Lesson 14: Background: Synoptic Scale
Satellite observations of extratropical cyclones
Extratropical cyclones are low-pressure systems that cause wet and often windy weather. Norwegian meteorologists discovered that these cyclones are associated with fronts and that they have a definite life cycle, growing from birth to maturity to death over the course of several days.
Cyclogenesis refers to the development of an extratropical cyclone. Cyclogenesis can be monitored with surface observations and with satellite images. The figure below displays the classic view of cyclogenesis from a satellite perspective, which includes four basic cloud patterns: Leaf stage, Open Comma stage, Occluded stage and the Dissipation Stage.
Leaf Stage: During the initial development of an extratropical cycle, the cloud pattern appears in the shape of a leaf. This characteristic shape is often observed on the east side of an upper-level trough. The clouds are thick and thus clearly appear on infrared, visible and water vapor imagery. The leaf shaped pattern is caused by the jet stream rushing into the western edge of the cloud system and spreading the cloud down wind.
Open Comma Stage: A comma shaped cloud pattern appears in satellite imager when the extratropical cyclone has well-developed warm and cold fronts. As the comma cloud pattern develops, pressure at the surface usually falls. The back edge of the common cloud pattern is easily identified and represents the position of the cold front and the clouds, often thunderstorms, form because of the frontal lifting. The front edge of the comma cloud pattern is more diffuse due to the different cloud types that form due to overrunning associated with the warm front.
Occluded Stage: As the occlusion forms, the low-pressure circulation separates from the jet stream. This is the mature stage of the storm, when the central pressure in the storm stops falling. The cloud pattern is still in the shape of a comma, but notice how the clouds spiral around the center of the storm located in the head of the comma.
Dissipating Stage: As the extratropical cyclone continues to weaken, we see a distinct separation in the cloud patterns. The comma head separates from the tail as the cloud system becomes unorganized.
Stage of development of an extratropical cyclone as
viewed from a satellite.