What is a cold front exactly

What is a cold front exactly
Weather Talk
Sunday, March 16, 2014 - 5:07pm

We just experienced a cold front and we are already seeing those cooler temps.

But what is a cold front exactly? Is it just strong cold air coming and and cooling us down?

Or is there more science behind it? I am going to focus a little more on how the weather changes with a cold front and how long they usually last.

But if you want a deeper definition to this weather phenomenon, check out Chuck's previous weather blog to get a better idea.


The best way to know when a cold front is coming is when the winds change directions. For example, in El Paso, Tx you saw those winds change from the west to the north. And here in the Valley we clearly saw those winds change from the SE to the North.

The way I picture it (although I don't know how appropriate it is) is like preparing a cannon.

You have to point the cannon in the right direction first, once you have it set, you light it up and wait for the cannon to go off.

Usually with these fronts you see winds that trend from the north, northwest, or west.

And in front of the front, winds usually come from the south, southeast, or east.

A cold front in a southern region, such as our area, may mean a temperature drop of 5-10 degrees during the early fall.

A cold front passing through the midwest and northeast during the same period can mean a temperature drop of 10-15 degrees or more.

Some cold fronts can bring dramatic temperature changes of 20-35 degrees difference or more over the course of just 24 hours.

Keep in mind that a weather front, or a cold/warm front is a boundary seperating two different masses of air.

So when the 2 air masses and the opposing wind directions battle at the boundary area of the cold front itself, you see clouds form in the region, and like we saw on Saturday in El Paso,TX, rain is also typical.

In fact, some cold fronts can produce hail, tornadoes, and (during the winter) terrible snow storms.

Good news to this is the weather change with this cold front doesn't really last long.

Did you know that as a cold front is passing a thin line of storms form along with it?

While a single cold front may produce a long stretch of storms from New York to Florida, these storms may take less than a couple hours to clear the cities and towns it passes through.

The same goes with those strong winds. The winds don't always last long, although they can produce enough damage during those few hours.

Most of us have heard of backdoor cold fronts. So what are they and why are they coming in from the back door?

Back door cold fronts are named this way because they tend to enter the region from the direction opposite that of most cold fronts come in.

A "normal" cold front will advance from west to east, northwest to southeast, or north to south, but a backdoor cold front will come in from the northeast or east.

These fronts are more common during the spring and summer months.

These type of cold fronts can drop temperatures drastically due to the still cold water temperatures in the spring.

In fact, many heat waves have been broken from these types of cold fronts, and temperatures can drop from the 90s to the 60s in a snap of a finger.

So now you know the next time you hear a forecaster or meteorologist mention a backdoor cold front, know you are in for a dramatic temperature change in your region.

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