Friday Sep. 21, 2012
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The earlier class was finishing a test so we got into the classroom a few minutes later than normal and there was not quite time for two complete songs from the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album Raising Sand.  You heard "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" and part of "Let Your Loss by Your Lesson".

Quiz #1 has been graded and was returned in class today.  Please check the grading carefully and see that the points are added up correctly.

The 1S1P reports on the 2012 North American Drought have also been graded.  There is now a link on the class homepage where you can keep track of report grading status.

About 25 sets of Experiment #2 materials were distributed in class today.  Additional materials will be handed out as people with extended deadlines finish up Expt. #1.

Back to surface weather maps. 

On Monday before the quiz we saw how drawing pressure contours, isobars, can locate centers of high and low pressure.  Winds spin in a counterclockwise direction and spiral inward around low pressure.  The converging winds cause air to rise, expand, and cool.  If the air is moist and there is sufficient cooling clouds can form.  Pretty much the opposite is true with high pressure (clockwise winds spiral outward, divergence causes sinking air and clear skies).

The spacing of the contour lines tells you something about wind speed.  Closely spaced contours, a strong pressure gradient, create strong winds.  Widely spaced contours, a weak pressure gradient, produce slower winds.

Today we'll see that once the winds start to blow they can affect and change the temperature pattern. 
The figure below shows the temperature pattern you would expect to see if the wind wasn't blowing at all or if the wind was just blowing straight from west to east.  The bands of different temperature are aligned parallel to the lines of latitude.  Temperature changes from south to north but not from west to east. 

This picture gets a little more interesting if you put centers of high or low pressure in the middle.

In the case of high pressure, the clockwise spinning winds move warm air to the north on the western side of the High.  The front edge of this northward moving air is shown with a dotted line (at Pt. W) in the picture above.  Cold air moves toward the south on the eastern side of the High (another dotted line at Pt. C).  The diverging winds also move the warm and cold air away from the center of the High.  Now you would experience a change in temperature if you traveled from west to east across the center of the picture. 

The transition from warm to cold along the boundaries (Pts. W and C) is spread out over a fairly long distance and is gradual.  This is because the winds around high pressure blow outward away from the center of high pressure.  There is also some mixing of the different temperature air along the boundaries.

Counterclockwise winds move cold air toward the south on the west side of the Low.  Warm air advances toward the north on the eastern side of the low.  This is just the opposite of what we saw with high pressure.

The converging winds in the case of low pressure will move the air masses of different temperature in toward the center of low pressure.  The transition zone between different temperature air gets squeezed and compressed.  The change from warm to cold occurs in a shorter distance and is more abrupt.  Solid lines have been used to delineate the boundaries above. These sharper and more abrupt boundaries between are called fronts.

A cold front is drawn at the front edge of the southward moving mass of cold air on the west side of the Low.  Cold fronts are generally drawn in blue on a surface weather map.  The small triangular symbols on the side of the front identify it as a cold front and show what direction it is moving.  The fronts are like spokes on a wheel.  The "spokes" will spin counterclockwise around the low pressure center (the axle).

A warm front (drawn in red with half circle symbols) is shown on the right hand side of the map at front edge of the northward moving mass of.  A warm front is usually drawn in red and has half circles on one side of the front to identify it and show its direction of motion.

Both types of fronts cause rising air motions.  Fronts are another way of causing air to rise.  Rising air expands and cools.  If the air is moist and cools enough, clouds can form.

The storm system shown in the picture above (the Low together with the fronts) is referred to a middle latitude storm or an extratropical cyclone.  Extra tropical means outside the tropics, cyclone means winds spinning around low pressure (tornadoes are sometimes called cyclones, so are hurricanes).  These storms form at middle latitudes because that is where air masses coming from the polar regions to the north and the more tropical regions to the south can collide.

Large storms that form in the tropics (where this mostly just warm air) are called tropical cyclones or, in our part of the world, hurricanes. 

We'll be looking in more detail at the structure of warm and cold fronts and the weather changes that can occur as they approach and pass through.  We'll also look at how you might go about locating fronts on a surface weather map.

A vertical slice through a cold front is shown below at left.  Pay particular attention to the shape of the advancing edge of the cold air mass.  Friction with the ground causes the front edge to "bunch up" and gives it the blunt shape it has.  You'd see something similar if you were to pour something thick and gooey on an inclined surface and watch it roll downhill.

The cold dense air mass behind a cold front moves into a region occupied by warm air.  The warm air has lower density and will be displaced by the cold air mass.  In some ways its analogous to a big heavy Cadillac plowing into a bunch of Volkswagens.

The VWs would be thrown up into the air by the Cadillac.

A sort of 3-dimensional crossectional view of a cold front is shown below (we've jumped to p. 148a in the photocopied ClassNotes)

The person in the figure is positioned ahead of an approaching cold front.  It might be the day before the front actually passes through. 

The warm air mass ahead of the front has just been sitting there and temperatures are pretty uniform throughout.  The air behind the front might have originated in Canada.  It might have started out very cold but as it travels to a place like Arizona it can change (warm) considerably.  The air right behind the front will have traveled the furthest and warmed the most.  That's the reason for the cool, cold, and colder temperature gradient behind the front.

Here are some of the specific weather changes that might precede and follow a cold front

Weather variable
cool, cold, colder*

Dew Point
usually much drier

may be moist (though that is often
not the case here in the desert southwest)
gusty winds (dusty)
from the southwest
Clouds, Weather
rain clouds, thunderstorms in
narrow band along the front
(if the warm air mass is moist)
might see some high clouds
reaches a minimum

*  the coldest air might follow passage of a cold front by a day or two.  Nighttime temperatures often plummet in the cold dry air behind a cold front. 

A temperature drop is probably the most obvious change associated with a cold front.  Here is southern Arizona, gusty winds and a wind shift are also often noticeable when a cold front passes.

The pressure changes that precede and follow a cold front are not something we would observe or feel but are very useful when trying to locate a front on a weather map.

We watched a couple of short video segments at this point.  The first was a time lapse movie of an actual cold front that passed through Tucson on Easter Sunday, April 4, in 1999.  It actually snowed for a short time during the passage of the cold front (hard to imagine cold weather and snow on a day as warm and nice as it is today).  Click here to see the cold front video (it may take a minute or two to transfer the data from the server computer in the Atmospheric Sciences Dept., be patient).  Remember the video shows a time lapse movie of the frontal passage.  The front seems to race through Tucson in the video, it wasn't moving as fast as the video might lead you to believe.  Cold fronts typically move 15 to 25 MPH. 

The 2nd video was another cold front passage that occurred
last spring on February 12.

We'll learn a little bit about warm fronts and Monday and then look at how meterologists go about locating fronts on surface maps.

And finally something completely different.  The Fall Equinox is tomorrow.  We can't let a big event like that go unnoticed.

The figure above shows the earth orbiting the sun. 

On or around Dec. 21st, the winter solstice, the north pole is tilted away from the sun.  Note that a small portion of the earth near the N. Pole (north of the Arctic Circle) spends 24 hours in darkness.  Days are less than 12 hours long in the northern hemisphere and the sun is low in the sky.  Both factors reduce the amount of sunlight energy reaching the ground.  That's why it's cold and wintry.

On June 21st, the summer solstice, the north pole is tilted toward the sun.  Now there are 24 hours of sunlight north of the Arctic Circle.  Days are more than 12 hours long in the northern hemisphere and the sun is high in the sky at noon.  A lot more sunlight energy reaches the ground; that's why it is summer.

The equinoxes are a time of transition.  On the equinoxes, the N. Pole still tilted just not toward or away from the sun.  The line separating day and night passes through the pole and the days and nights are each about 12 hours long everywhere on earth (except perhaps at the poles). 

The drawing below shows you what you would see at sunrise (about 6:30 am) on the Spring Equinox here in Tucson (the same would happen on the Fall Equinox) The sun rises exactly in the east on the equinoxes.  The rest of the year it is a little to the north or south of east.

At noon you would need to look south to see the sun.

The sun reaches its highest point in the sky at noon.  On the equinoxes in Tucson that's almost 60 degrees.  The sun is lower in the sky (34.5 degrees above the horizon) on the winter solstice.  That together with the fact that the days are shorter means much less sunlight energy reaches the ground.  In the summer the days are longer and the sun gets much higher in the sky at noon (81.5 degrees above the horizon, nearly overhead).  Much more sunlight energy reaches the ground and it is much warmer.

The sun passes directly overhead at the equator at noon on the equinoxes.

The sun sets exactly in the west on the equinoxes at about 6:30 pm in Tucson.

This is the 2 pm class.  Most of you are more likely (perhaps) to see the sun set than see the sun rise.  The figure below shows you about what you would see if you looked west on Speedway (from Treat Ave.) at sunset.  In the winter the sun will set south of west, in the summer north of west (probably further south and north than shown here).  On the equinoxes the sun sets exactly in the west.  This is something you should check out for yourself this week before the sun moves noticeably to the north of due west.

Several years ago I positioned myself in the median near the intersecton of Treat and Speedway and pointed my camera west.  I took a multiple exposure photograph of the sun over a 2 or 3 hour period that ended at sunset.  I'll bring the slide photograph to class one of these days.

Something else to note in this figure and something I didn't mention in class.  Note how the sun is changing color.  It changes from a bright yellow white to almost red by the time it sets..  This is due to scattering of sunlight by air.  The shorter wavelengths (violet, blue, green) are scattered more readily than the longer wavelengths.  At sunset the rays of sunlight take a much longer slanted path through the atmosphere and most of the shorter wavelengths are scattered and removed from the beam of sunlight.  All that's left in the beam of light that reaches your eyes are the longer wavelengths: yellow, orange, and red.

If you aren't careful, you can get yourself seriously injured, even killed, on or around the equinoxes.  Here's an article that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star at the time of the equinox last fall (Thu., Sep. 22).

I forgot to mention the following picture in class.

December 21, the summer solstice, is the shortest day of the year (about 10 hours of daylight in Tucson).  The days have slowly been getting longer since then. The rate of change is greatest at the time of the equinox.

This will continue up until June 21, the summer solstice, when there will be about 14 hours of daylight.  After that the days will start to shorten again as we make our way back to the winter solstice.

There was a very interesting coicidence last fall.  We were covering some of this same material in class on Friday Sep. 23.  There were a few parents in class because it was Parent's Weekend.  I showed these same pictures on that afternoon.  One of the parents came up to the front after class and mentioned having seeing the sun right at the end of 77th St. in New York City around this time of year.  That got me thinking that a picture of sunset at the end of one of the long streets with all the tall buildings might be spectacular.

When I started looking however I found that the major streets in Manhattan aren't oriented EW and NS.  You can see this on a Google map of Manhattan.  77th St. is oriented in more of a NW-SE direction.   So the sun doesn't shine straight down 77th St. at sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes.  I was pretty disappointed but then I stumbled on the this
Manhattanhenge map which shows the direction of sunset (the left, west, side of the map) and sunrise (the right, east, side of the map) at various times of the year. 

  If you remember that as you move past the Spring Equinox toward summer sunrise move north of east and sunset is north of west.  On May 31 the sun has moved far enough north that it does set right at the west end of 77th St.  Sunset continues to move north up until the summer solstice on June 21.  Then the sunset starts to move back south.  You can again see the sunset at the west end of 77th St. on July 12 and 13.  An article with several
Manhattanhenge photographs from the May 31 event appeared in a story on the Business Insider webpage.  That would certainly make a worthwhile field trip in Atmo 170A1 if the semester went that long.  The "henge" part of the name comes from Stonehenge where the rising and setting sun aligns with stones on the solstices.

Manhattanhenge is a little confusing and hard to figure out.  But do look at the photographs with the idea that you can see something similar here in Tucson on the equinoxes (minus all the tall buildings).

You can also see the sunrise at the east end of 77th St.  But sunrise has to be in the southeast.  This takes place on Dec. 5 and Jan. 8, just before and just after the winter solstice.