Meteorology 400/800



Laboratory Exercise 3



I. Basic Chart Analysis and Interpretation


II. Surface Weather Observations (METARS) and Synoptic-scale Frontal Analysis





Insert in ringed-three hole binder.  Work not

turned in in binder will not be accepted.


Point deductions for sloppy or late work.

Supporting Reading:
Vasquez: Weather Forecasting Handbook, pp. 18-40;

Weather Map Handbook, pp. 8-21


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 12 UTC 16 October 2009: (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 401, 402 and 403 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 (If not available skip to b)


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"

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            19900 meters   2000 dm          60000 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.


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: Analysis Map Skills


I. Print the following for 12 UTC 7 October 2007: (i) abridged surface data plot*; m (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 pattern overlaid with absolute vorticity****.


*sfcwx 07100512 -re=us -var=full -stat_prior=1 -cod=green:hi=.8 -gif

**difax ua_850 07100512 -gif

****nam_maps nam_thick 07100512 -ft=init -gif

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


1.         Give the following surface information for KMSP (Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota).

            (a) Pressure

            (b) Temperature.

            (c) Wind information.

            (d) Dew point temperature.

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

            (f) Visibility (if plotted)


2.         Shade in (color pencil, NOT grease pencil) ALL the present weather symbols, as discussed in class.


3.         Sketch (on acetate) a few streamlines over the eastern half of the United States.  What type of pressure system does your analysis suggest is located in that region and how could you tell?

4. Contour the surface pressure field (without regard to not attempt to find fronts). Isobars at 4 mb intervals (1000, 1004, 1008 etc.), Highs (blue), Lows (red).


III. Upper Air Charts


1. Contour the 500 mb chart. Height contours at 6 dm intervals starting at 546, (e.g. , 564, 570, 576; or 564, 558, 552, 546 etc.) solid, black, isotherms at 5C intervals (0, -5, +5 etc) in dashed red.

2.         The solid lines on each of the upper air charts connect locations experiencing the same value of height.   How would you characterize the WIND FLOW's relationship to the contours on the 500 mb chart? (Think!)


3.         Does this relationship generally hold true for all the MANDATORY LEVEL upper air charts?  Explain.  Also, if not for which one(s) or for what areas (geographic or  contour) does the relationship not seem to hold?


4.         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.).