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The Role of Stability in Forecasting

• It has been said that without vertical motions in the atmosphere,

there is no weather. Stability provides a crucial control on the ability
of air to rise or sink. For that reason, an assessment of stability is a
critical part of the forecast process. (MetEd Module: Skew-T
• Assessing atmospheric stability is crucial to understanding if and
where clouds will form, if afternoon convection will occur, if the
convection is likely to be severe, etc.

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Thermodynamic Diagrams
Use of Sounding Data is very important!
You must know how to get the following information from a sounding:

• Temperature
– Temperature at a specified pressure.
• At pressure find T curve
• Read value of isotherm
• Label in °C
• Potential Temperature
– Temperature a parcel of air would have it brought adiabatically to the reference pressure
• At pressure find T curve
• Follow dry-adiabat down to 1000mb (1000hPa)
• Read value of isotherm
• Dew Point Temperature
– Temperature at which a parcel of air will become saturated if it is cooled.
• At pressure find Td curve
• Read value of isotherm
• Label in °C

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Reading the Skew-T Log-P

• Saturation (moist) adiabats

– slightly curved lines sloping from the lower right to upper left (orange lines on the Java-Plot
software, or curved blue lines on the UWy Skew-T
– These lines represent paths that saturated air follows and represents the rate of
temperature change in a parcel of saturated air rising pseudo-adiabatically.
• Pseudo-adiabatically means that all the condensed water vapor is assumed to fall out
immediately as the parcel rises.
• Condensation at all temperatures is assumed to be liquid water and, therefore, no
latent heat of fusion is included.
• Saturation mixing-ratio lines
– straight lines sloping from the lower left to upper right (light grey lines on the Java-Plot
software, or purple lines at UWy
– These lines are labeled in grams per kilogram; grams of water vapor per 1000 grams of dry
– The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere depends on the temperature (the scale goes
from about 0.1 gm/kg at a Td =-40C to ~38gm/kg for a Td=35C)

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Forecasting Clouds
• Mixing Ratio “w”
– The ratio of the mass of water vapor (in grams) to the mass of dry air (in kilograms).
• At pressure find Td
• Read value of mixing ratio line
• Label in g/kg
• Saturation Mixing Ratio “ws”
– The water vapor content of the air if it were saturated.
• At pressure find T
• Read value of saturation mixing ratio line
• Label in g/kg
• Relative humidity = 100 (w/ws)
• Why not just read these values from the table?
– We can learn additional information about the state of the atmosphere, its stability, and how
air parcels might respond to forces when we use the full sounding

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Lowest Level Where Clouds
will form
• Lifting Condensation Level (LCL)
– The pressure (or height) at which a parcel of air would become
saturated if lifted dry adiabatically from the surface (the reason for
parcel’s lift may be orographic, or frontal, for example)
• At pressure find Td
• Draw a line up parallel to mixing ratio line
• At pressure find T
• Draw a line up parallel to dry adiabat
• The intersection of the 2 lines is the LCL
• Read pressure and label in mb

LCL is the level at which the cloud base


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Cloud Effects
Thick Cloud cover reduces diurnal temperature range:

• When forecasting maximum temperatures, you need to remember that thick

clouds reduce solar heating at the surface, keeping daytime highs lower.

• When forecasting minimum temperatures, you need to consider that thick

clouds reduce radiative cooling, keeping overnight lows higher.

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High Clouds
Cirrus clouds have little impact on the maximum T, but can still keep the
minimum temperature from falling as low:

• The solar insolation can penetrate these high level ice clouds during the
day, so daytime surface heating continues

• However, the outgoing (longwave) terrestrial radiation is absorbed and re-

radiated, helping to maintain higher overnight lows than would occur under
a clear sky.

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Role of Surface Heating

• Convective Condensation Level (CCL)

– The height to which a parcel of air (heated from below) will rise if lifted
adiabatically until saturation occurs (potential cloud bases of cumuliform clouds if
caused by surface heating).
• At surface find Td
• Draw a line up parallel to mixing ratio line until it intersects the environmental
temperature curve
• Level of this intersection is CCL
• Works best with surface T/Td spread of 6°C or greater
• Convective Temperature (Tc)
– The temperature the surface must reach for this convection to begin.
• Find convective condensation level (CCL).
• Extend a line down dry adiabatically to surface.
• Read temperature.
• Label in °C

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Cumulus humilis (fair weather)

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develop from surface heating
Adding Water = Adding Heat

The heating from

below may be real
heating, or it may
be virtual heating,
where evaporation
of moisture (eg,
from a canopy, or a
lake or ocean) adds
buoyancy to an air

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Vertical Development

• Level of Free Convection (LFC)

– The level beyond (above) which the air parcel becomes buoyant. An air parcel
above this level can be carried upward even in the absence of further lifting
(surface heating etc)
• Start at Lifting Condensation Level (LCL) and follow up the moist adiabat
until you reach the temperature line from the sounding AND the moist
adiabat is to the right (warmer) than the sounding.

• Equilibrium Level (EL)

– The height at which a parcel of air would become unsaturated if lifted moist
adiabatically from the LFC.
• From the point where the LFC was found, follow a moist adiabat up until
crossing the temperature line again.
• That level is the equilibrium level, at which a parcel of air no longer
accelerates upward.

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Cumulus Congestus (or castellanus)

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Measures of Potential Instability
a commonly utilized measure of stability which compares the difference
between a lifted parcel's temperature at 500 mb and the environmental
temperature at 500 mb. It incorporates moisture and lapse rate (static
stability) into one number, which is less vulnerable to observations at
individual pressure levels.

• LI = T(500 mb envir) - T(500 mb parcel)

in degrees C, where T (500 mb envir) represents the 500 mb environmental
temperature and T (500 mb parcel) is the rising air parcel's 500 mb

– LI over 0: Stable but weak convection possible for LI = 1-3 if strong lifting is
– LI = 0 to -3: Marginally unstable.
– LI = -3 to -6: Moderately unstable.
– LI = -6 to -9: Very unstable.
– LI below -9: Extremely unstable.

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Convective Available Potential
Energy (CAPE)
• CAPE represents the amount of buoyant energy available to
accelerate a parcel vertically, or the amount of work a parcel does
on the environment. CAPE is the positive area on a sounding
between the parcel's assumed ascent along a moist adiabat and the
environmental temperature curve from the level of free convection
(LFC) to the equilibrium level (EL).

CAPE = g ∫[(Tparcel - Tenvir) / Tenvir] dz (in J/kg)

- CAPE below 0: Stable.

- CAPE = 0 to 1000: Marginally unstable.
- CAPE = 1000 to 2500: Moderately unstable.
- CAPE = 2500 to 3500: Very unstable.
- CAPE above 3500: Extremely unstable.

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Convective Activity?

• Where do we expect to see convective activity today?

• Check out the recent balloon sounding from Oklahoma (OUN).

• Is convective precipitation likely in Oklahoma based on this mornings


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