ERTH 465



Laboratory Exercise 3



Basic Chart Diagnosis and Interpretation

Grounded in Learning Objectives 1, 2 and 4 (see class syllabus)


200 points





Insert in ringed-three hole binder.  Work not

turned in in binder will not be accepted.


Point deductions for sloppy or late work.


I. Basic Chart Analysis and Interpretation


A.  Overview


This exercise will get you used to the so-called "mandatory-level" charts used often by operational meteorologists.  The mandatory levels are SURFACE, 1000 MB, 925 MB, 850 MB, 700 MB, 500 MB, 300 MB, 250MB, 200 MB, 150 MB and 100 MB.  Charts are produced for each of these levels except for 1000 and 925 mb. However, in this exercise you will be working with the following for the date and time indicated on the blackboard: (i) abridged surface data plot; (ii) data plot and analysis for 850 mb, 700 mb and 300 mb; (iii) data plot for 500 mb; and (iv) a color version of the sea-level pressure field overlaid with 1000-500 mb thickness contours and a color version of the 500 mb analysis with absolute vorticity contours.


The data which is utilized to construct these charts are obtained by RADIOSONDE.  The radiosonde at least monitors conditions at these levels.  If unusual temperatur or moisture exist at other levels besides the mandatory levels, then the radiosonde will also relay the information from these levels (known as the SIGNIFICANT LEVELS).  However, "map view" weather charts are only routinely produced for the mandatory levels listed above. Note that a RADIOSONDE OBSERVATION is also known by the acronym RAOB. Another synonym is RAWINSONDE, which refers to an upper air sounding that also contains a RADIO WIND OBSERVATION. In operational use, the term "radiosonde" and "rawinsonde" are used synonymously....all raobs have wind information now.


The radiosonde monitors two of the three STATE VARIABLES (pressure and temperature), the dew point depression (from which SPECIFIC HUMIDITY may be obtained) and wind speed and direction (together termed the WIND VELOCITY).  The process by which the radiosonde monitors this information is termed TAKING A SOUNDING and the information obtained is often termed THE SOUNDING.  By international agreement, soundings are taken at relatively evenly spaced (300 km) apart radiosonde stations worldwide at two times 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC.  The local sounding site is at Oakland International Airport (OAK).


The information contained in the soundings observed worldwide may be portrayed graphically in a number of ways.  Discrete information from each radiosonde, say, 500 mb height and 500 mb temperature, may be plotted for North America and contoured, thus producing the North American 500 mb Height Map.  Alternatively, the variation of temperature with height at a  given radiosonde station may be plotted, thus producing a sounding.  The methodology for each of these is an important skill for the beginning meteorologist.  It involves not only the learning of the techniques for contouring and plotting but also the mastering of the manner in which the information is coded and decoded.


Besides being used for portraying the present (or, initial) conditions in the atmosphere, the data obtained by the radiosonde is also used in establishing the "starting point" to forecast future conditions by NUMERICAL MODELS.  In Metr 201, 410, 420, and 430 you will learn that there are five basic equations (called the PRIMITIVE EQUATIONS) which individuals in each of the branches of meteorology use to understand the present state or to characterize the evolution of the future state of the atmosphere.  These equations require certain "startup" conditions to be INITIALIZED.  The initialization of the models is dependent upon the information acquired by the radiosondes.


B.  Mandatory Level Charts


In this lab you will be working with some of the MANDATORY LEVEL CHARTS, in particular the 200, 300, 500, 700, 850 mb charts and the Surface Chart (to proxy for the 1000 mb chart). 


You will note that the charts contain both plotted information and contours.  The plotted information is arranged around a circle which denotes one of the radiosonde sites.  There are some relatively simple conventions governing the plotting of radiosonde information around the station circles.  These are described below:


1.         Surface


Temperature (Fahrenheit in US publically-distributed charts, Centigrade everywhere else and on charts produced for scientific purposes) is plotted at upper left.  Units or degree symbols are NEVER plotted.


Dewpoint Temperatures are plotted at bottom left, with the same convention. (Note:  on the Pacific and Atlantic Analyses the sea-surface temperature is plotted beneath the dewpoint temperature in ship data.)


Pressure (millibars) is coded (discussed in class) and plotted at upper right.


3 Hr Pressure Change (mb) is coded (discussed in class) and plotted at bottom right.


Wind Velocity is coded (discussed in class) and plotted on station circle.


2.         Upper Air Charts


Mandatory Level Charts for levels above the surface are all CONSTANT PRESSURE charts (as opposed to the surface chart, which is a CONSTANT LEVEL or ELEVATION chart).  All the upper air charts show temperature in Centigrade, plotted at upper left in whole degrees.


a.  NWS (used to be referred to as DIFAX) Charts


Dew Point Depression (Centigrade) (discussed in class) is plotted at bottom left.  The height of the constant pressure surface is plotted at upper right but is coded differently at each different mandatory level in the following manner:


850 mb            In meters, with the leading "1" digit dropped.  "1391 meters" = "391"

700 mb            In meters, with the leading "3" or "2" digit dropped.  "3011 meters" = "011"

500 mb            In decameters, rounded to the nearest decameter.  "5666 meters" = "567"

(Note: on the 500 mb chart you will generate below, the originator decided to make the coding different, as explained in class.)

300 mb            Same as 500 mb.  "30

200 mb            In meters, with the leading "20" or "19" dropped.  "19940 meters" = "199"


Note:  contour labeling differs from this scheme (discussed in class).


Typical Heights (Rough Approx) for Constant Pressure Surfaces in the Middle Latitudes


850 mb            1400 meters     140 dm            5200 feet

700 mb            3000 meters     300 dm            10000 feet

500 mb            5700 meters     570 dm            18000 feet

300 mb            9300 meters     930 dm            30000 feet

200 mb            12200 meters   1220 dm          36000 feet


The Height Tendency (meters) (discussed in class) is plotted at bottom right.


Wind Velocity information is plotted as it is on the Surface Analysis, except the speeds are in knots.


b.  WXP-generated charts


Dew Point (Centigrade) (discussed in class) is plotted at bottom left.  The height of the constant pressure surface is plotted at upper right in meters.


The Height Tendency (meters) (discussed in class) is plotted at bottom right.


Wind Velocity information is plotted as it is on the Surface Analysis.


C.  Exercises: Diagnostic Map Skills


I. Print the following for 1200 UTC 3 February 2012: (i) abridged surface data plot* (two copies...execute the command twice); m (ii) data plot and analysis** for 850 mb, 700 mb, 300 mb and 200 mb; (iii) data plot for 500 mb*** (two copies...execute the command twice); and (iv) meteogram for Dodge City, KS for the 24 hour period centering on the time above. The syntax for the time and date inclusion is YYMMDDTT. (53 points for printing out the charts correctly).


*Chart 1: sfcwx 12020312 -re=us -var=full -stat_prior=1 -cod=green:hi=.8 -p

**Charts 2: difax ua_850 12020312 -p and then the same chart for the 700 mb, 300 and 200 mb levels

***Chart 3: upairwx 12020312 -lev=500 -var=all -p

****Chart 4: metgram KDDC 12020312 -p

II. Surface Chart: (make sure you read through the resources section for this lab at the top level of the website) (Chart 1) (62 points in this section)


1.         Give the following surface information for KDDC (Dodge City, KS). (2 points for each answer, for a total of 12 points)

            (a) Pressure : 1013.8 mb

            (b) Temperature: 39F.

            (c) Wind information. NNW 10

            (d) Dew point temperature. 38F

            (e) Pressure 3 hours before current observation (think!) 1013.3 mb

            (f) Visibility (if plotted) 2 miles


2.         Examine the meteogram for KDDC (Chart 4). (5 points for each answer, for a total of 10 points)

(a) What was the present weather observed at 0500 UTC 3 February 2012? The present weather observed at 05 UTC was a Thunderstorm

(b) How would you characterize the trend of temperature between 2100 UTC 2 February 2012 and 0100 UTC 3 February 2012. The temperature fell during that period.


3.         Shade in (color pencil, NOT grease pencil) ALL the present weather symbols, as discussed in class on one copy of your surface chart. Careful, this one will be the one that you will be working on in Lab 3. (20 points)


4.         Sketch streamlines over the southern half of the central third of the United States on the other copy of the surface chart.  What type of pressure system does your analysis suggest is located in that region and how could you tell? (10 points for each part for a total of 20 points)


There is a low pressure area located in the southern Great Plains. I infer that because the streamlines suggest that wind is flowing towards a common point there. Since air, in the absence of other effects, tends to drift from higher values of pressure to lower values of pressue, there must be a cyclone located at the "X".





III. Upper Air Charts (85 points)


Where required, verbal responses should be on separate sheets, and should be made with complete sentences.

  1. Sketch streamlines on the 500 mb data plot (Chart 3). (25 points)

  2. The solid lines on each of the upper air charts connect locations experiencing the same value of the height at which the given pressure would be found above sealevel (Charts 2).   (20 points each for a total of 40 points here)

    1. How would you characterize the WIND FLOW's relationship to the contours on the 500 mb chart? (Answer by comparing your results from (1) above with the pattern shown on the 500 mb analysis I got using the script difax ua_500). Use complete sentences for full credit.
    2. At 500 mb the wind appears to be blowing parallel to the height contours, and in proportion to how close the height contours are to one another, faster where the contours are close together, slower where they are farther apart. The air also appears to be moving moving counterclockwise relative to the areas of low heights and troughs, and clockwise relative to the areas of high heights and ridges.

    3. Does this relationship generally hold true for all the MANDATORY LEVEL upper air charts (Charts 3: 850 mb, 700 mb, 300 mb and 200 mb)?Use complete sentences for full credit.  Explain.  Also, if not, for which one(s) or for what areas (geographic or  contour) does the relationship NOT seem to hold? Use complete sentences for full credit.
    4. At This relationship does seem to hold true for every mandatory level, but with some exceptions. Those exceptions are at 700 mb and, to a larger extent, 850 mb. It appears that wind is flowing across contours in the intermountain West, and in some cases appears to be moving towards, not away, from higher values.

  3. The 500 mb chart is often used by meteorologists to portray the wind and height   patterns in the upper troposphere.  In reality, the 500 mb level is in the mid troposphere.  To what extent does the 500 mb pattern depicted on the charts attached compare to the 300 mb pattern.  (Hint:  comment on comparative geometry [does the pattern "look" basically similar at both levels], wind directions and speeds, locations  of troughs and ridges etc.). Use complete sentences for full credit. (20 points)

It appears that the geometry of the wind flow is nearly identical at 500 mb and 300 mb. It appears that there is justification for assuming that the 500 mb wind flow pattern has the same geometry as the 300 mb wind flow pattern. The differences center on the wind speed, which is considerably greater at 300 mb.