9 meteorological terms to better describe the weather

3 min read

You probably watch the weather report — or at least check your weather app — every day, but how much do you really know about what goes on in the atmosphere? Maybe you’ve heard the meteorologist use terms like dew point and Greenhouse Effect, but do you know what they actually mean?

Maybe you just want to know whether or not to bring your umbrella, but we’re going a little deeper today. If you want to impress your friends, and help them prepare for the day ahead, use these terms to show off your climate knowledge.

Wind Scale

The Beaufort Wind Scale was created in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort, mainly for use at sea. It measures how strong winds are on a scale of 0 (completely calm) to 12 (hurricane force). The Beaufort Scale was intended for people to be able to judge wind force based on visual cues, like ripples on the water. Be on the lookout for anything stronger than a 6 — that's when you know wind will start to become an obstacle.  

Barometric pressure

Barometric pressure measures the amount of pressure in Earth’s atmosphere. Gravity attracts gases in the atmosphere toward the Earth’s surface, and barometric pressure changes depending on factors like earthly rotation and wind patterns. Changes in barometric pressure can indicate upcoming weather patterns. It’s also known to give some people headaches, so if your wife gets a migraine every time it rains, now you can tell her why.

Dew point

Dew point is when the temperature drops low enough that condensation forms from water vapor in the air. The dew point is not a fixed temperature, like the boiling or freezing points, but it varies based on the air pressure and humidity. All that condensation on your windows and the dew on the grass in the morning? That’s all thanks to the dew point.


Don’t get intimidated — you learned this one in elementary school! Remember the water cycle? Evapotranspiration just means that the water on land — mostly in bodies of water, plants, and soil — evaporates into the air.


You know those weird rings you sometimes see on meteorological maps? Those are called isobars. Isobars show where barometric pressure is the same across the map. So if one region’s barometric pressure is lower than the one next to it, isobars will group similar regions together and separate different ones. It's more effective than state’s borders at showing you weather patterns.

Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse Effect is when the sun’s heat gets trapped in Earth’s lower atmosphere. It happens when there are a lot of gases in the atmosphere to trap heat and radiation. They make the planet warmer. The Greenhouse Effect is a cause of global warming, or more accurately, climate change.

Tropical air mass

Tropical air masses form over large bodies of warm water, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the time these air masses stick to the tropics and other hot climates, but as the seasons shift, they sometimes migrate farther. When a tropical air mass moves in, get ready for hot, sticky weather.

Sea surface temperature

Sea surface temperature is exactly what it sounds like — the temperature of the ocean surface. There are a lot of ways to measure it, but buoys and satellites are both common methods. Ocean temperatures are more important than you might think. A change of even a few degrees can change an entire region’s climate.

Rain shadow

Rain shadows are found in mountainous areas. While one side of a mountain range gets rain from a storm, the other side can receive far less. That’s because the mountains form a block that prevents the rain from hitting the other side of the mountain. One side of a mountain could get a healthy level of rainfall while the other side gets barely any at all.

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