A warm front occurs when a warm mass of air advances and replaces a body of colder air. Warm fronts move slowly, typically 10 to 25 miles per hour (mph). The slope of the advancing front slides over the top of the cooler air and gradually pushes it out of the area. Warm fronts contain warm air that often have very high humidity. As the warm air is lifted, the temperature drops and condensation occurs.
Generally, prior to the passage of a warm front, cirriform or stratiform clouds, along with fog, can be expected to form along the frontal boundary. In the summer months, cumulonimbus clouds (thunderstorms) are likely to develop. Light to moderate precipitation is probable, usually in the form of rain, sleet, snow, or drizzle, accentuated by poor visibility. The wind blows from the south-southeast, and the outside temperature is cool or cold, with an increasing dew point. Finally, as the warm front approaches, the barometric pressure continues to fall until the front passes completely.
During the passage of a warm front, stratiform clouds are visible and drizzle may be falling. The visibility is generally poor, but improves with variable winds. The temperature rises steadily from the inflow of relatively warmer air. For the most part, the dew point remains steady and the pressure levels off.
After the passage of a warm front, stratocumulus clouds predominate and rain showers are possible. The visibility eventually improves, but hazy conditions may exist for a short period after passage. The wind blows from the south-southwest. With warming temperatures, the dew point rises and then levels off. There is generally a slight rise in barometric pressure, followed by a decrease of barometric pressure.
Flight Toward an Approaching Warm Front
By studying a typical warm front, much can be learned about the general patterns and atmospheric conditions that exist when a warm front is encountered in flight. Figure 11-26 depicts a warm front advancing eastward from St. Louis, Missouri, toward Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
At the time of departure from Pittsburgh, the weather is good VFR with a scattered layer of cirrus clouds at 15,000 feet. As the flight progresses westward to Columbus and closer to the oncoming warm front, the clouds deepen and become increasingly stratiform in appearance with a ceiling of 6,000 feet. The visibility decreases to six miles in haze with a falling barometric pressure. Approaching Indianapolis, the weather deteriorates to broken clouds at 2,000 feet with three miles visibility and rain. With the temperature and dew point the same, fog is likely. At St. Louis, the sky is overcast with low clouds and drizzle and the visibility is one mile. Beyond Indianapolis, the ceiling and visibility would be too low to continue VFR. Therefore, it would be wise to remain in Indianapolis until the warm front had passed, which might require a day or two.
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.