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Stationary Fronts - Windows to the Universe

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Weather map showing a stationary front
Windows to the Universe image by Lisa Gardiner

Stationary Fronts

A stationary front forms when a cold front or warm front stops moving. This happens when two masses of air are pushing against each other but neither is powerful enough to move the other. Winds blowing parallel to the front instead of perpendicular can help it stay in place.

A stationary front may stay put for days.  If the wind direction changes the front will start moving again, becoming either a cold or warm front. Or the front may break apart.

Because a stationary front marks the boundary between two air masses, there are often differences in air temperature and wind on opposite sides of it. The weather is often cloudy along a stationary front and rain or snow often falls, especially if the front is in an area of low atmospheric pressure.

On a weather map, a stationary front is shown as alternating red semicircles and blue triangles like in the map at the left. The blue triangles point in one direction and the red semicircles point in the opposite direction. 

Last modified August 12, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF