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Atmosphere Academy: Cold and Warm Fronts


If you watch a typical weathercast today, you will hear common terms like “cold front” and “warm front”. Did you ever wonder where these names originated?

The world is filled with different air masses, regions of similar temperature. On a large scale, we know that air near the equator is much warmer than air near the poles – common sense. But we also get smaller scale variation in temperature due to moving storm systems or changes in wind circulation.

A “front” is defined as the leading edge separating these air masses. The term itself was coined through the work of a team of researchers, including Norweigien meteorologist Wilhelm Bjerknes. He theorized that active weather often organizes in narrow zones or lines, drawing analogy with the battles of World War I, hence the term “front”.

Along a cold front, cool air wedges in underneath warmer air, essentially lifting it. This lifting motion helps clouds to reach great height, often leading to thunderstorms – the front line, if you will, of advancing weather. The name stuck, and we still use it even today.

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videoEach week in we take a few minutes to learn about weather terminology. Sometimes, the origin of the word is even more interesting than the term itself. Meteorologist Jerry Jackson has more in the Atmosphere Academy.

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