There are few things on this planet that affect our day to day lives more than the weather. But despite the importance of the weather, many of us know relatively little about the atmospheric conditions that influence the environment all around us.
In fact, there are so many different types of weather that we can experience depending on where we live and spend our time. Up next, we’ll introduce you to 9 of the most common types of weather so you can be a bit more knowledgeable about the weather forecasts you use to plan your adventures.
Let’s get started!
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Of all of the different kinds of weather that we might experience, there are 9 that many people will experience at least once in their lives. Here’s a quick look at 9 different weather that any aspiring storm chaser ought to be familiar with.
When it comes to weather, there’s nothing better than a nice, calm sunny day. When the sun’s shining, we can enjoy all sorts of superb outdoor activities, like hiking and climbing, or we can simply sit out in nature and enjoy the world around us.
Sunny weather happens whenever there are few, if any clouds overhead. Technically, if these conditions happen at night, we would call them “clear” rather than “sunny” due to, well, the lack of sun.
We generally experience sunny weather whenever there’s a high pressure system, or an anticyclone, overhead. Depending on where you live, sunny conditions might be quite fickle, especially if local weather patterns generally cause clouds to build up in the afternoon and evening.
There are dozens of different types of clouds out there. But when we’re talking about cloudy weather, we’re generally referring to conditions where at least half—but not all—of the sky is covered in clouds.
Cloudy conditions can happen for a wide variety of reasons, though they’re typically the result of local or regional low pressure. Some places also get cloudy conditions on a daily basis as a result of their local topography or weather systems.
For example, Anchorage, Alaska receives over 230 cloudy days each year. That means that the residents of Alaska’s largest city only get sunshine about 40% of the time. Compare that to the fewer than 70 cloudy days that Phoenix, Arizona gets each year, and it’s clear that not all cities are built equally as far as clouds are concerned.
3. Partly Cloudy
Partly cloudy is a relatively difficult type of weather to define, but it exists somewhere between sunny and cloudy.
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the term “partly cloudy” is used when the sky has between 3/8 and 5/8 cloud cover. Helpful, right?
If this seems like an overly technical definition for a term that you hear used all the time in weather forecasts, then that’s because it is. Meteorologists work with a very specific set of terminology when creating their forecasts and “partly cloudy” is something that they use to describe the overall sky condition.
Other forecast terms that you might hear meteorologists use to describe the sky cover have similar definitions. These include:
- Clear/Sunny – 1/8 or less cloud cover
- Mostly Clear/Mostly Sunny – 1/8 to 3/8 cloud cover
- Partly Cloudy/Partly Sunny – 3/8 to 5/8 cloud cover
- Mostly Cloudy – 5/8 to 7/8 cloud cover
- Cloudy – 7/8 to 8/8 cloud cover
Keep in mind that these are the terms that you’ll see used by forecasters in the US. Other countries have similar systems but the definitions might be slightly different.
Overcast weather conditions occur whenever the sky is covered with a layer of unbroken clouds.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), overcast is defined as when the sky is 8/8 covered in clouds with no major breaks between the clouds.
Overcast conditions are referred to as a “ceiling” in aviation meteorology. These sorts of conditions can be challenging for pilots of small aircraft, especially if the cloud layer is located relatively low to the ground as it can limit the flying ability of pilots operating using visual flight rules (i.e., without the aid of instruments).
You might hear meteorologists refer to an overcast sky as having 8 oktas. An okta is simply a unit of measurement that represents cloud coverage of 1/8 of the sky. Therefore 8 oktas is equal to cloud coverage of the entire sky.
There are many reasons why an area might experience overcast conditions. Overcast conditions are common with inversions and when there’s widespread low pressure over a region.
Of all the types of weather, rainy conditions are likely our least favorite (and we’re sure that there are others out there who agree!).
Meteorologists define rainy weather as having a measurable precipitation of at least 0.01 inches. If an area receives less than that amount of precipitation, it would be referred to as “trace precipitation.”
Precipitation like rain is one of the most difficult weather conditions to forecast for. There’s so much uncertainty that goes into rain forecasts because our computer models simply aren’t able to account for the thousands of variables that dictate rainy weather.
All of this uncertainty is why you’ll normally hear meteorologists give precipitation probability forecasts (e.g., 50% chance of rain) rather than definitive forecasts that tell you precisely how much rain you can expect.
This probability of precipitation (POP) is defined as “as the likelihood of occurrence (expressed as a percent) of a measurable amount of liquid precipitation during a specified period of time at any given point in the forecast area.” You’ll likely hear meteorologists use the following terms for rainy weather forecasts:
- 10% POP – Isolated/Few Showers
- 20% POP – Slight Chance/Widely Scattered Showers
- 30% to 50% POP – Chance/Scattered Showers
- 60% to 70% POP – Likely/Numerous Showers
- 80% to 100% POP – Occasional Showers or Periods of Showers
Above all, keep in mind that making precise precipitation forecasts isn’t easy, so be prepared for anything when rain is in the picture!
Arguably the most magical of all the types of precipitation and weather, snow is a true wonder to behold.
Snow is defined as any kind of ice crystal that forms in the atmosphere and lands on the ground.
According to this definition, some other types of frozen precipitation, like graupel or sleet, could also be classified as snow. However, many meteorologists would specifically mention these other kinds of precipitation in their forecasts rather than lump them all together as “snow.”
Since snow is a type of frozen precipitation, it can only form when the temperatures are below freezing throughout much of the lower atmosphere. You might see it snowing outside when the temperatures are above freezing, but in these conditions, the snowflakes themselves will melt very quickly before they ever get a chance to stick to the ground.
Snow may be a more difficult forecast than rain. In fact, forecasting snowfall totals is, to some degree, harder than forecasting rain because some snowfall has a higher concentration of water than others.
This is problematic because the forecast models that meteorologists work with provide precipitation data in terms of the total amount of estimated liquid precipitation, regardless of whether the conditions are appropriate for rain or snow. Meteorologists then have to estimate how much snow might form out of this liquid water, which is an imprecise art, to say the least.
Fog is defined as any type of cloud that forms at ground level. There are many, many reasons why fog might form, and some areas of the world are more predisposed to fog formation than others.
One of the most common types of fog that we see is something called ground fog (also known as radiation fog), which most frequently forms at night. Some places, like San Francisco, are also particularly likely to get advection fog, which forms when warm, moist air moves over cold water or ground.
In areas where fog is common, forecasting for it can be fairly straightforward. That’s because local meteorologists are usually very skilled at identifying weather patterns that indicate when fog is most likely to form in any given area.
It’s worth noting that even very dense fog doesn’t qualify as “overcast” in meteorological terms. Fog is generally a much more localized weather event than overcast skies, which affect a wide area. However, fog can cause major problems, especially for cars and other forms of ground transportation, because it can greatly reduce your visibility on the road.
8. Thunder & Lightning
Thunder and lightning are the result of a complex series of processes in the atmosphere, and scientists still don’t completely understand the reasons why they happen.
This type of weather is most commonly associated with strong atmospheric convection and unstable air masses or, in other words, the rapid rising and falling of parcels of air through the sky. We often see thunder and lightning form from a specific type of cloud called a cumulonimbus, which is one of the tallest clouds that forms in our atmosphere.
Forecasting for thunder and lightning is very, very challenging. This is in part because meteorologists simply don’t have models that can mimic the complex processes that happen in convection with great skill and accuracy.
Additionally, the convection that forms thunder and lighting can happen on either a very small or a relatively large scale. When thunderstorms result from very small scale convection, it’s incredibly difficult for meteorologists to determine whether that storm will bring lightning, rain, wind, or any other hazards to any given area.
The other issue that forecasters face with thunderstorms is that they can form very quickly. When the conditions are ripe for strong convection, the skies can change from relatively calm to stormy and chaotic in a matter of minutes.
Therefore, most meteorological organizations, like the National Weather Service in the US, will issue warnings whenever they think an area is likely to experience a thunderstorm. When this happens, there’s no guarantee that a storm will form, but meteorologists will plan to keep a closer eye on the area, just in case.
Our last major type of weather is windy weather. Windy conditions can occur with a wide range of different types of weather, like thunderstorms. Major storm systems, like hurricanes, are also known to herald in some truly destructive winds.
Wind can be defined as air under motion. Air moves whenever there’s an imbalance between the pressure in any two locations. In particular, air always moves from areas of high to low pressure. When the air moves toward low pressure, we humans experience it as wind.
For a more in-depth explanation of how wind works, check out this quick video from the UK Met Office:
Forecasting wind isn’t always easy, especially when it looks like there will be a major storm in a given area. Do note that forecasting sustained wind speeds is different from forecasting wind gusts. Wind gusts are particularly difficult to forecast for as even small thunderstorms can produce unexpectedly fast bursts of wind that last for just a few seconds at a time.
Humans have tried to measure wind for generations as it has historically had (and continues to have) a major impact on our day-to-day lives. As a result, we humans have come up with many ways to measure and describe the wind. One of the most popular methods is the Beaufort Wind Scale, which is still used in the maritime industry to this day.
If you spend a lot of time outside, getting an accurate weather forecast and understanding the types of weather you might face is critical for your adventures. However, finding the best weather apps and websites is no easy feat as there are hundreds of different options to choose from.
Although there’s no such thing as a weather website or app that’s accurate 100% of the time, there are some forecasts that perform better than others in the long term. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of our 7 favorite apps and websites to consider when researching the forecast before your next trip into the mountains.
If you’re looking for a reliable, authoritative source for weather forecasting in the US, look no further than Weather.gov, the official website of the National Weather Service.
Weather.gov is one of the best places to get up-to-date weather alerts and warnings directly from the expert meteorologists at NOAA. Although the Weather.gov website isn’t the sleekest option on our list, it provides more data than you could ever imagine for nearly every location in the US.
At Weather.gov, you can look up local forecasts for specific cities or regions. Or, you can check out the latest forecast maps and the current national radar. The website also has both current and archived weather and climate data for the entire country, so it’s a one-stop shop for the meteorology nerds among us.
As a general rule, national weather services provide some of the best forecasts and models for their country. The UK’s Met Office is no exception.
At the Met Office website, you can get access to up-to-the-minute forecasts for the entire UK and all of its overseas territories (yep, even South Georgia!). The website also has forecasts for other major cities around the world, but it’s most reliable when used for UK forecasts.
We particularly like the Met Office as a weather resource because they make forecasts simple and easy to understand. The Met Office also provides extensive weather maps and other data for anyone to use to create their own forecasts.
Additionally, the Met Office has a set of “specialist forecasts” available that you can use to get more accurate predictions for coastal and mountain weather. In fact, the Met Office produces specific forecasts for all the major mountain regions of the UK, which is an invaluable resource for hikers and mountaineers in the country.
Next up on our list, we have AccuWeather, a US-based private weather forecasting company that runs a top-notch website and some great mobile apps. AccuWeather is perhaps most popular in the US, but the firm provides decent forecasts for most of the world.
For people who like to geek out on the weather, AccuWeather is a solid place to get your forecasts. The company provides detailed short and long range forecasts for most places. However, always keep in mind that forecasts with a range of more than 3 days are rarely very accurate.
AccuWeather also earns a spot on our list because they provide excellent analysis of current and past weather conditions on their blog. If you’re interested in learning more about why a certain weather event turned out the way it did, AccuWeather’s informational articles are well worth checking out.
YR.no is one of the lesser-known weather resources on our list, but it’s a truly excellent place to get weather forecasts. In fact, YR.no is a service of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. The service offers both a website and mobile apps where you can get forecasts for most areas around the world.
Although it’s based in Norway, if you’re looking for weather forecasts in Europe, YR.no is a great first place to check. The service provides some of the best weather forecasts in the business, especially if you want information on future weather patterns in mountainous areas of Europe (including the UK).
Although YR.no is definitely Euro-centric with its forecasting tools, it does a good job with forecasts in North America, too. Even if it’s not your first choice for US-based weather, YR.no is a great app to add to your weather forecasting repertoire.
Our personal favorite weather app, Windy is a great option if you prefer to look at real-time weather charts and maps rather than text-based forecasts.
Windy is available online and as an iOS and Android app. We particularly like using Windy because it lets you create customizable maps that include everything from current wind speeds to surface pressure and satellite imagery.
More advanced weather nerds can also use Windy to toggle between forecasts from different models, like ECMWF, GFS, NAM, and ICON. Windy also provides excellent maps for weather variables and metrics like the CAPE index that are hard to find elsewhere. So it’s a great tool to use if you’re venturing into remote terrain where detailed forecasts aren’t always available.
Another weather forecasting app called Windy? That must be a typo… right?
Nope, there are, indeed, two excellent weather forecasting apps with nearly the exact same name. However, this weather resource is called Windy.app (unlike the other resource, which is simply called Windy), so we understand why you might be a bit confused.
While the other Windy is our top choice for people who prefer to look at weather maps, Windy.app is our go-to option if you want quick access to text-based weather forecasts for outdoor activities, like hiking, sailing, or skiing.
To be fair, Windy.app also has excellent maps (the app actually won an award from the World Meteorological Organization for its awesomeness), but its text forecasts are second-to-none. It also offers great information about tides in coastal areas, which is helpful if you’re adventuring on the water.
One of the reasons why we love Windy.app is because it lets you toggle between different forecast models for a given area. While most weather resources only show you predictions based on one model (GFS, for example), Windy.app lets you see whether or not there are major differences between the model forecasts, which is helpful if you’re expecting severe weather.
Last but not least, we have Tropical Tidbits. Tropical Tidbits is a bit of an oddball on our list because it was actually developed as a passion project by a single meteorologist, Levi Cowan, rather than by a company or a governmental organization.
But, despite its humble origins, Tropical Tidbits is a great resource for anyone that’s serious about weather forecasting. We personally use it whenever we’re developing our own forecasts for our outdoor adventures.
On Tropical Tidbits, you can get access to the latest forecast charts for the entire world. You can also find everything from basic surface pressure charts and satellite imagery to charts that display more complex forecast variables like 700 mb cyclonic vorticity. Tropical Tidbits also shows forecast soundings for nearly every location on the planet.
That said, Tropical Tidbits doesn’t show classic text-based weather forecasts, so it’s not a place for anyone that wants a quick answer about tomorrow’s high temperatures. But if you have a bit of weather knowledge under your belt, you’ll find a treasure trove of information and data at Tropical Tidbits.
Here are our answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about the different types of weather.
Why Does the Weather Change So Frequently?
The weather changes frequently because the Earth’s atmosphere is in a constant state of flux. Our weather is determined by a complex collection of processes that can be affected by even the most minute changes in moisture in the upper atmosphere. That said, some places have much more stable weather and don’t experience rapid changes in weather on a daily basis.
How Do You Describe Weather Conditions?
There are many ways to describe weather conditions. At a minimum, most meteorologists will describe the anticipated temperature, cloud cover, wind, and probability of precipitation when making their forecasts as these factors tend to have the largest impacts on our day-to-day lives.
What Is the Process of Weather Forecasting?
The weather forecasting process for meteorologists starts with a review of the big-picture data from multiple dynamic models, which are computer programs that predict future weather.
Then, meteorologists take a look at a forecast tool called MOS (Model Output Statistics), which is a software that uses historical weather data to improve dynamic model forecasts in smaller geographic regions. After reviewing all of the data, meteorologists create a forecast that reflects what the models show and their own understanding of weather systems.