GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — What if we told you one type of system is responsible for a vast majority of the tornadoes and severe weather in North America, over 80% of the rainfall, and is responsible for the huge temperature swings seen in the spring and fall. 

These systems are called mid-latitude cyclones, and they’re essentially just a weather-making low-pressure system between 30 and 60 degrees latitudes. They’re also commonly responsible for spawning blizzards and freezing rain on one side of them and tornadoes on the other.

This is exactly what happened last week, where deadly tornadoes ripped across the Southeast, blizzard conditions raged across the Northern Plains and a severe ice storm hit parts of the Mid-Atlantic region. That’s one system stretching from south of Texas into southern Canada, tracking from the Rockies through the eastern seaboard.

A midlatitude cyclone is different from a hurricane in the fact that midlatitude cyclones have a warm front and a cold front. This allows them to bring such a variety of weather to the US. They can be as much as 3,000 miles in diameter and cover a total area of several million square miles. They are responsible for most of our rain and severe weather in North Carolina and are easy to spot on satellite-based on their signature comma-shaped cloud.

So the next time you’re out, while there’s still daylight, look up NOAA satellite loop and see if you can spot the midlatitude cyclone.