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How to Read a Weather Map

If you’ve looked at a weather forecast on your TV, computer or phone, you’ve probably seen a weather map that looks something like this:

A weather forecast map showing weather conditions on May 4,

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service use information from ground stations and weather satellites to make these maps. Words like “rain” and “snow” are pretty obvious, but what exactly do the symbols on a weather map tell you about the weather? Use our handy dandy guide below to find out!

High and Low Pressure Areas

a blue H and a red L, which are symbols for high and low pressure systems

Earth’s atmosphere is a jacket of gases that surrounds the planet. Although it seems like these gases could easily float away into space, gravity is constantly pulling the atmosphere toward Earth’s surface. The force with which our atmosphere pushes down on a specific location on Earth is called atmospheric pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is mainly dependent on two things: the weight of the atmosphere in a specific location and the temperature of the air. If you’re at a low elevation—such as in a valley—there is a lot of atmosphere above you and the weight is very heavy. That means that you experience higher atmospheric pressure at lower elevations and lower atmospheric pressure in higher elevations.

A gif showing a short squat person at sea level and a tall thin person on a mountaintop to represent air pressure

When you're at a low elevation, you experience high atmospheric pressure because more of the atmosphere is pushing down on you.

Warm air can also cause the atmospheric pressure to rise. When the air is warm, gas molecules move around quickly in the air pushing out on the area around them. This causes high atmospheric pressure. In cold air the gas molecules slow down, causing low atmospheric pressure.

Water vapor in the atmosphere can also change the atmospheric pressure. Very moist air that has lots of water vapor is actually lighter and less dense than dry air. This is because water molecules are lighter than molecules of nitrogen or oxygen—the most abundant gases in our atmosphere. So, very moist air in the atmosphere can lead to low atmospheric pressure and very dry air can lead to high atmospheric pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is measured with an instrument on the ground called a barometer, and these measurements are collected at many locations across the U.S. by the National Weather Service. On weather maps, these readings are represented as a blue “H” for high pressure or a red “L” for low pressure.

What it Means on the Weather Map

A portion of a weather map showing a low pressure system in the Tennessee valley

Low pressure systems—like this one in the Tennessee valley—can cause the formation of clouds and storms.


A high pressure system is a dense air mass that is usually cooler and drier than the surrounding air. A low pressure system is a less dense air mass that is usually wetter and warmer than the surrounding air.

In general, areas that experience high atmospheric pressure also experience fair weather. Low pressure systems can cause the formation of clouds and storms. Air usually flows from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure.







High and Low Pressure Systems: From Space

From high above Earth, satellites such as GOES keep an eye on the weather brought by low pressure systems. The red “L” on the map above indicates a low pressure system in the Tennessee Valley region. In the video below from GOES, you can see what that same low pressure system looks like from a weather satellite.


Cold Fronts and Warm Fronts


a red line with red half circles, the warm front symble

A warm front is the transition area where a mass of warm air moves to replace a mass of cold air. On a weather map, a warm front is usually drawn using a solid red line with half circles pointing in the direction of the cold air that will be replaced. Warm fronts usually move from southwest to northeast. A warm front can initially bring some rain, followed by clear skies and warm temperatures.




a blue line with blue triangles, the cold front symbol

A cold front is the transition area where a mass of cold air moves in to replace a mass of warm air. On a weather map, a cold front is usually drawn using a solid blue line with triangles pointing in the direction of the warm air that will be replaced. Cold fronts typically move from northwest to southeast. A cold front can bring cold temperatures, torrential rains and high wind speeds.




a blue line with blue triangles and red half circles, the stationary front symbol

A stationary front happens when a cold front and a warm front meet up, but neither moves out of the way. On a weather map, a stationary front is usually drawn using alternating cold front and warm front symbols. Stationary fronts bring long rainy periods that stay in one spot.




a purple line with purple triangles and purple half circles, the occluded front symbol

Cold fronts move faster than warm fronts, and sometimes a cold front catches up to a warm front. When this happens, it’s called an occluded front. Occluded fronts are drawn as a solid purple line with half circles and triangles pointing in the direction that the front is moving. An occluded front usually brings dry air.


Cold Fronts and Warm Fronts: From Space

GOES and other weather satellites are also on the lookout for cold fronts and warm fronts and the weather they produce. Below, you can see the comparison of a cold front on a forecast map and a cold front in a satellite image.

On the left is a National Weather Service forecast map from March 24, The forecast map shows two cold fronts moving southeast over Texas. On the right is an actual GOES image of atmospheric water vapor from the same afternoon.

On the left is a National Weather Service forecast map from March 24, The forecast map shows two cold fronts moving southeast over Texas. On the right is an actual GOES image of atmospheric water vapor from the same afternoon.

Weather Satellites

Information from weather satellites, such as the GOES-R series and JPSS will help improve our understanding of Earth’s weather.

For example, the GOES-R series provides information about atmospheric water vapor and cloud height right now. This can help meteorologists monitor and track severe weather events, such as storms and hurricanes as they happen. JPSS satellites survey the entire planet and continuously provide global atmospheric temperature and water vapor information. This information is needed to create reliable weather forecasts up to seven days in advance!

On the left is an image of water vapor captured by GOES satellites on May 30, GOES satellites, such as GOES, keep an eye on current weather. On the right is a forecast map predicting precipitation 6—10 days in advance. Polar orbiting satellites—such as JPSS—provide an outlook of weather events up to seven days in the future.

On the left is an image of water vapor captured by GOES satellites on May 30, GOES satellites, such as GOES, keep an eye on current weather. On the right is a forecast map predicting precipitation 6—10 days in advance. Polar orbiting satellites—such as JPSS—provide an outlook of weather events up to seven days in the future.

JPSS and the GOES-R series work together for weather applications. JPSS is critical for getting ready for severe weather events, while GOES-R monitors severe weather as it unfolds for real-time warnings.

Sours: https://scijinks.gov/weather-map/

The Hawaii, United States Weather Map below shows the weather forecast for the next 12 days. Control the animation using the slide bar found beneath the weather map. Select from the other forecast maps (on the right) to view the temperature, cloud cover, wind and precipitation for this country on a large scale with animation. You can also get the latest temperature, weather and wind observations from actual weather stations under the live weather section.

List of all animated weather maps.

The Hawaii, United States Weather Map below shows the weather forecast for the next 12 days. Control the animation using the slide bar found beneath the weather map. Select from the other forecast maps (on the right) to view the temperature, cloud cover, wind and precipitation for this country on a large scale with animation. You can also get the latest temperature, weather and wind observations from actual weather stations under the live weather section.

View static weather maps of Hawaii, United States of wind, precipitation, temperature and cloud.

Sours: https://www.weather-forecast.com/maps/Hawaii-United-States
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How to Read a Weather Map

If you’ve looked at a weather forecast on your TV, computer or phone, you’ve probably seen a weather map that looks something like this:

A weather forecast map showing weather conditions on May 4, 2017

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service use information from ground stations and weather satellites to make these maps. Words like “rain” and “snow” are pretty obvious, but what exactly do the symbols on a weather map tell you about the weather? Use our handy dandy guide below to find out!

High and Low Pressure Areas

a blue H and a red L, which are symbols for high and low pressure systems

Earth’s atmosphere is a jacket of gases that surrounds the planet. Although it seems like these gases could easily float away into space, gravity is constantly pulling the atmosphere toward Earth’s surface. The force with which our atmosphere pushes down on a specific location on Earth is called atmospheric pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is mainly dependent on two things: the weight of the atmosphere in a specific location and the temperature of the air. If you’re at a low elevation—such as in a valley—there is a lot of atmosphere above you and the weight is very heavy. That means that you experience higher atmospheric pressure at lower elevations and lower atmospheric pressure in higher elevations.

A gif showing a short squat person at sea level and a tall thin person on a mountaintop to represent air pressure

When you're at a low elevation, you experience high atmospheric pressure because more of the atmosphere is pushing down on you.

Warm air can also cause the atmospheric pressure to rise. When the air is warm, gas molecules move around quickly in the air pushing out on the area around them. This causes high atmospheric pressure. In cold air the gas molecules slow down, causing low atmospheric pressure.

Water vapor in the atmosphere can also change the atmospheric pressure. Very moist air that has lots of water vapor is actually lighter and less dense than dry air. This is because water molecules are lighter than molecules of nitrogen or oxygen—the most abundant gases in our atmosphere. So, very moist air in the atmosphere can lead to low atmospheric pressure and very dry air can lead to high atmospheric pressure.

Atmospheric pressure is measured with an instrument on the ground called a barometer, and these measurements are collected at many locations across the U.S. by the National Weather Service. On weather maps, these readings are represented as a blue “H” for high pressure or a red “L” for low pressure.

What it Means on the Weather Map

A portion of a weather map showing a low pressure system in the Tennessee valley

Low pressure systems—like this one in the Tennessee valley—can cause the formation of clouds and storms.


A high pressure system is a dense air mass that is usually cooler and drier than the surrounding air. A low pressure system is a less dense air mass that is usually wetter and warmer than the surrounding air.

In general, areas that experience high atmospheric pressure also experience fair weather. Low pressure systems can cause the formation of clouds and storms. Air usually flows from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure.







High and Low Pressure Systems: From Space

From high above Earth, satellites such as GOES-16 keep an eye on the weather brought by low pressure systems. The red “L” on the map above indicates a low pressure system in the Tennessee Valley region. In the video below from GOES-16, you can see what that same low pressure system looks like from a weather satellite.


Cold Fronts and Warm Fronts


a red line with red half circles, the warm front symble

A warm front is the transition area where a mass of warm air moves to replace a mass of cold air. On a weather map, a warm front is usually drawn using a solid red line with half circles pointing in the direction of the cold air that will be replaced. Warm fronts usually move from southwest to northeast. A warm front can initially bring some rain, followed by clear skies and warm temperatures.




a blue line with blue triangles, the cold front symbol

A cold front is the transition area where a mass of cold air moves in to replace a mass of warm air. On a weather map, a cold front is usually drawn using a solid blue line with triangles pointing in the direction of the warm air that will be replaced. Cold fronts typically move from northwest to southeast. A cold front can bring cold temperatures, torrential rains and high wind speeds.




a blue line with blue triangles and red half circles, the stationary front symbol

A stationary front happens when a cold front and a warm front meet up, but neither moves out of the way. On a weather map, a stationary front is usually drawn using alternating cold front and warm front symbols. Stationary fronts bring long rainy periods that stay in one spot.




a purple line with purple triangles and purple half circles, the occluded front symbol

Cold fronts move faster than warm fronts, and sometimes a cold front catches up to a warm front. When this happens, it’s called an occluded front. Occluded fronts are drawn as a solid purple line with half circles and triangles pointing in the direction that the front is moving. An occluded front usually brings dry air.


Cold Fronts and Warm Fronts: From Space

GOES-16 and other weather satellites are also on the lookout for cold fronts and warm fronts and the weather they produce. Below, you can see the comparison of a cold front on a forecast map and a cold front in a satellite image.

On the left is a National Weather Service forecast map from March 24, 2017. The forecast map shows two cold fronts moving southeast over Texas. On the right is an actual GOES-16 image of atmospheric water vapor from the same afternoon.

On the left is a National Weather Service forecast map from March 24, 2017. The forecast map shows two cold fronts moving southeast over Texas. On the right is an actual GOES-16 image of atmospheric water vapor from the same afternoon.

Weather Satellites

Information from weather satellites, such as the GOES-R series and JPSS will help improve our understanding of Earth’s weather.

For example, the GOES-R series provides information about atmospheric water vapor and cloud height right now. This can help meteorologists monitor and track severe weather events, such as storms and hurricanes as they happen. JPSS satellites survey the entire planet and continuously provide global atmospheric temperature and water vapor information. This information is needed to create reliable weather forecasts up to seven days in advance!

On the left is an image of water vapor captured by GOES satellites on May 30, 2017. GOES satellites, such as GOES-16, keep an eye on current weather. On the right is a forecast map predicting precipitation 6—10 days in advance. Polar orbiting satellites—such as JPSS—provide an outlook of weather events up to seven days in the future.

On the left is an image of water vapor captured by GOES satellites on May 30, 2017. GOES satellites, such as GOES-16, keep an eye on current weather. On the right is a forecast map predicting precipitation 6—10 days in advance. Polar orbiting satellites—such as JPSS—provide an outlook of weather events up to seven days in the future.

JPSS and the GOES-R series work together for weather applications. JPSS is critical for getting ready for severe weather events, while GOES-R monitors severe weather as it unfolds for real-time warnings.

Sours: https://scijinks.gov/weather-map/
Geography Maps -- Basics of World Map (विश्व का मानचित्र) -l Dr Vipan Goyal -l Study IQ
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Sours: https://lpkc.unfuturoumano.it/map-weather.html

Maps weather classic

How to Read the Symbols and Colors on Weather Maps

Zulu, Z, and UTC Time on Weather Maps

One of the first coded pieces of data you might notice on a weather map is a 4-digit number followed by the letters "Z" or "UTC." Usually found at the map's top or bottom corner, this string of numbers and letters is a timestamp. It tells you when the weather map was created and also the time when the weather data in the map is valid.

Known as Zulu or Z time, this figure is included on a weather map so that all meteorological weather observations (taken at different locations and therefore, in different time zones) can be reported at the same standardized times no matter what the local time might be.

If you're new to Z time, using a conversion chart (like the one shown above) will help you easily convert between it and your local time. If you're in California (which is Pacific Coastal Time) and the UTC issue time is "Z" (or p.m.), then you know that the map was constructed at a.m. your time, that same day. (When reading the chart, note whether the time of year is daylight saving time or standard time and read accordingly.)

High and Low Air Pressure Centers

The large letters (Blue H's and red L's) on weather maps indicate high- and low-pressure centers. They mark where the air pressure is highest and lowest relative to the surrounding air and are often labeled with a three- or four-digit pressure reading in millibars.

Highs tend to bring clearing and stable weather, whereas lows encourage clouds and precipitation. So pressure centers are "x-marks-the-spot" areas to aid in determining where these two general conditions will occur.

Pressure centers are always marked on surface weather maps. They can also appear on upper air maps.

Isobars

On some weather maps, you may notice lines surrounding and encircling the "highs" and "lows." These lines are called isobars because they connect areas where the air pressure is the same ("iso-" meaning equal and "-bar" meaning pressure). The more closely the isobars are spaced together, the stronger the pressure change (pressure gradient) is over a distance. On the other hand, widely-spaced isobars indicate a more gradual change in pressure.

Isobars are found only on surface weather maps—although not every surface map has them. Be careful not to mistake isobars for the many other lines that can appear on weather maps, such as isotherms (lines of equal temperature).

Weather Fronts and Features

Weather fronts appear as different colored lines that extend outward from the pressure center. They mark the boundary where two opposite air masses meet.

  • Warm fronts are indicated by curved red lines with red semicircles.
  • Cold fronts are curved blue lines with blue triangles.
  • Stationary fronts have alternating sections of red curves with semicircles and blue curves with triangles.
  • Occluded fronts are curved purple lines with both semicircles and triangles.

Weather fronts are found only on surface weather maps.

Surface Weather Station Plots

As seen here, some surface weather maps include groupings of numbers and symbols known as weather station plots. Station plots describe the weather at a station location. They include reports of a variety of weather data at that location:

  • Air temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Dewpoint temperature (degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Current weather (marked as one of dozens of symbols established by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA)
  • Sky cover (also as one of NOAA's symbols)
  • Atmospheric pressure (in millibars)
  • Pressure tendency
  • Wind direction and speed (in knots)

If a weather map has already been analyzed, you'll find little use for the station plot data. But if you'll be analyzing a weather map by hand, station plot data is often the only information you start off with. Having all stations plotted on a map guides you as to where high- and low-pressure systems, fronts, and the like are located, which ultimately helps you decide where to draw them in.

Weather Map Symbols for Current Weather

These symbols were established by NOAA for use in weather station plots. They tell what weather conditions are currently happening at that particular station location.

These symbols are typically only plotted if some type of precipitation is occurring or some weather event is causing reduced visibility at the time of observation.

Sky Cover Symbols

NOAA has also established sky cover symbols to use in station weather plots. In general, the percentage that the circle is filled represents the amount of sky that's covered with clouds.

The terminology used to describe cloud coverage—"few," "scattered," "broken," "overcast"—are also used in weather forecasts.

Weather Map Symbols for Clouds

Now defunct, cloud type symbols were once used in weather station plots to indicate the cloud type(s) observed at a particular station location.

Each cloud symbol is labeled with an H, M, or L for the level (high, middle, or low) where it lives in the atmosphere. The numbers 1–9 tell the priority of the cloud reported. Since there's only room to plot one cloud per level, if more than one cloud type is seen, only the cloud with the highest number priority (9 being highest) is plotted.

Wind Direction and Wind Speed Symbols

Wind direction is indicated by the line that extends out from the station plot sky cover circle. The direction the line points is the direction from which the wind is blowing.

Wind speed is indicated by the shorter lines, called "barbs," which extend from the longer line. Wind speed is measured in knots (1 knot = miles per hour) and is always rounded to the nearest 5 knots. The total wind speed is determined by adding together the different sizes of barbs according to the following winds speeds that each represents:

  • Half barb = 5 knots
  • Long barb = 10 knots
  • Pennant (flag) = 50 knots 

Precipitation Areas and Symbols

Some surface maps include a radar image overlay (called a radar composite) that depicts where precipitation is falling based on returns from a weather radar. The intensity of rain, snow, sleet, or hail is estimated based on color, where light blue represents light rain (or snow), and red/magenta indicates flooding rains and severe storms.

Weather Watch Box Colors

If precipitation is severe, watch boxes will also show up in addition to precipitation intensity.

  • Red dashed = tornado watch
  • Red solid = tornado warning
  • Yellow dashed = severe thunderstorm watch
  • Yellow solid = severe thunderstorm warning
  • Green = flash flood warning 
Sours: https://www.thoughtco.com/symbols-on-weather-maps
How to Read Weather Maps

How to Read the Symbols and Colors on Weather Maps

Zulu, Z, and UTC Time on Weather Maps

One of the first coded pieces of data you might notice on a weather map is a 4-digit number followed by the letters "Z" or "UTC." Usually found at the map's top or bottom corner, this string of numbers and letters is a timestamp. It tells you when the weather map was created and also the time when the weather data in the map is valid.

Known as Zulu or Z time, this figure is included on a weather map so that all meteorological weather observations (taken at different locations and therefore, in different time zones) can be reported at the same standardized times no matter what the local time might be.

If you're new to Z time, using a conversion chart (like the one shown above) will help you easily convert between it and your local time. If you're in California (which is Pacific Coastal Time) and the UTC issue time is "1345Z" (or 1:45 p.m.), then you know that the map was constructed at 5:45 a.m. your time, that same day. (When reading the chart, note whether the time of year is daylight saving time or standard time and read accordingly.)

High and Low Air Pressure Centers

The large letters (Blue H's and red L's) on weather maps indicate high- and low-pressure centers. They mark where the air pressure is highest and lowest relative to the surrounding air and are often labeled with a three- or four-digit pressure reading in millibars.

Highs tend to bring clearing and stable weather, whereas lows encourage clouds and precipitation. So pressure centers are "x-marks-the-spot" areas to aid in determining where these two general conditions will occur.

Pressure centers are always marked on surface weather maps. They can also appear on upper air maps.

Isobars

On some weather maps, you may notice lines surrounding and encircling the "highs" and "lows." These lines are called isobars because they connect areas where the air pressure is the same ("iso-" meaning equal and "-bar" meaning pressure). The more closely the isobars are spaced together, the stronger the pressure change (pressure gradient) is over a distance. On the other hand, widely-spaced isobars indicate a more gradual change in pressure.

Isobars are found only on surface weather maps—although not every surface map has them. Be careful not to mistake isobars for the many other lines that can appear on weather maps, such as isotherms (lines of equal temperature).

Weather Fronts and Features

Weather fronts appear as different colored lines that extend outward from the pressure center. They mark the boundary where two opposite air masses meet.

  • Warm fronts are indicated by curved red lines with red semicircles.
  • Cold fronts are curved blue lines with blue triangles.
  • Stationary fronts have alternating sections of red curves with semicircles and blue curves with triangles.
  • Occluded fronts are curved purple lines with both semicircles and triangles.

Weather fronts are found only on surface weather maps.

Surface Weather Station Plots

As seen here, some surface weather maps include groupings of numbers and symbols known as weather station plots. Station plots describe the weather at a station location. They include reports of a variety of weather data at that location:

  • Air temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Dewpoint temperature (degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Current weather (marked as one of dozens of symbols established by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA)
  • Sky cover (also as one of NOAA's symbols)
  • Atmospheric pressure (in millibars)
  • Pressure tendency
  • Wind direction and speed (in knots)

If a weather map has already been analyzed, you'll find little use for the station plot data. But if you'll be analyzing a weather map by hand, station plot data is often the only information you start off with. Having all stations plotted on a map guides you as to where high- and low-pressure systems, fronts, and the like are located, which ultimately helps you decide where to draw them in.

Weather Map Symbols for Current Weather

These symbols were established by NOAA for use in weather station plots. They tell what weather conditions are currently happening at that particular station location.

These symbols are typically only plotted if some type of precipitation is occurring or some weather event is causing reduced visibility at the time of observation.

Sky Cover Symbols

NOAA has also established sky cover symbols to use in station weather plots. In general, the percentage that the circle is filled represents the amount of sky that's covered with clouds.

The terminology used to describe cloud coverage—"few," "scattered," "broken," "overcast"—are also used in weather forecasts.

Weather Map Symbols for Clouds

Now defunct, cloud type symbols were once used in weather station plots to indicate the cloud type(s) observed at a particular station location.

Each cloud symbol is labeled with an H, M, or L for the level (high, middle, or low) where it lives in the atmosphere. The numbers 1–9 tell the priority of the cloud reported. Since there's only room to plot one cloud per level, if more than one cloud type is seen, only the cloud with the highest number priority (9 being highest) is plotted.

Wind Direction and Wind Speed Symbols

Wind direction is indicated by the line that extends out from the station plot sky cover circle. The direction the line points is the direction from which the wind is blowing.

Wind speed is indicated by the shorter lines, called "barbs," which extend from the longer line. Wind speed is measured in knots (1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour) and is always rounded to the nearest 5 knots. The total wind speed is determined by adding together the different sizes of barbs according to the following winds speeds that each represents:

  • Half barb = 5 knots
  • Long barb = 10 knots
  • Pennant (flag) = 50 knots 

Precipitation Areas and Symbols

Some surface maps include a radar image overlay (called a radar composite) that depicts where precipitation is falling based on returns from a weather radar. The intensity of rain, snow, sleet, or hail is estimated based on color, where light blue represents light rain (or snow), and red/magenta indicates flooding rains and severe storms.

Weather Watch Box Colors

If precipitation is severe, watch boxes will also show up in addition to precipitation intensity.

  • Red dashed = tornado watch
  • Red solid = tornado warning
  • Yellow dashed = severe thunderstorm watch
  • Yellow solid = severe thunderstorm warning
  • Green = flash flood warning 
Sours: https://www.thoughtco.com/symbols-on-weather-maps-3444369

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With a clutch in one hand and with shoes in the other, she went up to the room barefoot. She took off all her clothes and headed for the shower. Warm jets of water, pleasantly brought back to life.



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