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Posted by on Sep 17, 2018 in TellMeWhy |

What Is a Depression?

What Is a Depression?

What Is a Depression? A depression is an area of low pressure, usually bringing unsettled weather. A deepening depression has a lowering of pressure at its center. The profile of a depression would read as follows: “A warm front bringing a wide belt of layered clouds with steady rain. It will be followed by a cold front bringing first showers then brighter, more settled weather. In the warm sector between the two fronts we can expect quiet, dull weather broken by storms.”

Official weather observers make their observations of the atmospheric conditions at the end of each six-hour period during the day. Daily reports from many different observers on land and at sea are collected together to make up a weather-map summary. The weather-map consists of patterns of lines, very similar to the contours on a geographical map, along with various other signs and symbols.

A low-pressure area, low, or depression, is a region on the topographic map where the atmospheric pressure is lower than that of surrounding locations. Low-pressure systems form under areas of wind divergence that occur in the upper levels of the troposphere. The formation process of a low-pressure area is known as cyclogenesis. Within the field of meteorology, atmospheric divergence aloft occurs in two areas.

The first area is on the east side of upper troughs, which form half of a Rossby wave within the Westerlies (a trough with large wavelength that extends through the troposphere). A second area of wind divergence aloft occurs ahead of embedded shortwave troughs, which are of smaller wavelength. Diverging winds aloft ahead of these troughs cause atmospheric lift within the troposphere below, which lowers surface pressures as upward motion partially counteracts the force of gravity.

Thermal lows form due to localized heating caused by greater sunshine over deserts and other land masses. Since localized areas of warm air are less dense than their surroundings, this warmer air rises, which lowers atmospheric pressure near that portion of the Earth’s surface. Large-scale thermal lows over continents help drive monsoon circulations. Low-pressure areas can also form due to organized thunderstorm activity over warm water.

When this occurs over the tropics in concert with the Intertropical Convergence Zone, it is known as a monsoon trough. Monsoon troughs reach their northerly extent in August and their southerly extent in February. When a convective low acquires a well-hot circulation in the tropics it is termed a tropical cyclone. Tropical cyclones can form during any month of the year globally, but can occur in either the northern or southern hemisphere during November.


Atmospheric lift will also generally produce cloud cover through adiabatic cooling once the air becomes saturated as it rises, although the low-pressure area typically brings cloudy skies, which act to minimize diurnal temperature extremes. Since clouds reflect sunlight, incoming shortwave solar radiation decreases, which causes lower temperatures during the day.

At night the absorptive effect of clouds on outgoing longwave radiation, such as heat energy from the surface, allows for warmer diurnal low temperatures in all seasons. The stronger the area of low pressure, the stronger the winds experienced in its vicinity. Globally, low-pressure systems are most frequently located over the Tibetan Plateau and in the lee of the Rocky Mountains. In Europe (particularly in the British Isles and Netherlands), recurring low-pressure weather systems are typically known as “depressions”.

Content for this question contributed by Frank Mcilhaney, resident of Austin, Texas, USA