What’s Up Weather: How does topography impact weather?

Weather

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Land and weather go hand in hand when determining everyday forecasts. As the atmosphere moves over different types of terrain, weather characteristics change. Which brings the question: how does topography affect the weather?

Topography describes physical features of land in a specific region. Imagine changes in elevation of landscape over a larger area, for example, mountains, hills, lakes and valleys. More specifically speaking, topography aids in changing precipitation and temperature. 

A general rule of thumb in understanding weather is warm air rises and cold air sinks. When topography comes into play, weather scenarios deviate from that rule. For example, when a cold front moves through a mountainous area, cooler air settles closer to the ground because gravity will not allow it to climb up and over the mountain. This is more specifically known as cold air damming. 

Another exception to that general rule of thumb is when cooler air settles into valleys during overnight hours. Once again, the denser cooler air cannot defy gravity and climb as elevation rises. 

A third example results in changes in precipitation rather than temperature. As air transports over mountain ranges, lifting and sinking occurs. Lifting occurs on the windward side of a mountain, and sinking occurs on the leeward side. The windward side of the mountain produces more precipitation than the leeward side. Elevated terrain often pushes air up in the atmosphere acting as a lifting mechanism, which aids in creating even more precipitation. 

Areas that have mountainous terrain or even just a higher elevation tend to produce more precipitation on a yearly basis.

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