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The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.
A side view of a cold front (A) and how it is represented on a weather map (B)
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe image by Lisa Gardiner

Cold Fronts

A cold front is where a cold air mass is pushing into a warmer air mass. Cold fronts can produce dramatic changes in the weather. They move fast, up to twice as fast as a warm front. Cold air is dense so it is able to quickly plow a warm air mass ahead of it.

Commonly, when the cold front is passing, winds become gusty; there is a sudden drop in temperature, and heavy rain, sometimes with hail, thunder, and lightning. Lifted warm air ahead of the front produces cumulus or cumulonimbus clouds and thunderstorms. Atmospheric pressure changes from falling to rising at the front. After a cold front moves through your area you may notice that the temperature is cooler, the rain has stopped, and the cumulus clouds are replaced by stratus and stratocumulus clouds or clear skies.

On weather maps, a cold front is represented by a solid blue line with filled-in triangles along it, like in the map on the left (B). The triangles are like arrowheads pointing in the direction that the front is moving. Notice on the map that temperatures at ground level are warmer in front of the front than behind it.

Last modified August 12, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

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