Surface weather maps provide information about fronts, areas of high and low pressure, and surface winds and pressures for each station. This type of weather map allows pilots to see the locations of fronts and pressure systems, but more importantly, it depicts the wind and pressure at the surface for each location.
Wind conditions are reported by an arrow attached to the station location circle. [Figure 11-18] The station circle represents the head of the arrow, with the arrow pointing in the direction from which the wind is blowing. Winds are described by the direction from which they blow, thus a northwest wind means that the wind is blowing from the northwest toward the southeast. The speed of the wind is depicted by barbs or pennants placed on the wind line. Each barb represents a speed of ten knots, while half a barb is equal to five knots, and a pennant is equal to 50 knots.
The pressure for each station is recorded on the weather chart and is shown in mb. Isobars are lines drawn on the chart to depict areas of equal pressure. These lines result in a pattern that reveals the pressure gradient or change in pressure over distance. [Figure 11-19] Isobars are similar to contour lines on a topographic map that indicate terrain altitudes and slope steepness. For example, isobars that are closely spaced indicate a steep wind gradient and strong winds prevail. Shallow gradients, on the other hand, are represented by isobars that are spaced far apart, and are indicative of light winds. Isobars help identify low and high pressure systems as well as the location of ridges, troughs, and cut-off lows (cols). A high is an area of high pressure surrounded by lower pressure; a low is an area of low pressure surrounded by higher pressure. A ridge is an elongated area of high pressure, and a trough is an elongated area of low pressure. A col is the intersection between a ridge and a trough, or an area of neutrality between two highs or two lows.
Isobars furnish valuable information about winds in the first few thousand feet above the surface. Close to the ground, wind direction is modified by the surface and wind speed decreases due to friction with the surface. At levels 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the surface, however, the speed is greater and the direction becomes more parallel to the isobars. Therefore, the surface winds are shown on the weather map, as well as the winds at a slightly higher altitude.
Generally, the wind 2,000 feet above ground level (AGL) is 20° to 40° to the right of surface winds, and the wind speed is greater. The change of wind direction is greatest over rough terrain and least over flat surfaces, such as open water. In the absence of winds aloft information, this rule of thumb allows for a rough estimate of the wind conditions a few thousand feet above the surface.
Learn more about aviation weather with Weather Flying by Robert Buck. Regarded as the bible of weather flying, this aviation classic not only continues to make complex weather concepts understandable for even the least experienced of flyers, but has now been updated to cover new advances in technology.