Cold Fronts

From: http://earthstorm.ocs.ou.edu/materials/les_coldfrontchar.php
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

1 period
Preparation Time:
5-10 minutes making copies

Access to Aver Key or Proxima (or computer lab)
QuickTime movies available at
Cold Front Discussion Questions
Cold Front Student Sheet

Oklahama Road Map

Where toxicants of environmental health importance are transported through the air, understanding the natural processes contributing to air movement and weather patterns of a region is important. For example, in some cities inversion layers trap pollutants close to the ground. Students will examine the physical characteristics of cold fronts and consider this information when designing their city as a healthy environment.

Purpose – Explanation of similarities and differences between cold fronts and their resulting precipitation.

Students will be able to:
1. Determine its’ direction of movement, and list at least 5 weather conditions (e.g., cloudy behind front) associated with the specific front, given animations of several atmospheric variables (e.g., temperature, rainfall) during a cold front passage.
2. List at least 3 weather conditions similar among all cold fronts.

National Science Education Standard:
CONTENT STANDARD D: Earth and Space Science

• Earth systems have internal and external sources of energy, both of which create heat. The sun is the major external source of energy. Two primary sources of internal energy are the decay of radioactive isotopes and the gravitational energy from the earth’s original formation.

• Heating of earth’s surface and atmosphere by the sun drives convection within the atmosphere and oceans, producing winds and ocean currents.

• Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth’s surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and the earth’s rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.


• Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth’s internal and external sources of energy. These movements are often accompanied by a change in the physical and chemical properties of the matter. Carbon, for example, occurs in:
a. carbonate rocks, such as limestone,
b. atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas,
c. water as dissolved carbon dioxide, and
d. all organisms as complex molecules which control the chemistry of life.

Teacher Background
Cold front passages are common events in the mid-latitudes, especially in the Fall, Winter, and Spring. Although all cold fronts are associated with a "parent" low-pressure system, weather conditions before, during, and after cold front passage may vary from one front to the next. In this exercise, two different cold fronts are presented to study weather characteristics of a cold front passage.

Related and Resource Websites
WxImage Software http://www.ocs.ou.edu/software/
USA Today on Cold Fronts: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/tg/wcfront/wcfront.htm
Wikipedia on Cold Front: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_front
University of Illinois on Cold Fronts: http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/af/frnts/cfrnt/def.rxml
Windows to the Universe: http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Atmosphere/tstorm/cold_front.html
Lesson Plan on Cold Front: http://vathena.arc.nasa.gov/curric/weather/hsweathr/fronts.html













1. In this activity, there are two different cold front cases. Examine one case, then the next.

2. Using WxImage or another QuickTime® movie player, animate the movies depicting air temperature, dew point, solar radiation, rainfall, and wind. Examine each animation for patterns and changes.

3. Remind students that the cold front is located at the leading edge of the cold air, with cold air advancing and warm air retreating so they can use the air temperature field to locate the front.

4. As students are watching the animations, they should be working together to answer the questions on the discussion question sheet.
Provide the following questions to the students


  1. Describe how the air temperatures change across the state as the cold front passes through. Where are the warmest temperatures? The coolest?
  2. Can you locate the cold front? How?
  3. In which direction does the front move? At approximately what speed does the front move? (Use the Oklahoma road map, if necessary.)
  4. By the time the cold front has passed through central Oklahoma, the Panhandle is warming. Why?
  5. Describe how the dewpoint temperatures change across the state as the cold front passes through. Where are the highest dew points? The lowest?
  6. Is there any rainfall associated with the cold front? If so, where does it fall with respect to the location of the front?
  7. Are there any clouds associated with the cold front? If so, where are they located with respect to the front?
  8. Describe how the winds change across the state as the cold front passes through. Where are the strongest winds? The weakest?
  9. Find the location of your school on the map. How did the weather change at your school as the cold front moved across the state?
  10. What other data is useful in studying the weather associated with the front? Why?

Discuss the similarities and differences between the two cold fronts using the discussion questions as a guide.

Embedded Assessment
Can students list 5 variables associated with each front? Can they find 3 similarities between the two fronts?


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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