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Air Masses, Fronts and

Pressure Systems

What is an air mass?


An air mass is a large body of air
where the TEMPERATURE and
MOISTURE content are similar
throughout.

How do air masses form?


An air mass is a large region of air with similar
temperature and moisture characteristics. Air
masses build over source regions that have
relatively similar ground surface characteristics.
Air masses that build over the land are called
continental air masses while air masses that
build over the open ocean are called maritime
air masses. Air masses cover 100s to 1000s of
kilometers of distance.

Moisture Content and Humidity


Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the
air. The airs ability to hold water vapor
changes as the temperature of the air
changes.
Relative humidity is the ratio of the amount of
water vapor in the air to the maximum
amount of water vapor the air can hold at a
set temperature. It is given as a percentage.

Factors affecting Humidity


Two factors that affect relative humidity are
amount of water vapor and temperature. The
more water vapor there is in the air, the
higher the relative humidity is. If the amount
of water vapor in the air stays the same but
the temperature changes, relative humidity
decreases as the temperature rises and
increases as the temperature drops.

Dew Point
The dew point is the temperature at which a
gas condenses into a liquid. At its dew point,
air is saturated, or holding all of the water that
it can at the given temperature.
If the humidity is high, then the dew point is
low. If the humidity is low, then the dew point
is high.

Describe the characteristics of each


type of air mass and tell what type of
weather they will bring.

Arctic Air:
- Very COLD and DRY
- Brings very cold and
windy weather

mP Maritime Polar
-Cold and Humid
-Brings rain and snow
in winter and cool,
foggy weather in
summer

cP Continental Polar
-Cold and Dry
-Brings extremely cold
and dry weather in
winter, cool and dry in
summer

mT Maritime Tropical
- Warm and Humid
- Brings hot, humid
weather in the summer
and mild, cloudy
weather in winter

cT Continetal
Tropical
-Warm and Dry
-Brings clear, dry and
hot weather

How Do Air Masses Move?


Air masses build when the air stagnates over a region for several
days/weeks. To move these huge regions of air, the weather
pattern needs to change to allow the air mass to move. One
major influence of air mass movement is the upper level winds
associated with the jet stream. The jet stream wind is often
referred to as a steering wind. The jet stream will help transport
cold air toward lower latitudes and warm air toward high
latitudes.
Air masses modify once they move out of their source region.
For example, a cold air mass will modify (warm up in this case) as
it moves over warmer land in lower latitudes. The more intense
sunlight in the lower latitudes also helps modify the cold air.

What is a front?
The area (boundary)
where two types of air
masses meet.

COLD FRONT

What type of weather to expect:


Cold Front: Brings
thunderstorms, heavy rain or
snow. Cooler weather follows a
cold front.

WARM FRONT

Warm Front: Brings drizzly rain


and are followed by clear,
warmer weather

OCCLUDED FRONT

Occluded Front: Brings cooler


temperatures and large amounts
of rain or snow.

STATIONARY FRONT
(neither air mass is moving)

Stationary Front: Brings many


days of cloudy, rainy weather

Pressure Systems

What is Air Pressure?


Air Pressure is the measure of the force with which
air molecules push on a surface. Air will either rise or
sink near the Earths surface.
As air is heated, molecules speed up and spread out,
making warm air less dense. Less dense air rises.
*Since warm air is less dense, it has a lower air pressure.

As air is cooled, molecules slow down and move closer


together, making cold air more dense. More dense air
sinks.
*Since cold air is more dense, it has a higher air pressure.

Low Pressure vs. High Pressure


Air ALWAYS
moves from areas
of high pressure
to areas of low
pressure.
Sinking and rising
air with the
Coriolis Effect
results in rotating
high and low
pressure systems.

Low Pressure Systems


As air is heated, molecules speed
up and spread out, making warm
air less dense. Less dense air
rises.
Air rises, and air coming in from
the outside spirals inward
toward the center and continues
up.
Air rises, cools, and condenses
into clouds, often followed by
precipitation.

High Pressure Systems


As air is cooled, molecules slow
down and move closer together,
making cold air more dense.
More dense air sinks.
Sinking air moves away from the
center when it reaches the
Earths surface.
High pressure systems are
usually associated with fair
weather.

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