If you are a regular viewer of weather broadcasts, chances are you’ve heard the following from your local TV meteorologist: “plenty of sunshine is in store today as high pressure is in control over the area.” Or: “expect rain to spread into the area as a low pressure system approaches.” It is well established that high pressure is generally associated with nice weather, while low pressure is generally associated with cloudy, rainy, or snowy weather. But have you ever wondered why?
In order to understand the types of weather conditions generally associated with high and low pressure systems, we must think “vertically.” The motion of air in the atmosphere above our heads plays a large part in the weather we experience here at earth’s surface. Basically, air cools as it rises, which can cause water vapor in the air to condense into liquid water droplets, sometimes forming clouds and precipitation. On the other hand, sinking air is associated with warming and drying conditions. So the first important point to keep in mind is rising air = moistening, sinking air = drying.
So what does this have to do with high and low pressure? Well, as you may have guessed, high pressure is associated with sinking air, and low pressure is associated with rising air. But why? The answer has to do with the typical air flow around high and low pressure. Physically, it seems to make sense to have air flow from high pressure to low pressure. For reasons I won’t get into in this post, the airflow (due to the Earth’s rotation and friction) is directed slightly inward toward the low pressure center, and slightly outward away from the high pressure center: …more