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SAFFIR-SIMPSON DAMAGE-POTENTIAL SCALE
Developed in the early 1970s by Herbert Saffir, a consulting engineer, and Robert Simpson, then Director of the National Hurricane Center, it is a measure of hurricane intensity on a scale of 1 to 5. The scale categorizes potential damage based on barometric pressure, wind speeds, and surge. (Check out the Saffir-Simpson Scale)
ST. ELMO’S FIRE
A luminous, and often audible, electric discharge that is sporadic in nature. It occurs from objects, especially pointed ones, when the electrical field strength near their surfaces attains a value near 1000 volts per centimeter. It often occurs during stormy weather and might be seen on a ship’s mast or yardarm, aircraft, lightning rods, and steeples. Also known as corposant or corona discharge.
A measure of the quantity of dissolved salts in sea water. The total amount of dissolved solids in sea water in parts per thousand by weight.
The water of the ocean, distinguished from fresh water by its appreciable salinity.
Loose particles of hard, broken rock or minerals. In observing, sand is reported when particles of sand are raised to sufficient height that reduces visibility. It is reported as “SA” in an observation and on the METAR.
A strong wind carrying sand particles through the air. They are low level occurences, usually only ten feet in height to not more than fifty feet above the surface. Due to the frequent winds created by surface heating, they are most predominate during the day and die out in the night. Visibility is reduced to between 5/8ths and 6/16ths statute mile, and if less than 5/16ths, then the storm is considered a heavy sandstorm. It is reported as “SS” in an observation and on the METAR.
SANTA ANA WINDS
The hot, dry winds, generally from the east, that funnel through the Santa Ana river valley south of the San Gabriel and San Bernadino Mountains in southern California, including the Los Angeles basin. Classified as katabatic, it occurs most often during the winter and it is an example of a foehn wind.
An area of the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Azores. It is in the middle of the North Atlantic oceanic gyre, with converging surface waters. Consequently, it has less biological features than any other region of the ocean because the lack of mixing with more nutrient-rich waters.
Any object that orbits a celestial body, such as a moon. However, the term is often used in reference to the manufactured objects that orbit the earth, either in a geostationary or a polar manner. Some of the information that is gathered by weather satellites, such as GOES9, includes upper air temperatures and humidity, recording the temperatures of cloud tops, land, and ocean, monitoring the movement of clouds to determine upper level wind speeds, tracing the movement of water vapor, monitoring the sun and solar activity, and relaying data from weather instruments around the world.
Images taken by a weather satellite that reveal information, such as the flow of water vapor, the movement of frontal system, and the development of a tropical system. Looping individual images aids meteorologists in forecasting. One way a picture can be taken is as a visible shot, that is best during times of visible light (daylight). Another way is as an IR (infrared) shot, that reveals cloud temperatures and can be used day or night.
To treat or charge something to the point where no more can be absorbed, dissolved, or retained. In meteorology, it is used when discussing the amount of water vapor in a volume of air.
The point when the water vapor in the atmosphere is at its maximum level for the existing temperature.
The amount of sky cover for a cloud layer between 3/8ths and 4/8ths, based on the summation layer amount for that layer.
The process by which small particles suspended in the air diffuse a portion of the incident radiation in all directions. This is a primary reason for colors, such as blue skies, rainbows, and orange sunsets. When working with radars, this often refers to the more or less random changes in direction of radio energy.
Low fragments of clouds, usually stratus fractus, that are unattached and below a layer of higher clouds, either nimbostratus or cumulonimbus. They are often along and behind cold fronts and gust fronts, being associated with cool moist air, such as an outflow from a thunderstorm. When observed from a distance, they are sometimes mistaken for tornadoes.
A diurnal coastal breeze that blows onshore, from the sea to the land. It is caused by the temperature difference when the surface of the land is warmer than the adjacent body of water. Predominate during the day, it reaches its maximum early to mid afternoon. It blows in the opposite direction of a land breeze.
SEA BREEZE FRONT
A coastal phenomena, it is restricted to large bodies of water and their immediate coast lines. This is usually the landward extent of the sea breeze. Due to the imbalance of heating between land and water, a region of maximum upward motion or convergence occurs by mid-afternoon in the summer some 10 to 15 miles inland. Air mass thunderstorms or a line of towering cumulus clouds with showers can form along the front. At the beach, there are blue skies and a light breeze. This often occurs along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida’s east coast.
A type of advection fog which forms in warm moist air cooled to saturation as the air moves across cold water.
Ice that is formed by the freezing of sea water. It forms first as small crystals, thickens into sludge, and coagulates into sheet ice, pancake ice, or ice floes of various shapes and sizes.
The height or level of the sea surface at any time. It is used as a reference for elevations above and below.
SEA LEVEL PRESSURE
The atmospheric pressure at mean sea level, usually determined from the observed station pressure.
A unit of length distinguished from a nautical mile. One sea mile is equivalent to 1,000 fathoms (6,000 feet).
A division of the year according to some regularly recurring phenomena, usually astronomical or climatic. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is said to begin on the winter solstice and end on the vernal equinox when spring begins, covering the months of December, January, and February. In the tropics, there is the dry and the rainy season, depending on the amount of precipitation.
Sometimes called salt spray, it is the drops of sea water (salt water) blown from the top of a wave.
SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURE (SST)
The temperature of the water’s surface. It is measured using buoy and ship data, infrared satellite imagery, and coastal observations.
SEMI-PERMANENT PRESSURE SYSTEMS
A relatively stable, stationary pressure-and-wind system where the pressure is predominately high or low with the changing season. They are not of a transitory nature, like migratory lows that develop from temperature and density differences.
Generally, any destructive weather event, but usually applies to localized storms, such as blizzards, intense thunderstorms, or tornadoes.
A thunderstorm with winds measuring 50 knots (58 mph) or greater, 3/4 inch hail or larger, or tornadoes. Severe thunderstorms may also produce torrential rain and frequent lightning.
It is the rate of change over a short duration. In wind shear, it can refer to the frequent change in wind speed within a short distance. It can occur vertically or horizontally. Directional shear is a frequent change in direction within a short distance, which can also occur vertically or horizontally. When used in reference to Doppler radar, it describes the change in radial velocity over short distances horizontally.
A line of maximum horizontal wind shear. A narrow zone across which there is an abrupt change in the horizontal wind component parallel to it.
A progressive wave of smaller amplitude, wave length, and duration than a long wave. It moves in the same direction as the basic current in which it is embedded and may induce upward vertical motion ahead of it. They are more numerous than long waves and often disappear with height in the atmosphere.
SHOWALTER STABILITY INDEX
A measure of the local static stability of the atmosphere. It is determined by lifting an air parcel to 500 millibars and then comparing its temperature to that of the environment. If the parcel is colder than its new environment, then the atmosphere is more stable. If the parcel is warmer than its new environment, then the atmosphere is unstable and the potential for thunderstorm development and severe weather increases.
Precipitation from a convective cloud that is characterized by its sudden beginning and ending, changes in intensity, and rapid changes in the appearance of the sky. It occurs in the form of rain (SHRA), snow (SHSN), or ice (SHPE). It is reported as “SH” in an observation and on the METAR.
A fierce, cold flow of air that originates in Siberia, then moves into Alaska and northern Canada before moving southward into the United States.
The semi-permanent high pressure area that forms over Siberia during the winter. The average central pressure exceeds 1030 millibars from late November to early March. It is characterized by clear, dry weather. Over southern Asia, the predominate surface wind is northeasterly, just the opposite of the predominate summer winds which bring the monsoon.
The measure of time as defined by the diurnal motion of the vernal equinox. A sidereal day is equivalent to one complete rotation of the earth relative to the equinox, which is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.091 seconds. A sidereal year is the interval required for the earth to make one absolute revolution around the sun, which is 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, and 9.5 seconds. Compare with the solar day.
SKEW T-LOG P DIAGRAM
A thermodynamic diagram, using the temperature and the logarithm of pressure as coordinates. It is used to evaluate and forecast air parcel properties. Some values that can be determined are the Convective Condensation Level (CCL), the Lifting Condensation Level (LCL), and the Level of Free Convection (LFC).
The vault-like apparent surface against which all aerial objects are seen from the earth.
The amount of the celestial dome that is hidden by clouds and/or obscurations.
Also known as ice pellets, it is winter precipitation in the form of small bits or pellets of ice that rebound after striking the ground or any other hard surface. It is reported as “PE” in an observation and on the METAR.
Snow or ice on the ground that has been reduced to a softy watery mixture by rain and/or warm temperatures.
SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY
An advisory issued for marine interests, especially for operators of small boats or other vessels. Conditions include wind speeds between 20 knots (23 mph) and 34 knots (39 mph).
Small particles produced by combustion that are suspended in the air. A transition to haze may occur when the smoke particles have traveled great distance (25 to 100 miles or more), and when the larger particles have settled out. The remaining particles become widely scattered through the atmosphere. It is reported as “FU” in an observation and on the METAR.
Frozen precipitation in the form of white or translucent ice crystals in complex branched hexagonal form. It most often falls from stratiform clouds, but can fall as snow showers from cumuliform ones. It usually appears clustered into snowflakes. It is reported as “SN” in an observation and on the METAR.
A statement or advisory issued when snow is expected to create hazardous travel conditions. It warns of less severe weather conditions than a winter storm
A plume of snow blown off a mountain crest, resembling smoke blowing from a volcano.
Temporary blindness or impaired vision that results from bright sunlight reflected off the snow surface. The medical term is niphablepsia.
A burn of the skin, like a sunburn, but caused by the sun’s rays reflected off the snow surface.
The areal extent of ground covered by the snow. It is usually expressed as a percent of the total area of a given region.
A continuous, extremely slow, downhill movement of a layer of snow.
The crisp, almost icy, surface on fallen snow, usually formed by the slight melting and refreezing of the surface snow.
The actual depth of snow on the ground at any instant during a storm, or after any single snowstorm or series of storms.
A small, rotating wind that picks up loose snow instead of dirt (like a dust devil) or water (like a waterspout). Formed mechanically by the convergence of local air currents. May be called a snowspout.
Any warm downslope wind, or foehn, that blows over snowy terrain and melts the snow.
The rate at which snow falls, usually expressed in inches of snow depth over a six hour period.
An ice crystal or an aggregate of ice crystals which fall from clouds.
SNOW FLURRY / FLURRIES
Light showers of snow, generally very brief without any measurable accumulation. May be reported as “SHSN–” in an observation and on the METAR.
Snow appearing as a beautiful long thick rope draped on trees, fences and other objects. Formed by the surface tension of thin films of water bonding individual snow crystals.
Frozen precipitation in the form of very small, white, opaque grains of ice. The solid equivalent of drizzle. It is reported as “SG” in an observation and on the METAR.
The elevation in mountainous terrain where the precipitation changes from rain to snow, depending on the temperature structure of the associated air mass.
The lowest elevation area of a perennial snow field on high terrain, such as a mountain range.
The amount of annual accumulation of snow at higher elevations.
Frozen precipitation in the form of white, round or conical opaque grains of ice. Their diameter ranges from 0.08 to 0.2 inch (2 to 5 mm). They are easily crushed and generally break up after rebounding from a hard surface, unlike hail. Sometimes it is called small or soft hail. It is reported as “GS” in an observation and on the METAR.
The product of moist, cohesive snow that when initiated by wind rolls across the landscape, gathering snow until it can no longer move. It is shaped like a rolled sleeping bag, some reaching four feet across and seven feet in diameter.
Frozen precipitation in the form of snow, characterized by its sudden beginning and ending. It is reported as “SHSN” in an observation and on the METAR.
A heavy snow shower accompanied by sudden strong winds, or a squall.
The complete rotation of the earth in relation to the sun. Although it varies, an average has determined a mean solar day of 24 hours. It is universally used for civil purposes.
An eclipse of the sun occurs when the moon is in a direct line between the sun and the earth, casting some of the earth’s surface in its shadow. The moon’s disk shaped outline appears to cover the sun’s brighter surface, or photosphere. That part of the earth that is directly in the moon’s shadow will see a total eclipse of the sun, while the areas around it will see a partial eclipse.
The point at which the sun is the furthest on the ecliptic from the celestial equator. The point at which sun is at maximum distance from the equator and days and nights are most unequal in duration. The Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are those parallels of latitude which lies directly beneath a solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on or about December 21 and the summer solstice on or about June 21.
A plot of the atmosphere, using data rom upper air or radiosonde observations. Usually confined to a vertical profile of the temperatures, dew points, and winds above a fixed location.
A periodic reversal of the pressure pattern across the tropical Pacific Ocean during El NiÑo events. It is represents the distribution of temperature and pressure over an oceanic area.
The ratio of the density of the water vapor to the density of the air, a mix of dry air and water vapor. It is expressed in grams per gram or in grams per kilograms. The specific humidity of an air parcel remains constant unless water vapor is added to or taken from the parcel.
The season of the year which occurs as the sun approaches the summer solstice, and characterized by increasing temperatures in the mid-latitudes. Customarily, this refers to the months of March, April, and May in the North Hemisphere, and the months of September, October, and November in the Southern Hemisphere. Astronomically, this is the period between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice.
A tide of increased range, which occurs about every two weeks when the moon is new or full.
A sudden onset of strong winds with speeds increasing to at least 16 knots (18 miles per hour) and sustained at 22 or more knots (25 miles per hour) for at least one minute. The intensity and duration is longer than that of a gust. It is reported as “SQ”s in an observation and on the METAR.
A narrow band or line of active thunderstorms that is not associated with a cold front. It may form from an outflow boundary or the leading edge of a mesohigh.
Occurs when a rising air parcel becomes denser than the surrounding air. It will then return to its original position. When the density of the air parcel remains the same as the surrounding air after being lifted, it is also considered stable, since it does not have the tendency to rise or sink further. Contrast with unstable air and instability.
An area that has a combination of stable stratification, weak horizontal wind speed, and little, if any, significant precipitation. It is usually associated with an area of high pressure.
A standard atmosphere has been defined by the International Civil Aeronautical Organization (ICAO). It assumes a mean sea level temperature of 15°C a standard sea level pressure of 1,013.25 millibars or 29.92 inches of mercury, and a temperature lapse rate of 0.65°C per 100 meters up to 11 kilometers in the atmosphere.
STANDARD SURFACE PRESSURE
The measurement of one atmosphere of pressure under standard conditions. It is equivalent to 1,013.25 millibars, 29.92 inches of mercury, 760 millimeters of mercury, 14.7 pounds per square inch, or 1.033 grams per square centimeter.
Any type of isolated cloud, generally formed over peaks or ridges of mountainous areas, that appears stationary or standing over the terrain.
An atmospheric wave that is stationary with respect to the medium in which it is embedded.
A front which is nearly stationary or moves very little since the last synoptic position. May be known as a quasi-stationary front.
The vertical distance above mean sea level that is the reference level for all current measurements of atmospheric pressure at that station.
The atmospheric pressure with respect to the station elevation.
A type of advection fog that is produced by evaporation when cool air passes over a warm wet surface and the fog rises, giving the appearance of steam. Also called sea smoke when it occurs over the ocean.
An individual low pressure disturbance, complete with winds, clouds, and precipitation. The name is associated with destructive or unpleasant weather. Storm-scale refers to disturbances the size of individual thunderstorms.
STORM PREDICTION CENTER (SPC)
A branch of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the Center monitors and forecasts severe and non-severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and other hazardous weather phenomena across the United States. Formerly known as the Severe Local Storms (SELS) unit of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center.
For further information, contact the SPC, located in Norman, Oklahoma.
The path or tracks generally followed by a cyclonic disturbance.
On the Beaufort Wind Scale, a wind with speeds from 56 to 63 knots (64 to 72 miles per hour).
Any surface wind that is not associated with rotation. An example is the first gust from a thunderstorm, as opposed to tornadic winds.
Clouds composed of water droplets that exhibit no or have very little vertical development. The density of the droplets often blocks sunlight, casting shadows on the earth’s surface. Bases of these clouds are generally no more than 6,000 feet above the ground. They are classified as low clouds, and include all varieties of stratus and stratocumulus. The opposite in type are the vertical development of cumuliform clouds.
A low cloud composed of layers or patches of cloud elements. It can form from cumulus clouds becoming more stratiformed and often appears as regularly arranged elements that may be tessellated, rounded, or roll-shaped with relatively flat tops and bases. It is light or dark gray in color, depending on the size of the water droplets and the amount of sunlight that is passing through them.
The boundary zone or transition layer between the stratosphere and the mesosphere. Characterized by a decrease in temperature with increasing altitude.
The layer of the atmosphere located between the troposphere and the mesosphere, characterized by a slight temperature increase and absence of clouds. It extends between 11 and 31 miles (17 to 50 kilometers) above the earth’s surface. It is the location of the earth’s ozone layer.
One of the three basic cloud forms (the others are cirrus and cumulus. It is also one of the two low cloud types. It is a sheetlike cloud that does not exhibit individual elements, and is, perhaps, the most common of all low clouds. Thick and gray, it is seen in low, uniform layers and rarely extends higher than 5,000 feet above the earth’s surface. A veil of stratus may give the sky a hazy appearance. Fog may form from a stratus cloud that touches the ground. Although it can produce drizzle or snow, it rarely produces heavy precipitation. Clouds producing heavy precipitation may exist above a layer of stratus.
Stratus clouds that appear in irregular fragments, as if they had been shred or torn. Also appears in cumulus clouds (called cumulus fractus), but not in cirrus clouds.
The process of a solid (ice) changing directly into a gas (water vapor), or water vapor changing directly into ice, at the same temperature, without ever going through the liquid state (water). The opposite of crystallization.
The region bordering the polar region, between 50° and 70° North and South latitude. This is generally an area of semi-permanent low pressure that exists and where the Aleutian and Icelandic Lows may be found. However, a dome of high pressure may form over the cold continental surfaces during the winter, for example, the North American High and the Siberian High.
Less than normal bending of light or a radar beam as it passes through a zone of contrasting properties, such as atmospheric density, water vapor, or temperature.
A sinking or downward motion of air, often seen in anticyclones. It is most prevalent when there is colder, denser air aloft. It is often used to imply the opposite of atmospheric convection.
The region between the tropical and temperate regions, an area between 35° and 40° North and South latitude. This is generally an area of semi-permanent high pressure that exists and is where the Azores and North Pacific Highs may be found.
An air mass that forms over the subtropical region. The air is typically warm with a high moisture content due to the low evaporative process.
Marked by a concentration of isotherms and vertical shear, this jet is the boundary between the subtropical air and the tropical air. It is found approximately between 25° and 35° North latitude and usually above an altitude of 40,000 feet. Its position tends to migrate south in the Northern Hemispheric winter and north in the summer.
SUMMATION LAYER AMOUNT
The amount of sky cover for each layer is given in eighths of sky cover attributable to clouds or obscurations. The summation amount for any given layer is equal to the sum of the sky cover for the layer being evaluated plus the sky cover for all lower layers, including partial obscuration. A summation amount for a layer can not exceed 8/8ths.
Astronomically, this is the period between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. It is characterized as having the warmest temperatures of the year, except in some tropical regions. Customarily, this refers to the months of June, July, and August in the North Hemisphere, and the months of December, January, and February in the Southern Hemisphere.
Either of two colored luminous spots that appear at roughly 22° on both sides of the sun at the same elevation. They are caused by the refraction of sunlight passing through ice crystals. They are most commonly seen during winter in the middle latitudes and are exclusively associated with cirriform clouds. The scientific name for sun dogs is parhelion and they are also known as mock suns.
Horizontal ice crystals in the form of plates, which occur in clouds and ice fog near the earth’s surface, reflect sunlight into vertical sun pillars for a spectacular display.
The daily appearance of the sun on the eastern horizon as a result of the earth’s rotation. In the United States, it is considered as that instant when the upper edge of the sun appears on the sea level horizon. In Great Britain, the center of the sun’s disk is used instead. Time of sunrise is calculated for mean sea level.
The daily disappearance of the sun below the western horizon as a result of the earth’s rotation. In the United States, it is considered as that instant when the upper edge of the sun just disappears below the sea level horizon. In Great Britain, the center of the sun’s disk is used instead. Time of sunset is calculated for mean sea level.
The increase in sea water height from the level that would normally occur were there no storm. Although the most dramatic surges are associated with hurricanes, even smaller low pressure systems can cause a slight increase in the sea level if the wind and fetch is just right. It is estimated by subtracting the normal astronomic tide from the observed storm tide.
A severe thunderstorm characterized by a rotating, long-lived, intense updraft. Although not very common, they produce a relatively large amount of severe weather, in particular, extremely large hail, damaging straight-line winds, and practically all violent tornadoes.
The reduction of the temperature of any liquid below the melting point of that substance’s solid phase. Cooling a substance beyond its nominal freezing point. Supercooled water is water that remains in a liquid state when it is at a temperature that is well below freezing. The smaller and purer the water droplets, the more likely they can become supercooled.
Greater than normal bending of light or radar beam as it passes through a zone of contrasting properties, such as atmospheric density, water vapor, or temperature.
SURFACE BOUNDARY LAYER
The lowest layer of the earth’s atmosphere, usually up to 3,300 feet, or one kilometer, from the earth’s surface, where the wind is influenced by the friction of the earth’s surface and the objects on it.
Ocean waves that have traveled out of their generating area. Swell characteristically exhibits a more regular and longer period and has flatter wave crests than waves within their fetch.
Any map or chart that depicts meteorological or atmospheric conditions over a large area at any given time.
The size of migratory high and low pressure systems in the lower troposphere that cover a horizontal area of several hundred miles or more.
The points in the moon’s orbit about the earth at which the moon is new or full.