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Band of thunderstorms seen on a weather radar display Sturmfront auf Doppler-Radar-Schirm.jpg
Band of thunderstorms seen on a weather radar display

A rainband is a cloud and precipitation structure associated with an area of rainfall which is significantly elongated. Rainbands can be stratiform or convective, [1] and are generated by differences in temperature. When noted on weather radar imagery, this precipitation elongation is referred to as banded structure. [2] Rainbands within tropical cyclones are curved in orientation. Tropical cyclone rainbands contain showers and thunderstorms that, together with the eyewall and the eye, constitute a hurricane or tropical storm. The extent of rainbands around a tropical cyclone can help determine the cyclone's intensity.


Rainbands spawned near and ahead of cold fronts can be squall lines which are able to produce tornadoes. Rainbands associated with cold fronts can be warped by mountain barriers perpendicular to the front's orientation due to the formation of a low-level barrier jet. Bands of thunderstorms can form with sea breeze and land breeze boundaries, if enough moisture is present. If sea breeze rainbands become active enough just ahead of a cold front, they can mask the location of the cold front itself. Banding within the comma head precipitation pattern of an extratropical cyclone can yield significant amounts of rain or snow. Behind extratropical cyclones, rainbands can form downwind of relative warm bodies of water such as the Great Lakes. If the atmosphere is cold enough, these rainbands can yield heavy snow.

Extratropical cyclones

A February 24, 2007 radar image of a large extratropical cyclonic storm system at its peak over the central United States. Note the band of thunderstorms along its trailing cold front. Feb242007 blizzard.gif
A February 24, 2007 radar image of a large extratropical cyclonic storm system at its peak over the central United States. Note the band of thunderstorms along its trailing cold front.

Rainbands in advance of warm occluded fronts and warm fronts are associated with weak upward motion, [3] and tend to be wide and stratiform in nature. [4] In an atmosphere with rich low level moisture and vertical wind shear, [5] narrow, convective rainbands known as squall lines generally in the cyclone's warm sector, ahead of strong cold fronts associated with extratropical cyclones. [6] Wider rain bands can occur behind cold fronts, which tend to have more stratiform, and less convective, precipitation. [7] Within the cold sector north to northwest of a cyclone center, in colder cyclones, small scale, or mesoscale, bands of heavy snow can occur within a cyclone's comma head precipitation pattern with a width of 32 kilometres (20 mi) to 80 kilometres (50 mi). [8] These bands in the comma head are associated with areas of frontogensis, or zones of strengthening temperature contrast. [9] Southwest of extratropical cyclones, curved flow bringing cold air across the relatively warm Great Lakes can lead to narrow lake effect snow bands which bring significant localized snowfall. [10]

Tropical cyclones

Photograph of rainbands in Hurricane Isidore Isidore091902-p3sunset.jpg
Photograph of rainbands in Hurricane Isidore

Rainbands exist in the periphery of tropical cyclones, which point towards the cyclone's center of low pressure. [11] Rainbands within tropical cyclones require ample moisture and a low level pool of cooler air. [12] Bands located 80 kilometres (50 mi) to 150 kilometres (93 mi) from a cyclone's center migrate outward. [13] They are capable of producing heavy rains and squalls of wind, as well as tornadoes, [14] particularly in the storm's right-front quadrant. [15]

Some rainbands move closer to the center, forming a secondary, or outer, eyewall within intense hurricanes. [16] Spiral rainbands are such a basic structure to a tropical cyclone that in most tropical cyclone basins, use of the satellite-based Dvorak technique is the primary method used to determine a tropical cyclone's maximum sustained winds. [17] Within this method, the extent of spiral banding and difference in temperature between the eye and eyewall is used to assign a maximum sustained wind and a central pressure. [18] Central pressure values for their centers of low pressure derived from this technique are approximate.

Different programs have been studying these rainbands, including the Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment.

Forced by geography

Convective rainbands can form parallel to terrain on its windward side, due to lee waves triggered by hills just upstream of the cloud's formation. [19] Their spacing is normally 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) to 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) apart. [20] When bands of precipitation near frontal zones approach steep topography, a low-level barrier jet stream forms parallel to and just prior to the mountain ridge, which slows down the frontal rainband just prior to the mountain barrier. [21] If enough moisture is present, sea breeze and land breeze fronts can form convective rainbands. Sea breeze front thunderstorm lines can become strong enough to mask the location of an approaching cold front by evening. [22] The edge of ocean currents can lead to the development of thunderstorm bands due to heat differential at this interface. [23] Downwind of islands, bands of showers and thunderstorms can develop due to low level wind convergence downwind of the island edges. Offshore California, this has been noted in the wake of cold fronts. [24]

Related Research Articles

Cyclone large scale air mass that rotates around a strong center of low pressure

In meteorology, a cyclone is a large scale air mass that rotates around a strong center of low atmospheric pressure. Cyclones are characterized by inward spiraling winds that rotate about a zone of low pressure. The largest low-pressure systems are polar vortices and extratropical cyclones of the largest scale. Warm-core cyclones such as tropical cyclones and subtropical cyclones also lie within the synoptic scale. Mesocyclones, tornadoes, and dust devils lie within smaller mesoscale. Upper level cyclones can exist without the presence of a surface low, and can pinch off from the base of the tropical upper tropospheric trough during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere. Cyclones have also been seen on extraterrestrial planets, such as Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune. Cyclogenesis is the process of cyclone formation and intensification. Extratropical cyclones begin as waves in large regions of enhanced mid-latitude temperature contrasts called baroclinic zones. These zones contract and form weather fronts as the cyclonic circulation closes and intensifies. Later in their life cycle, extratropical cyclones occlude as cold air masses undercut the warmer air and become cold core systems. A cyclone's track is guided over the course of its 2 to 6 day life cycle by the steering flow of the subtropical jet stream.

Surface weather analysis A type of weather map

Surface weather analysis is a special type of weather map that provides a view of weather elements over a geographical area at a specified time based on information from ground-based weather stations.

Squall sudden, sharp increase in the sustained winds over a short time interval

A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed lasting minutes, contrary to a wind gust lasting seconds. They are usually associated with active weather, such as rain showers, thunderstorms, or heavy snow. Squalls refer to the increase to the sustained winds over that time interval, as there may be higher gusts during a squall event. They usually occur in a region of strong sinking air or cooling in the mid-atmosphere. These force strong localized upward motions at the leading edge of the region of cooling, which then enhances local downward motions just in its wake.

Precipitation Product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity

In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity from clouds. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, ice pellets, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates". Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called "showers."

Squall line a line of thunderstorms

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.

The synoptic scale in meteorology is a horizontal length scale of the order of 1000 kilometers or more. This corresponds to a horizontal scale typical of mid-latitude depressions. Most high- and low-pressure areas seen on weather maps are synoptic-scale systems, driven by the location of Rossby waves in their respective hemisphere. Low-pressure areas and their related frontal zones occur on the leading edge of a trough within the Rossby wave pattern, while high-pressure areas form on the back edge of the trough. Most precipitation areas occur near frontal zones. The word synoptic is derived from the Greek word συνοπτικός, meaning seen together.

Weather front boundary separating two masses of air of different densities

A weather front is a boundary separating two masses of air of different densities, and is the principal cause of meteorological phenomena outside the tropics. In surface weather analyses, fronts are depicted using various colored triangles and half-circles, depending on the type of front. The air masses separated by a front usually differ in temperature and humidity.

Mesoscale convective system complex of thunderstorms organized on a larger scale

A mesoscale convective system (MCS) is a complex of thunderstorms that becomes organized on a scale larger than the individual thunderstorms but smaller than extratropical cyclones, and normally persists for several hours or more. A mesoscale convective system's overall cloud and precipitation pattern may be round or linear in shape, and include weather systems such as tropical cyclones, squall lines, lake-effect snow events, polar lows, and Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCCs), and generally forms near weather fronts. The type that forms during the warm season over land has been noted across North America, Europe, and Asia, with a maximum in activity noted during the late afternoon and evening hours.

Mesoscale convective complex Unique kind of mesoscale convective system.

A mesoscale convective complex (MCC) is a unique kind of mesoscale convective system which is defined by characteristics observed in infrared satellite imagery. They are long-lived, often form nocturnally, and commonly contain heavy rainfall, wind, hail, lightning, and possibly tornadoes.

Mesoscale meteorology

Mesoscale meteorology is the study of weather systems smaller than synoptic scale systems but larger than microscale and storm-scale cumulus systems. Horizontal dimensions generally range from around 5 kilometers to several hundred kilometers. Examples of mesoscale weather systems are sea breezes, squall lines, and mesoscale convective complexes.

Eye (cyclone) region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones

The eye is a region of mostly calm weather at the center of strong tropical cyclones. The eye of a storm is a roughly circular area, typically 30–65 kilometers in diameter. It is surrounded by the eyewall, a ring of towering thunderstorms where the most severe weather and highest winds occur. The cyclone's lowest barometric pressure occurs in the eye and can be as much as 15 percent lower than the pressure outside the storm.

Extratropical cyclone type of cyclone

Extratropical cyclones, sometimes called mid-latitude cyclones or wave cyclones, are low-pressure areas which, along with the anticyclones of high-pressure areas, drive the weather over much of the Earth. Extratropical cyclones are capable of producing anything from cloudiness and mild showers to heavy gales, thunderstorms, blizzards, and tornadoes. These types of cyclones are defined as large scale (synoptic) low pressure weather systems that occur in the middle latitudes of the Earth. In contrast with tropical cyclones, extratropical cyclones produce rapid changes in temperature and dew point along broad lines, called weather fronts, about the center of the cyclone.

United States rainfall climatology

The characteristics of United States rainfall climatology differ significantly across the United States and those under United States sovereignty. Late summer and fall extratropical cyclones bring a majority of the precipitation which falls across western, southern, and southeast Alaska annually. During the winter, and spring, Pacific storm systems bring Hawaii and the western United States most of their precipitation. Nor'easters moving down the East coast bring cold season precipitation to the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Lake-effect snows add to precipitation potential downwind of the Great Lakes, as well as Great Salt Lake and the Finger Lakes during the cold season. The snow to liquid ratio across the contiguous United States averages 13:1, meaning 13 inches (330 mm) of snow melts down to 1 inch (25 mm) of water.

Precipitation types

In meteorology, the various types of precipitation often include the character or phase of the precipitation which is falling to ground level. There are three distinct ways that precipitation can occur. Convective precipitation is generally more intense, and of shorter duration, than stratiform precipitation. Orographic precipitation occurs when moist air is forced upwards over rising terrain, such as a mountain.

Severe weather any dangerous meteorological phenomena with the potential to cause damage, serious social disruption, or loss of human life

Severe weather refers to any dangerous meteorological phenomena with the potential to cause damage, serious social disruption, or loss of human life. Types of severe weather phenomena vary, depending on the latitude, altitude, topography, and atmospheric conditions. High winds, hail, excessive precipitation, and wildfires are forms and effects of severe weather, as are thunderstorms, downbursts, tornadoes, waterspouts, tropical cyclones, and extratropical cyclones. Regional and seasonal severe weather phenomena include blizzards (snowstorms), ice storms, and duststorms.

Outflow (meteorology) air that flows outwards from a storm system

Outflow, in meteorology, is air that flows outwards from a storm system. It is associated with ridging, or anticyclonic flow. In the low levels of the troposphere, outflow radiates from thunderstorms in the form of a wedge of rain-cooled air, which is visible as a thin rope-like cloud on weather satellite imagery or a fine line on weather radar imagery. Low-level outflow boundaries can disrupt the center of small tropical cyclones. However, outflow aloft is essential for the strengthening of a tropical cyclone. If this outflow is undercut, the tropical cyclone weakens. If two tropical cyclones are in proximity, the upper-level outflow from the system to the west can limit the development of the system to the east.

Rain liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated

Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then become heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth. It provides suitable conditions for many types of ecosystems, as well as water for hydroelectric power plants and crop irrigation.

Cold front Leading edge of a cooler mass of air

A cold front is the leading edge of a cooler mass of air, replacing at ground level a warmer mass of air, which lies within a fairly sharp surface trough of low pressure. It forms in the wake of an extratropical cyclone, at the leading edge of its cold air advection pattern, which is also known as the cyclone's dry conveyor belt circulation. Temperature differences across the boundary can exceed 30 °C (54 °F) from one side to the other. When enough moisture is present, rain can occur along the boundary. If there is significant instability along the boundary, a narrow line of thunderstorms can form along the frontal zone. If instability is less, a broad shield of rain can move in behind the front, which increases the temperature difference across the boundary. Cold fronts are stronger in the fall and spring transition seasons and weakest during the summer.

Inflow (meteorology) in meteorology, the flow of a fluid into a large collection of that fluid

Inflow is the flow of a fluid into a large collection of that fluid. Within meteorology, inflow normally refers to the influx of warmth and moisture from air within the Earth's atmosphere into storm systems. Extratropical cyclones are fed by inflow focused along their cold front and warm fronts. Tropical cyclones require a large inflow of warmth and moisture from warm oceans in order to develop significantly, mainly within the lowest 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) of the atmosphere. Once the flow of warm and moist air is cut off from thunderstorms and their associated tornadoes, normally by the thunderstorm's own rain-cooled outflow boundary, the storms begin to dissipate. Rear inflow jets behind squall lines act to erode the broad rain shield behind the squall line, and accelerate its forward motion.

Glossary of meteorology Wikipedia glossary

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


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