extra tropical cyclones

Extra Tropical Cyclones or Temperate Cyclones

Extra tropical cyclones

Extra-tropical cyclones (also referred to as mid-latitude cyclones) are a fundamental part of the atmospheric circulation in the
mid-latitudes due to their ability to transport large amounts of heat, moisture and momentum.
Climatologically, extra-tropical
cyclones are responsible for most of the precipitation in the mid-latitudes with over 70% of precipitation in large parts of
Europe and North America due to the passage of an extra-tropical cyclone.  
Extra-tropical cyclones are
also the primary cause for mid-latitude weather variability and can lead to strong winds

The systems developing in the mid and high latitude(35° latitude and 65° latitude in both hemispheres), beyond the tropics are called the Temperate Cyclones or Extra Tropical Cyclones or Mid-Latitude Cyclones or Frontal Cyclones or Wave Cyclones.

An extratropical cycloneis a storm that derives energy from horizontal temperature differences, which are typical in higher latitudes. From space, extratropical storms have a characteristic “comma-shaped” cloud pattern. Extratropical cyclones can also be dangerous because their low-pressure centres cause powerful winds.


Why do extratropical cyclones exist?

There is an Energy surplus at tropics and an energy deficit at the poles.

– Angle of solar incidence ,Tilt of earth’s axis, axial parrallism, and other phenomena are responsible for this

• Energy transport is required so tropics (poles) don’t continually warm (cool)

• Extratropical cyclones are an atmospheric mechanism of transporting warm air poleward and cold air equatorward in the mid- latitudes

Formation of Extra Tropical Cyclones

Polar Front Theory

  • The boundary between cold polar air and warm tropical air is the polar front
  •  Extratropical cyclones develop on the polar front where large horizontal temperature gradients exist

  • According to this theory, the warm-humid air masses from the tropics meet the dry-cold air masses from the poles and thus a polar front is formed as a surface of discontinuity.Such conditions occur over sub-tropical high, sub-polar low pressure beltsand along the Tropopause.
  • The cold air pushes the warm air upwards from underneath. Thus a void is created because of lessening of pressure. The surrounding air is rushed in to occupy this void and coupled with the earth’s rotation, a cyclone is formed which advances with the westerlies (Jet Streams).
  • In the northern hemisphere, warm air blows from the south and cold air from the north of the front.
  • When the pressure drops along the front, the warm air moves northwards and the cold air move towards south setting in motion an anticlockwise cyclonic circulation (northern hemisphere). This is due to Coriolis Force.

extra tropical cyclone formation

  • The cyclonic circulation leads to a well-developed extra tropical cyclone, with a warm front and a cold front.
  • The cold front approaches the warm air from behind and pushes the warm air up. As a result, cumulus clouds develop along the cold front. The cold front moves fasterthan the warm front ultimately overtaking the warm front. The warm air is completely lifted up and the front is occluded (occluded front) and the cyclone dissipates.
  • The processes of wind circulation both at the surface and aloft are closely interlinked.
  • So temperate cyclone is intense frontogenesis involving mainly occlusion type front.
  • Normally, individual frontal cyclones exist for about 3 to 10 days moving in a generally west to east direction.
  • Precise movement of this weather system is controlled by the orientation of the polar jet stream in the upper troposphere.

Features of Extra-Tropical Cyclones:

Seasonal Occurrence of  cyclones

  • The temperate cyclones occur mostly in winter, late autumn and spring. They are generally associated with rainstorms and cloudy weather.
  • During summer, all the paths of temperate cyclones shift northwards and there are only few temperate cyclone over sub-tropics and the warm temperate zone, although a high concentration of storms occurs over Bering Strait, USA and Russian Arctic and sub-Arctic zone.

Distribution of Temperate Cyclones-Mid Latitudes

  • USA and Canada – extend over Sierra Nevada, Colorado, Eastern Canadian Rockies and the Great Lakes region,
  • the belt extending from Iceland to Barents Sea and continuing over Russia and Siberia,
  • winter storms over Baltic Sea,
  • Mediterranean basin extending up to Russia and even up to India in winters (called western disturbances) and the Antarctic frontal zone.

Orientation and Movement

  • Jet streams plays a major role in temperate cyclonogeneis.Jet streams also influence the path of temperate cyclones.
  • Since these cyclones move with the westerlies (Jet Streams), they are oriented east-west.
  • In case the storm front is directed southwards, the center moves quite deep southwards-even up to the Mediterranean region [sometimes causing the Mediterranean cyclones or Western Disturbances(They are very important as they bring rains to North-West India – Punjab, Haryana)].


  • The north-western sector is the cold sector and the north-eastern sector is the warm sector (Because cold air masses in north and warm air masses in south push against each other and rotate anti-clockwise in northern hemisphere).

Associated Weather

  • The approach of a temperate cyclone is marked by fall in temperature, fall in the mercury level, wind shifts and a halo around the sun and the moon, and a thin veil of cirrus clouds.
  • A light drizzle follows which turns into a heavy downpour. These conditions change with the arrival of the warm front which halts the fall in mercury level and the rising temperature.
  • Rainfall stops and clear weather prevails until the cold front of an anticyclonic character arrives which causes a fall in temperature, brings cloudiness and rainfall with thunder. After this, once again clear weather is established.
  • The temperate cyclones experience more rainfall when there is slower movement and a marked difference in rainfall and temperature between the front and rear of the cyclone. These cyclones are generally accompanied by anticyclones.

Polar Front Jet Stream

  • The polar jet is the narrow band of meandering strong winds (~100 knots) found at the tropopause 
  •  The polar jet moves meridionally (30°-60° latitude) and vertically (10-15 km) with the seasons
  • At times, the polar jet will split into northern and southern branches and possibly merge with the subtropical jet

Air Masses

• Air masses are large bodies of air that take on the properties of the underlying surface

• Air masses are classified according to their location of origin – essentially their temperature and moisture properties

• Geographical Characteristics-temperature – Tropical, Polar, Arctic

• SurfaceProperties-moisture – maritime, continental

• Source region characteristics most prevalent if air mass remains over source region for a long period

Air Mass Classifications

• cP – continental Polar

– Cold, dry, stable

– Extremely cold cP air mass may be designated cA (continental Arctic)

• mP – maritime Polar – Cool, moist, unstable

• mT – maritime Tropical
– Warm, moist, usually unstable

• cT – continental Tropical – Hot, dry

– Stable air aloft, unstable surface air



• Fronts are the boundary or interface between air masses of different density

• A front is located on the warm side of a thickness gradient

• Generally, fronts are identified and plotted where the interface intersects the ground – surface maps

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