Definition of Synoptic Weather Map

Written by jan levine
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  • Introduction

    Definition of Synoptic Weather Map

    Synoptic means "view together" or "view at a common point". A synoptic weather map shows weather patterns over a large area by putting together many weather reports from different locations all taken at the same moment in time.

    Weather affects everybody (Image by, courtesy of Taiyo FUJII)

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    What is a Synoptic Weather Map?

    In a synoptic weather map, local and regional weather observations are put together on a map covering a large area, typically between 620 miles (about 1000 kilometres) to 1500 miles (2500 kilometres), but often larger, such as a synoptic weather map of the United States. This large an area is the scale in which high and low pressure systems operate.

    A large scale pressure system (Image by, courtesy of Ethan Hein)

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    How Time is Referenced

    Since synoptic meteorology is concerned with viewing weather over large areas at the same time, a common reference point for time is needed. Using Greenwich Mean Time, also known as UTC ("Universal Time Coordinate") as the starting point, each reporting time zone is identified by its offset from UTC. For example, on the East Coast of the United States, Eastern Standard Time would be -5 UTC because the time in that time zone is five hours after UTC.

    Different time zones (Image by, courtesy of Juan Pablo Olmo)

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    Features of a Synoptic Weather Map

    A synoptic weather map will show areas of high pressure marked with an "H," areas of low pressure marked with an "L," and fronts, which are the leading edges of current weather systems. Some synoptic weather maps show "isobars," which are concentric lines around a high or low weather system indicating the system's wind strength.

    High, low, or front? (Image by, courtesy of Februum)

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    What are Highs and Lows?

    High pressure systems generally indicate fair weather and little precipitation. Low pressure systems indicate colder temperatures and are usually accompanied by clouds and precipitation. Since these features operate over large, regional areas, they normally persist for days or weeks.

    Low pressure systems can bring rain (Image by, courtesy of Chris Metcalf)

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    How does a Front Affect the Weather?

    A weather front is a transition zone or interface between two areas of different pressure and temperature. In a cold front, cold air is replacing warm air on the earth's surface. Likewise, in a warm front, warm air is replacing cold air on the surface.

    Weather fronts bring change (Image by, courtesy of Kevin Dooley)

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