Atmospheric convection

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Atmospheric convection is the result of a parcel-environment instability, or temperature difference layer in the atmosphere. Different lapse rates within dry and moist air masses lead to instability. Mixing of air during the day which expands the height of the planetary boundary layer leads to increased winds, cumulus cloud development, and decreased surface dew points. Moist convection leads to thunderstorm development, which is often responsible for severe weather throughout the world. Special threats from thunderstorms include hail, downbursts, and tornadoes.

The lapse rate is the rate at which an atmospheric variable, normally temperature in Earth's atmosphere, changes with altitude. Lapse rate arises from the word lapse, in the sense of a gradual change. It corresponds to the vertical component of the spatial gradient of temperature. Although this concept is most often applied to the Earth's troposphere, it can be extended to any gravitationally supported parcel of gas.

Planetary boundary layer The lowest part of the atmosphere directly influenced by contact with the planetary surface

In meteorology the planetary boundary layer (PBL), also known as the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) or peplosphere, is the lowest part of the atmosphere and its behaviour is directly influenced by its contact with a planetary surface. On Earth it usually responds to changes in surface radiative forcing in an hour or less. In this layer physical quantities such as flow velocity, temperature, moisture, etc., display rapid fluctuations (turbulence) and vertical mixing is strong. Above the PBL is the "free atmosphere", where the wind is approximately geostrophic, while within the PBL the wind is affected by surface drag and turns across the isobars.

Cumulus cloud genus of clouds, low-level cloud

Cumulus clouds are clouds which have flat bases and are often described as "puffy", "cotton-like" or "fluffy" in appearance. Their name derives from the Latin cumulo-, meaning heap or pile. Cumulus clouds are low-level clouds, generally less than 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in altitude unless they are the more vertical cumulus congestus form. Cumulus clouds may appear by themselves, in lines, or in clusters.


Massive towering vertical cloud over the Mojave desert, California, is the leading edge of an impending storm arising from the inland empire behind the San Gabriel mountain range Massive Towering Vertical.jpg
Massive towering vertical cloud over the Mojave desert, California, is the leading edge of an impending storm arising from the inland empire behind the San Gabriel mountain range
Conditions favorable for thunderstorm types and complexes CAPE vs SHEAR.png
Conditions favorable for thunderstorm types and complexes


There are a few general archetypes of atmospheric instability that are used to explain convection (or lack thereof). A necessary (but not sufficient) condition for convection is that the environmental lapse rate (the rate of decrease of temperature with height) is steeper than the lapse rate experienced by a rising parcel of air. When this condition is met, upward-displaced air parcels can become buoyant and thus experience a further upward force. Buoyant convection begins at the level of free convection (LFC), above which an air parcel may ascend through the free convective layer (FCL) with positive buoyancy. Its buoyancy turns negative at the equilibrium level (EL), but the parcel's vertical momentum may carry it to the maximum parcel level (MPL) where the negative buoyancy decelerates the parcel to a stop. Integrating the buoyancy force over the parcel's vertical displacement yields Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), the Joules of energy available per kilogram of potentially buoyant air. CAPE is an upper limit for an ideal undiluted parcel, and the square root of twice the CAPE is sometimes called a thermodynamic speed limit for updrafts, based on the simple kinetic energy equation.

The concept of an archetype appears in areas relating to behavior, historical psychological theory, and literary analysis. An archetype can be:

  1. a statement, pattern of behavior, or prototype (model) which other statements, patterns of behavior, and objects copy or emulate.
  2. a Platonic philosophical idea referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing in Platonism
  3. a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present, in individual psyches, as in Jungian psychology
  4. a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, or mythology. In various seemingly unrelated cases in classic storytelling, media, etc., characters or ideas sharing similar traits recur.
Convection movement of groups of molecules within fluids such as liquids or gases, and within rheids; takes place through advection, diffusion or both

Convection is the heat transfer due to the bulk movement of molecules within fluids such as gases and liquids, including molten rock (rheid). Convection includes sub-mechanisms of advection, and diffusion.

Level of free convection

The level of free convection (LFC) is the altitude in the atmosphere where the temperature of the environment decreases faster than the moist adiabatic lapse rate of a saturated air parcel at the same level.

However, such buoyant acceleration concepts give an oversimplified view of convection. Drag is an opposite force to counter buoyancy , so that parcel ascent occurs under a balance of forces, like the terminal velocity of a falling object. Buoyancy may be reduced by entrainment, which dilutes the parcel with environmental air. See the CAPE, buoyancy, and parcel links for a more in depth mathematical explanation of these processes.

Acceleration rate at which the velocity of a body changes with time, and the direction in which that change is acting

In physics, acceleration is the rate of change of velocity of an object with respect to time. An object's acceleration is the net result of all forces acting on the object, as described by Newton's Second Law. The SI unit for acceleration is metre per second squared (m⋅s−2). Accelerations are vector quantities and add according to the parallelogram law. The vector of the net force acting on a body has the same direction as the vector of the body's acceleration, and its magnitude is proportional to the magnitude of the acceleration, with the object's mass as proportionality constant.

In fluid dynamics, drag is a force acting opposite to the relative motion of any object moving with respect to a surrounding fluid. This can exist between two fluid layers or a fluid and a solid surface. Unlike other resistive forces, such as dry friction, which are nearly independent of velocity, drag forces depend on velocity. Drag force is proportional to the velocity for a laminar flow and the squared velocity for a turbulent flow. Even though the ultimate cause of a drag is viscous friction, the turbulent drag is independent of viscosity.

Terminal velocity highest velocity attainable by an object as it falls through a fluid

Terminal velocity is the highest velocity attainable by an object as it falls through a fluid. It occurs when the sum of the drag force (Fd) and the buoyancy is equal to the downward force of gravity (FG) acting on the object. Since the net force on the object is zero, the object has zero acceleration.

Atmospheric convection is called deep when it extends from near the surface to above the 500 hPa level, generally stopping at the tropopause at around 200 hPa. [1] Most atmospheric deep convection occurs in the tropics as the rising branch of the Hadley circulation; and represents a strong local coupling between the surface and the upper troposphere which is largely absent in winter midlatitudes. Its counterpart in the ocean (deep convection downward in the water column) only occurs at a few locations. [2] While less dynamically important than in the atmosphere, such oceanic convection is responsible for the worldwide existence of cold water in the lowest layers of the ocean.

The tropopause is the boundary in the Earth's atmosphere between the troposphere and the stratosphere. It is a thermodynamic gradient stratification layer, marking the end of troposphere. It lies, on average, at 17 kilometres (11 mi) above equatorial regions, and above 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) over the polar regions.

Tropics region of the Earth surrounding the Equator

The tropics are the region of the Earth surrounding the Equator. They are delimited in latitude by The Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere at 23°26′12.5″ (or 23.43679°) N and the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere at 23°26′12.5″ (or 23.43679°) S; these latitudes correspond to the axial tilt of the Earth. The tropics are also referred to as the tropical zone and the torrid zone. The tropics include all the areas on the Earth where the Sun contacts a point directly overhead at least once during the solar year - thus the latitude of the tropics is roughly equal to the angle of the Earth's axial tilt.


A thermal column (or thermal) is a vertical section of rising air in the lower altitudes of the Earth's atmosphere. Thermals are created by the uneven heating of the Earth's surface from solar radiation. The Sun warms the ground, which in turn warms the air directly above it. The warmer air expands, becoming less dense than the surrounding air mass, and creating a thermal low. [3] [4] The mass of lighter air rises, and as it does, it cools due to its expansion at lower high-altitude pressures. It stops rising when it has cooled to the same temperature as the surrounding air. Associated with a thermal is a downward flow surrounding the thermal column. The downward moving exterior is caused by colder air being displaced at the top of the thermal. Another convection-driven weather effect is the sea breeze. [5] [6]

Thermal low

Thermal lows, or heat lows, are non-frontal low-pressure areas that occur over the continents in the subtropics during the warm season, as the result of intense heating when compared to their surrounding environments. Thermal lows occur near the Sonoran Desert, on the Mexican plateau, in California's Great Central Valley, the Sahara, over north-west Argentina in South America, over the Kimberley region of north-west Australia, the Iberian peninsula, and the Tibetan plateau.

Sea breeze Wind blowing from sea to land

A sea breeze or onshore breeze is any wind that blows from a large body of water toward or onto a landmass; it develops due to differences in air pressure created by the differing heat capacities of water and dry land. As such, sea breezes are more localised than prevailing winds. Because land absorbs solar radiation far more quickly than water, a sea breeze is a common occurrence along coasts after sunrise. By contrast, a land breeze or offshore breeze is the reverse effect: dry land also cools more quickly than water and, after sunset, a sea breeze dissipates and the wind instead flows from the land towards the sea. Sea breezes and land breezes are both important factors in coastal regions' prevailing winds. The term offshore wind may refer to any wind over open water.


Stages of a thunderstorm's life. Thunderstorm formation.jpg
Stages of a thunderstorm's life.

Warm air has a lower density than cool air, so warm air rises within cooler air, [7] similar to hot air balloons. [8] Clouds form as relatively warmer air carrying moisture rises within cooler air. As the moist air rises, it cools causing some of the water vapor in the rising packet of air to condense. [9] When the moisture condenses, it releases energy known as latent heat of vaporization which allows the rising packet of air to cool less than its surrounding air, [10] continuing the cloud's ascension. If enough instability is present in the atmosphere, this process will continue long enough for cumulonimbus clouds to form, which support lightning and thunder. Generally, thunderstorms require three conditions to form: moisture, an unstable airmass, and a lifting force (heat).

Hot air balloon lighter than air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air

A hot air balloon is a lighter-than-air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket, which carries passengers and a source of heat, in most cases an open flame caused by burning liquid propane. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant since it has a lower density than the colder air outside the envelope. As with all aircraft, hot air balloons cannot fly beyond the atmosphere. Unlike gas balloons, the envelope does not have to be sealed at the bottom, since the air near the bottom of the envelope is at the same pressure as the surrounding air. In modern sport balloons the envelope is generally made from nylon fabric and the inlet of the balloon is made from a fire resistant material such as Nomex. Modern balloons have been made in all kinds of shapes, such as rocket ships and the shapes of various commercial products, though the traditional shape is used for most non-commercial, and many commercial, applications.

Water vapor gaseous phase of water; unlike other forms of water, water vapor is invisible

Water vapor, water vapour or aqueous vapor is the gaseous phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Unlike other forms of water, water vapor is invisible. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously generated by evaporation and removed by condensation. It is less dense than air and triggers convection currents that can lead to clouds.

Condensation change of the physical state of matter from gas phase into liquid phase; reverse of evaporation

Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from the gas phase into the liquid phase, and is the reverse of vaporisation. The word most often refers to the water cycle. It can also be defined as the change in the state of water vapour to liquid water when in contact with a liquid or solid surface or cloud condensation nuclei within the atmosphere. When the transition happens from the gaseous phase into the solid phase directly, the change is called deposition.

All thunderstorms, regardless of type, go through three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage. [11] The average thunderstorm has a 24 km (15 mi) diameter. Depending on the conditions present in the atmosphere, these three stages take an average of 30 minutes to go through. [12]

There are four main types of thunderstorms: single-cell, multicell, squall line (also called multicell line) and supercell. Which type forms depends on the instability and relative wind conditions at different layers of the atmosphere ("wind shear"). Single-cell thunderstorms form in environments of low vertical wind shear and last only 20–30 minutes. Organized thunderstorms and thunderstorm clusters/lines can have longer life cycles as they form in environments of significant vertical wind shear, which aids the development of stronger updrafts as well as various forms of severe weather. The supercell is the strongest of the thunderstorms, most commonly associated with large hail, high winds, and tornado formation.

The latent heat release from condensation is the determinate between significant convection and almost no convection at all. The fact that air is generally cooler during winter months, and therefore cannot hold as much water vapor and associated latent heat, is why significant convection (thunderstorms) are infrequent in cooler areas during that period. Thundersnow is one situation where forcing mechanisms provide support for very steep environmental lapse rates, which as mentioned before is an archetype for favored convection. The small amount of latent heat released from air rising and condensing moisture in a thundersnow also serves to increase this convective potential, although minimally. There are also three types of thunderstorms: orographic, air mass, and frontal.

Boundaries and forcing

Despite the fact that there might be a layer in the atmosphere that has positive values of CAPE, if the parcel does not reach or begin rising to that level, the most significant convection that occurs in the FCL will not be realized. This can occur for numerous reasons. Primarily, it is the result of a cap, or convective inhibition (CIN/CINH). Processes that can erode this inhibition are heating of the Earth's surface and forcing. Such forcing mechanisms encourage upward vertical velocity, characterized by a speed that is relatively low to what you find in a thunderstorm updraft. Because of this, it is not the actual air being pushed to its LFC that "breaks through" the inhibition, but rather the forcing cools the inhibition adiabatically. This would counter, or "erode" the increase of temperature with height that is present during a capping inversion.

Forcing mechanisms that can lead to the eroding of inhibition are ones that create some sort of evacuation of mass in the upper parts of the atmosphere, or a surplus of mass in the low levels of the atmosphere, which would lead to upper level divergence or lower level convergence, respectively. Upward vertical motion will often follow. Specifically, a cold front, sea/lake breeze, outflow boundary, or forcing through vorticity dynamics (differential positive vorticity advection) of the atmosphere such as with troughs, both shortwave and longwave. Jet streak dynamics through the imbalance of Coriolis and pressure gradient forces, causing subgeostrophic and supergeostrophic flows, can also create upward vertical velocities.There are numerous other atmospheric setups in which upward vertical velocities can be created.

Concerns regarding severe deep moist convection

Buoyancy is key to thunderstorm growth and is necessary for any of the severe threats within a thunderstorm. There are other processes, not necessarily thermodynamic, that can increase updraft strength. These include updraft rotation, low level convergence, and evacuation of mass out of the top of the updraft via strong upper level winds and the jet stream.


Hail shaft Hailshaft.jpg
Hail shaft
Severe thunderstorms containing hail can exhibit a characteristic green coloration Hail clouds.jpg
Severe thunderstorms containing hail can exhibit a characteristic green coloration

Like other precipitation in cumulonimbus clouds hail begins as water droplets. As the droplets rise and the temperature goes below freezing, they become supercooled water and will freeze on contact with condensation nuclei. A cross-section through a large hailstone shows an onion-like structure. This means the hailstone is made of thick and translucent layers, alternating with layers that are thin, white and opaque. Former theory suggested that hailstones were subjected to multiple descents and ascents, falling into a zone of humidity and refreezing as they were uplifted. This up and down motion was thought to be responsible for the successive layers of the hailstone. New research (based on theory and field study) has shown this is not necessarily true.

The storm's updraft, with upwardly directed wind speeds as high as 180 kilometres per hour (110 mph), [14] blow the forming hailstones up the cloud. As the hailstone ascends it passes into areas of the cloud where the concentration of humidity and supercooled water droplets varies. The hailstone’s growth rate changes depending on the variation in humidity and supercooled water droplets that it encounters. The accretion rate of these water droplets is another factor in the hailstone’s growth. When the hailstone moves into an area with a high concentration of water droplets, it captures the latter and acquires a translucent layer. Should the hailstone move into an area where mostly water vapour is available, it acquires a layer of opaque white ice. [15]

Furthermore, the hailstone’s speed depends on its position in the cloud’s updraft and its mass. This determines the varying thicknesses of the layers of the hailstone. The accretion rate of supercooled water droplets onto the hailstone depends on the relative velocities between these water droplets and the hailstone itself. This means that generally the larger hailstones will form some distance from the stronger updraft where they can pass more time growing [15] As the hailstone grows it releases latent heat, which keeps its exterior in a liquid phase. Undergoing 'wet growth', the outer layer is sticky, or more adhesive, so a single hailstone may grow by collision with other smaller hailstones, forming a larger entity with an irregular shape. [16]

The hailstone will keep rising in the thunderstorm until its mass can no longer be supported by the updraft. This may take at least 30 minutes based on the force of the updrafts in the hail-producing thunderstorm, whose top is usually greater than 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) high. It then falls toward the ground while continuing to grow, based on the same processes, until it leaves the cloud. It will later begin to melt as it passes into air above freezing temperature [17]

Thus, a unique trajectory in the thunderstorm is sufficient to explain the layer-like structure of the hailstone. The only case in which we can discuss multiple trajectories is in a multicellular thunderstorm where the hailstone may be ejected from the top of the "mother" cell and captured in the updraft of a more intense "daughter cell". This however is an exceptional case. [15]


A downburst is created by a column of sinking air that, after hitting ground level, spreads out in all directions and is capable of producing damaging straight-line winds of over 240 kilometres per hour (150 mph), often producing damage similar to, but distinguishable from, that caused by tornadoes. This is because the physical properties of a downburst are completely different from those of a tornado. Downburst damage will radiate from a central point as the descending column spreads out when impacting the surface, whereas tornado damage tends towards convergent damage consistent with rotating winds. To differentiate between tornado damage and damage from a downburst, the term straight-line winds is applied to damage from microbursts.

Downbursts are particularly strong downdrafts from thunderstorms. Downbursts in air that is precipitation free or contains virga are known as dry downbursts; [18] those accompanied with precipitation are known as wet downbursts. Most downbursts are less than 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) in extent: these are called microbursts. [19] Downbursts larger than 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) in extent are sometimes called macrobursts. [19] Downbursts can occur over large areas. In the extreme case, a derecho can cover a huge area more than 320 kilometres (200 mi) wide and over 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) long, lasting up to 12 hours or more, and is associated with some of the most intense straight-line winds, [20] but the generative process is somewhat different from that of most downbursts.


The F5 tornado that struck Elie, Manitoba in 2007. F5 tornado Elie Manitoba 2007.jpg
The F5 tornado that struck Elie, Manitoba in 2007.

A tornado is a dangerous rotating column of air in contact with both the surface of the earth and the base of a cumulonimbus cloud (thundercloud), or a cumulus cloud in rare cases. Tornadoes come in many sizes but typically form a visible condensation funnel whose narrowest end reaches the earth and surrounded by a cloud of debris and dust. [21]

Tornadoes wind speeds generally average between 64 kilometres per hour (40 mph) and 180 kilometres per hour (110 mph). They are approximately 75 metres (246 ft) across and travel a few kilometers before dissipating. Some attain wind speeds in excess of 480 kilometres per hour (300 mph), may stretch more than a 1.6 kilometres (0.99 mi) across, and maintain contact with the ground for more than 100 kilometres (62 mi). [22] [23] [24]

Tornadoes, despite being one of the most destructive weather phenomena are generally short-lived. A long-lived tornado generally lasts no more than an hour, but some have been known to last for 2 hours or longer (for example, the Tri-state tornado). Due to their relatively short duration, less information is known about the development and formation of tornadoes. [25] Generally any cyclone based on its size and intensity has different instability dynamics. The most unstable azimuthal wavenumber is higher for bigger cyclones . [26]


The potential for convection in the atmosphere is often measured by an atmospheric temperature/dewpoint profile with height. This is often displayed on a Skew-T chart or other similar thermodynamic diagram. These can be plotted by a measured sounding analysis, which is the sending of a radiosonde attached to a balloon into the atmosphere to take the measurements with height. Forecast models can also create these diagrams, but are less accurate due to model uncertainties and biases, and have lower spatial resolution. Although, the temporal resolution of forecast model soundings is greater than the direct measurements, where the former can have plots for intervals of up to every 3 hours, and the latter as having only 2 per day (although when a convective event is expected a special sounding might be taken outside of the normal schedule of 00Z and then 12Z.).

Other forecasting concerns

Atmospheric convection can also be responsible for and have implications on a number of other weather conditions. A few examples on the smaller scale would include: Convection mixing the planetary boundary layer (PBL) and allowing drier air aloft to the surface thereby decreasing dew points, creating cumulus-type clouds which can limit a small amount of sunshine, increasing surface winds, making outflow boundaries/and other smaller boundaries more diffuse, and the eastward propagation of the dryline during the day. On the larger scale, rising of air can lead to warm core surface lows, often found in the desert southwest.

See also

Related Research Articles

Hail precipitation

Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It is distinct from ice pellets, though the two are often confused. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is called a hailstone. Ice pellets fall generally in cold weather while hail growth is greatly inhibited during cold surface temperatures.

Cumulonimbus cloud genus of clouds, dense towering vertical cloud associated with thunderstorms and atmospheric instability

Cumulonimbus is a dense, towering vertical cloud, forming from water vapor carried by powerful upward air currents. If observed during a storm, these clouds may be referred to as thunderheads. Cumulonimbus can form alone, in clusters, or along cold front squall lines. These clouds are capable of producing lightning and other dangerous severe weather, such as tornadoes. Cumulonimbus progress from overdeveloped cumulus congestus clouds and may further develop as part of a supercell. Cumulonimbus is abbreviated Cb.

Thunderstorm type of weather

A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the Earth's atmosphere, known as thunder. Relatively weak thunderstorms are sometimes called thundershowers. Thunderstorms occur in a type of cloud known as a cumulonimbus. They are usually accompanied by strong winds, and often produce heavy rain and sometimes snow, sleet, or hail, but some thunderstorms produce little precipitation or no precipitation at all. Thunderstorms may line up in a series or become a rainband, known as a squall line. Strong or severe thunderstorms include some of the most dangerous weather phenomena, including large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. Some of the most persistent severe thunderstorms, known as supercells, rotate as do cyclones. While most thunderstorms move with the mean wind flow through the layer of the troposphere that they occupy, vertical wind shear sometimes causes a deviation in their course at a right angle to the wind shear direction.


A mesocyclone is a vortex of air within a convective storm. It is air that rises and rotates around a vertical axis, usually in the same direction as low pressure systems in a given hemisphere. They are most often cyclonic, that is, associated with a localized low-pressure region within a severe thunderstorm. Such thunderstorms can feature strong surface winds and severe hail. Mesocyclones often occur together with updrafts in supercells, within which tornadoes may form at the interchange with certain downdrafts.

Squall line

A squall line or quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) is a line of thunderstorms forming along or ahead of a cold front. In the early 20th century, the term was used as a synonym for cold front. It contains heavy precipitation, hail, frequent lightning, strong straight-line winds, and possibly tornadoes and waterspouts. Strong straight-line winds can occur where the squall line is in the shape of a bow echo. Tornadoes can occur along waves within a line echo wave pattern (LEWP), where mesoscale low-pressure areas are present. Some bow echoes which develop within the summer season are known as derechos, and they move quite fast through large sections of territory. On the back edge of the rainband associated with mature squall lines, a wake low can be present, sometimes associated with a heat burst.

Cloud physics Study of the physical processes in atmospheric clouds

Cloud physics is the study of the physical processes that lead to the formation, growth and precipitation of atmospheric clouds. These aerosols are found in the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere, which collectively make up the greatest part of the homosphere. Clouds consist of microscopic droplets of liquid water, tiny crystals of ice, or both. Cloud droplets initially form by the condensation of water vapor onto condensation nuclei when the supersaturation of air exceeds a critical value according to Köhler theory. Cloud condensation nuclei are necessary for cloud droplets formation because of the Kelvin effect, which describes the change in saturation vapor pressure due to a curved surface. At small radii, the amount of supersaturation needed for condensation to occur is so large, that it does not happen naturally. Raoult's law describes how the vapor pressure is dependent on the amount of solute in a solution. At high concentrations, when the cloud droplets are small, the supersaturation required is smaller than without the presence of a nucleus.

Convective available potential energy

In meteorology, convective available potential energy, is the amount of energy a clump of air (parcel) would have if lifted a certain distance vertically through the atmosphere. CAPE is effectively the positive buoyancy of an air parcel and is an indicator of atmospheric instability, which makes it very valuable in predicting severe weather. It is a form of fluid instability found in thermally stratified atmospheres in which a colder fluid overlies a warmer one. An air mass will rise if it is less dense than the surrounding air. This can create vertically developed clouds due to the rising motion, which could lead to thunderstorms. It could also be created by other phenomena, such as a cold front. Even if the air is cooler on the surface, there is still warmer air in the mid-levels, that can rise into the upper-levels. However, if there is not enough water vapor present, there is no ability for condensation, thus storms, clouds, and rain will not form.

Convective inhibition

Convective inhibition is a numerical measure in meteorology that indicates the amount of energy that will prevent an air parcel from rising from the surface to the level of free convection.

Convective instability

In meteorology, convective instability or stability of an air mass refers to its ability to resist vertical motion. A stable atmosphere makes vertical movement difficult, and small vertical disturbances dampen out and disappear. In an unstable atmosphere, vertical air movements tend to become larger, resulting in turbulent airflow and convective activity. Instability can lead to significant turbulence, extensive vertical clouds, and severe weather such as thunderstorms.

Tornadogenesis process by which a tornado forms

Tornadogenesis is the process by which a tornado forms. There are many types of tornadoes and these vary in methods of formation. Despite ongoing scientific study and high-profile research projects such as VORTEX, tornadogenesis is a volatile process and the intricacies of many of the mechanisms of tornado formation are still poorly understood.

Overshooting top part of the anvil of a thunderstorm

An overshooting top is a dome-like protrusion shooting out of the top of the anvil of a thunderstorm. When an overshooting top is present for 10 minutes or longer, it's a strong indication the storm is severe.

Air-mass thunderstorm

An air-mass thunderstorm, also called an "ordinary", "single cell", or "garden variety" thunderstorm, is a thunderstorm that is generally weak and usually not severe. These storms form in environments where at least some amount of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) is present, but very low levels of wind shear and helicity. The lifting source, which is a crucial factor in thunderstorm development, is usually the result of uneven heating of the surface, though they can be induced by weather fronts and other low-level boundaries associated with wind convergence. The energy needed for these storms to form comes in the form of insolation, or solar radiation. Air-mass thunderstorms do not move quickly, last no longer than an hour, and have the threats of lightning, as well as showery light, moderate, or heavy rainfall. Heavy rainfall can interfere with microwave transmissions within the atmosphere.

Free convective layer

In atmospheric sciences, the free convective layer (FCL) is the layer of conditional or potential instability in the troposphere. It is a layer of positive buoyancy (PBE) and is the layer where deep, moist convection (DMC) can occur. On an atmospheric sounding, it is the layer between the level of free convection (LFC) and the equilibrium level (EL). The FCL is important to a variety of convective processes and to severe thunderstorm forecasting.

Convective storm detection is the meteorological observation, and short-term prediction, of deep moist convection (DMC). DMC describes atmospheric conditions producing single or clusters of large vertical extension clouds ranging from cumulus congestus to cumulonimbus, the latter producing thunderstorms associated with lightning and thunder. Those two types of clouds can produce severe weather at the surface and aloft.

Vertically integrated liquid

Vertically integrated liquid (VIL) is an estimate of the total mass of precipitation in the clouds. The measurement is obtained by observing the reflectivity of the air which is obtained with weather radar.

Atmospheric instability

Atmospheric instability is a condition where the Earth's atmosphere is generally considered to be unstable and as a result the weather is subjected to a high degree of variability through distance and time. Atmospheric stability is a measure of the atmosphere's tendency to discourage or deter vertical motion, and vertical motion is directly correlated to different types of weather systems and their severity. In unstable conditions, a lifted thing, such as a parcel of air will be warmer than the surrounding air at altitude. Because it is warmer, it is less dense and is prone to further ascent.

The following is a glossary of tornado terms. It includes scientific as well as selected informal terminology.

Numerous accidents have occurred in the vicinity of thunderstorms. It is often said that the turbulence can be extreme enough inside a cumulonimbus to tear an aircraft into pieces. However, this kind of accident is relatively rare. Moreover, the turbulence under a thunderstorm can be non-existent and is usually no more than moderate. Actually, most thunderstorm-related crashes occur due to a stall close to the ground when the pilot gets caught by surprise by a thunderstorm-induced wind shift. Moreover, aircraft damage caused by thunderstorms is rarely in the form of structural failure due to turbulence but is typically less severe and the consequence of secondary effects of thunderstorms.

Glossary of meteorology Wikimedia list article

This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and the atmospheric sciences, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.


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