wind speeds or F-scale
ratings based on visual appearance alone. However, it generally is safe to
assume that most (if not all) wedges have the potential to produce strong
(F2/F3) or violent (F4/F5) damage.

Weak Echo Region. Radar term for a region of relatively weak (reflectivity at
low levels on the inflow side of a thunderstorm echo, topped by stronger
reflectivity in the form of an echo overhang directly above it. This requires
three-dimensional radar imagery.

The WER is a sign of a strong updraft onthe inflow side of a storm, within
which precipitation is held aloft. When the area of low reflectivity extends
upward into, and is surrounded by, the higher reflectivity aloft, it becomes a

West Coast trough
A persistent trough of low pressure near the West Australian coastline that
separates hot east to northeast winds from cooler south to southeast winds.
It is most noticable during the warmer months, strengthened by diurnal
heating of the land.

The position of the west coast trough can have a marked effect on local
winds near the west coast, mainly on the development of the sea breeze.

Wet bulb temperature
Wet-bulb temperature is measured using a standard mercury-in-glass
thermometer, with the thermometer bulb wrapped in muslin, which is kept
wet. The evaporation of water from the thermometer has a cooling effect, so
the temperature indicated by the wet bulb thermometer is less than the
temperature indicated by a dry-bulb (normal, unmodified) thermometer.

Wet microburst
A microburst accompanied by heavy precipitation at the surface. A rain foot
may be a visible sign of a wet microburst. See dry microburst.

The movement of air across the Earth's surface. The wind is a continuous
succession of gusts and lulls (quiet intervals) associated with equally rapid
changes of direction over a range which may exceed 30°. The mean wind
speed over a period of time is therefore the mean of many gusts and lulls.
The standard measure of 'mean' wind is the 10 minute mean.

Usually only the mean wind is forecast, unless the gusts are expected to be
a significant feature. For instance, 'Fresh, gusty southwest winds' indicates
the mean wind speed will be between 16 and 24 knots and the mean wind
direction will be from the southwest, but there will also be gusts to speeds
significantly higher than the mean.
Common wind terms:

 Light: Below 10 knots
 Moderate: 10 - 15 knots
 Fresh: 16 - 24 knots
 Strong: 25 - 33 knots
 Gales: 34 - 47 knots
 Storm winds: Above 48 knots
 Gust: a sudden increase of wind of short duration, usually a few seconds.
 Squall: comprises a rather sudden increaseof the mean wind speed which lasts for
several minutes at least before the mean wind returns to near its previous value. A
squall may include many gusts.

Winds are generally recorded at a standard height of 10 metres above open, flat ground.

Wind chill
Based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the combined
effects of wind and cold. As the wind speed increases, heat is carried away
from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature.
The wind chill temperature is an 'apparent' temperature and gives a better
estimate of how cold it really feels outside.

More information is available from the US National Weather Service wind
chill site.

The wind chill is combined with the heat index for Weatherzone's 'Feels Like'
temperature shown on the Current Observations page.

Wind shear
See shear.

The three coldest months June, July and August (in the southern
hemisphere). Winter in Australia marks the middle of the southern wet
season and northern dry season.

Wrapping gust front
A gust front which wraps around a mesocyclone, cutting off the inflow of
warm moist air to the mesocyclone circulation and resulting in an occluded

V Notch
A radar reflectivity signature seen as a V-shaped notch in the downwind part
of a thunderstorm echo. The V-notch often is seen on supercells, and is
thought to be a sign of diverging flow around the main storm updraft (and
hence a very strong updraft). This term should not be confused with inflow
notch or with enhanced V, although the latter is believed to form by a similar

Gaseous form of a substance.

Variability index
An index for assessing the variability of annual rainfall.

Variability Index = {(90th percentile -10th percentile) / 50th percentile}

Same as BWER.

Veering winds
Winds which shift in a clockwise direction with time at a given location (e.g.,
from southerly to westerly), or which change direction in a clockwise sense
with height (e.g., southeasterly at the surface turning to southwesterly
aloft). The latter example is a form of directional shear which is important
for tornado formation. Compare with backing winds.

Vertical velocity
A measure of the upward motion of air in the atmosphere. Vertical velocities
are in general around 1 cm.s-1 (compared to 10 m.s-1 for horizontal
velocities), but can reach several m.s-1 in thunderstorm updrafts. Often the
vertical velocity is displayed in hectopascals per hour. Since pressure
decreases with height, negative values of the vertical velocity indicate rising
motion in the atmosphere, and positive values indicate sinking air). Large
values of the vertical velocity on these charts can (when combined with high
moisture level) indicate the potential for heavy rainfall.

Vertically stacked system
A low-pressure system, usually a closed low or cut-off low, which is not tilted
with height, i.e., located similarly at all levels of the atmosphere. Such
systems typically are weakening and are slow-moving, and are less likely to
produce severe weather than tilted systems. However, cold pools aloft
associated with vertically-stacked systems may enhance instability enough
to produce severe weather.

Vertically-Integrated Liquid water. A property computed by RADAP II and
WSR-88D units that takes into account the three-dimensional reflectivity of
an echo. The maximum VIL of a storm is useful in determining its potential
severity, especially in terms of maximum hail size.

Video Integrator and Processor, which contours radar reflectivity (in dBZ)
into six VIP levels:

 VIP 1 (Level 1, 18-30 dBZ) - Light precipitation
 VIP 2 (Level 2, 30-38 dBZ) - Light to moderate rain.
 VIP 3 (Level 3, 38-44 dBZ) - Moderate to hevay rain.
 VIP 4 (Level 4, 44-50 dBZ) - Heavy rain
 VIP 5 (Level 5, 50-57 dBZ) - Very heavy rain; hail possible.
 VIP 6 (Level 6, >57 dBZ) - Very heavy rain and hail; large hail possible.

This corresponds to the 6 levels of shading on the radars for the different intensity rainfall

For 15 level radar images the radar reflectivity is split into smaller bands. The 15 level
weather radar bands are:
Level 1, 12-23 dBZ
Level 2, 23-28 dBZ
Level 3, 28-31 dBZ
Level 4, 31-34 dBZ
Level 5, 34-37 dBZ
Level 6, 37-40 dBZ
Level 7, 40-43 dBZ
Level 8, 43-46 dBZ
Level 9, 46-49 dBZ
Level 10, 49-52 dBZ
Level 11, 52-55 dBZ
Level 12, 55-58 dBZ
Level 13, 58-61 dBZ
Level 14, 61-64 dBZ
Level 15, 64+ dBZ

Streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before
reaching the ground. In certain cases, shafts of virga may precede a
microburst; see dry microburst.

Virga from altocumulus.

Visible satellite image
Visible satellite images can only be viewed during the day, since clouds
reflecting sunlight are used to create the images. On visible images, clouds
show up as white or light grey, the land is normally grey and the oceans
dark (some features of the land can be identified). Visible images can reveal
low cloud features that infrared images do not show well, such as fog and
small cumulus. Visible images are useful to identify developing
thunderstorms, before they are detected on radar.

Volume scan
A radar scanning strategy in which sweeps are made at successive antenna
elevations (i.e., a tilt sequence), and then combined to obtain the three-
dimensional structure of the echoes. Volume scans are necessary to
determine thunderstorm type, and to detect features such as WERs, BWERs,
and overhang.

Vort Max
[Slang] Short for vorticity maximum. A centre, or maximum, in the vorticity
field of a fluid.

A measure of the local rotation in a fluid flow. In weather analysis and
forecasting, it usually refers to the vertical component of rotation (i.e.
rotation about a vertical axis) and is used most often in reference to
synoptic scale or mesoscale weather systems. By convention in the Southern
Hemisphere, negative values indicate cyclonic (clockwise) rotation.

Weather Glossary - X
The portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that has a very short wave
length. It has a wavelength longer than gamma rays, yet shorter than visible
light. X-rays can penetrate various thicknesses of all solids, and when
absorbed by a gas, can result in ionization.

An inert gas that occurs at extremely low concentration in the atmosphere.
Weather Glossary - Y
The interval required for the earth to complete one revolution around the
sun. A sidereal year, which is the time it takes for the earth to make one
absolute revolution around the sun, is 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 9.5
seconds. The calendar year begins at 12 o'clock midnight local time on the
night of December 31st-January 1st. Currently, the Gregorian calendar of
365 days is used, with 366 days every four years, a leap year. The tropical
year, also called the mean solar year, is dependent on the seasons. It is the
interval between two consecutive returns of the sun to the vernal equinox.
In 1900, that took 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, and it is
decreasing at the rate of 0.53 second per century. This decrease is due to
the slow precession of the Earth's axis of rotation

Weather Glossary - Z

A light, warm breeze. Derived from Zephryros, the personification by the
ancient Greeks of the warm west wind that was thought to prevail around
the time of the summer solstice.

Zonal flow
Large-scale atmospheric flow in which the east-west component (i.e.,
latitudinal) is dominant. The accompanying meridional (north-south)
component often is weaker than normal. Compare with meridional flow.
Weather systems tend to move past quickly in a zonal flow regime.

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Centred on zero degrees longitude. For
scientific purposes this time zone is also known as Universal Time (UTC). All
meteorological observations worldwide are reported using this time (for ease
of comparison and computation). This timezone is commonly suffixed with

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