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The Sun makes our Weather and Shapes our Climate!. The sun is really important to mountain weather because the heating and cooling of the Earth makes weather happen! To learn more about the sun click here

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the sun makes our weather and shapes our climate
The Sun makes our Weather and Shapes our Climate!
  • The sun is really important to mountain weather because the heating and cooling of the Earth makes weather happen!
  • To learn more about the sun click here
    • What is our atmosphere made of? How high does our atmosphere go? Click here to learn more.
  • Photo from Solar Voyager:
why do we have night and day
Why do we have night and day?
  • Which side of the planet is in daylight now? (Click here to find out)
  • Where would the sun be in this picture? (Click here to find out)

North Pole

South Pole


why do we have night and day3
Why do we have night and day?
  • The left side of the picture is lighter than the right side. The sun must be shining on the left side. Once the earth spins around, the other side of the earth will be lit. The side which is lit is in daylight. The dark side does not have sunshine lighting it up so it is night.
  • The sun is located on the left side of the picture.

North Pole

South Pole


areas with more direct sunshine
Areas with More Direct Sunshine
  • Solar rays, or energy from the sun (yellow lines) eventually reaches the earth. The equator (the redline), receives more sunlight in a small area. This sunlight heats the equatorial region.
  • The solar rays at the top of the picture which reach North America are spread out over a larger area.
  • Since the earth is tilted on an axis, and the axis relative to the sun changes during the seasons, sometimes the northern part of the hemisphere gets more sunlight in a small area and sometimes it gets less.


Northern Hemisphere Seasons





  • Why do we have the seasons?
    • The earth revolves, or makes one trip around the sun every year. Since the earth is tilted on its axis, during different parts of the year, different sections of the earth get more direct sunlight.


Image Modified From:

sun s rays reach earth
Sun’s Rays Reach Earth

The sun’s rays heat the ground. Once the ground is warmed, that energy is moved into the air.

Here are some ways energy is moved from the earth and through our atmosphere:




what happens to warm air
What happens to warm air?
  • Warm air rises! In the summer, the sun’s rays can warm the ground enough that the air near the surface will be much warmer than the surrounding air.
  • To learn more about rising air, click here: Website of cool air and warm air moving with circulation

Whiteman (2000)

how do clouds form

Lis Cohen

How do Clouds form?
  • This warmer air rises higher up into the atmosphere until it has cooled off to the same temperature as the surrounding air. If there is enough moisture in the air and the temperature has cooled down enough, the water vapor in the air will turn into liquid (cloud droplets) or solid ice crystals and will form a cloud.
us topography
US Topography
  • This is a map of the topography (elevations) of the United States. The highest peaks are white and the lower valleys are light green. The topography of the earth effects the weather and climate across the country.
us precipitation
US Precipitation
  • Compare this picture which shows the average precipitation across the country with the US topography picture. Notice that the highest values of precipitation are often found in the mountain ranges.
  • Key
    • Red-lowest
    • Yellow-low
    • Green-Middle
    • Blue-High
    • Purple-Highest

Whiteman (2000), from Water and Climate Center, Portland, OR.

storm track determines water content of snow

Storm Track Determines Water Content of Snow
  • Most storms in Utah are born over the Pacific Ocean.
    • Move with the subtropical jet stream or the polar jet stream
    • Storms move over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and precipitate out some of the moisture in the clouds.
western mountain ranges

Whiteman (2000)

Western Mountain Ranges
  • This map shows the mountain ranges in the west. Storms often travel from the Pacific Ocean over many mountain ranges before the storms reach the Wasatch Range in Utah.
why does the wasatch get powdery snow before storms reach utah

Lis Cohen

Why does the Wasatch get Powdery Snow?(Before storms reach Utah)
  • The Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and Nevada and the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington get most of the precipitation from the Pacific storms.
    • Because much of the Pacific precipitation is intercepted by the Sierras, the prevailing westerly air currents are relatively dry upon reaching Utah.
mountain precipitation

Find source

Mountain Precipitation
  • As air is lifted by the mountain, water vapor can condense into a cloud. There are a couple of processes that change these clouds droplets into much bigger rain droplets. Precipitation can happen if the rain droplets get too heavy. These raindrops then fall to the ground as rain!
  • Once the air makes it over the mountain, it sinks and warms.
  • Since the air on the other side has less moisture and the air is sinking, clouds are not likely to form. This leaves the back side of the mountains often dry and desert-like.
  • Orographic Lift classroom activity:
sometimes mountains create warm winds
Sometimes Mountains Create Warm Winds
winds and mountain range shape
Winds and Mountain Range Shape
  • The direction of the winds relative to the shape of the mountain range will affect the way that winds move over the mountains. The best way to lift the air is to have the winds move perpendicular to the mountain range. From which direction do the winds travel in Salt Lake City (click here to find out)? How are our mountains shaped (click here to find out)?

Whiteman (2000)

utah s daily wind cycle mountain and valley breezes
Utah’s daily wind cycle (mountain and valley breezes)
  • This is a movie of how the winds change through the day. (Add Wasatch Winds movie saved on CD)
  • Click here to watch the wind barbs change direction throughout the day:
mountain range shape and winds in utah
Mountain Range Shape and Winds in Utah
  • From what direction do the winds most often blow in Salt Lake City?
    • West/Northwest most of the time…. Therefore where would you find wettest and driest locations?
  • Click here to find out more about Salt Lake’s climate. Link to climate slide.

Colors show elevation changes

why the wasatch has powdery snow when storms reach the salt lake
Why the Wasatch has Powdery Snow(When Storms Reach the Salt Lake)
  • Before storms reach the Wasatch, they sometimes move over the Great Salt Lake. Since the salt lake is so salty, it never completely freezes. So in winter, the Great Salt Lake can add moisture to the air which creates more water droplets and ice crystals in clouds which can help create “lake effect snow.”
why the wasatch has powdery snow mountains lifting air
Why the Wasatch has Powdery Snow(Mountains lifting air)
  • Once the storms reach the mountains air is lifted!
    • Link here to Mountain Precipitation Slide.
  • The dry air of the Wasatch makes the snow have more air and less water in it, so the snow is fluffy.
    • In the Sierra Mountains, one inch of liquid water can make 10 inches of snow, whereas in the Wasatch Mountains, one inch of liquid water can become 20 inches of snow!
the high mountains near salt lake city get much more snow than the valley floor
The high Mountains near Salt Lake City get much more snow than the Valley Floor
mountain warming and cooling

Lis Cohen

Mountain Warming and Cooling
  • Why is it cold on mountain tops? Do mountain tops ever get warmer than air that is lower down?
  • To listen to the audio portion click here.
during the day



During the Day…..
  • During the day, the sun heats the ground and the ground heats the air. This warm thin layer of air on the mountain slopes rises up the mountain side creating an “Upslope Flow.”
at night



At Night…..
  • At night, the sun no longer shines on the mountainside and the air on the mountain slopes begins to cool down. This cool air slides down the mountain slope and is called the “down slope flow or drainage flow.”
mountain waves
Mountain waves
  • How can the mountains change the way air flows over mountains?
    • Air can form waves in the atmosphere and small spinning circles of air, called eddies.
mountain winds can be dangerous to airplanes
Mountain Winds can be dangerous to Airplanes
  • Click on COMET Mountain Waves Module
what is there to know about mountain meteorology

Picture: Sierra Waves project 1950s

What is there to know about Mountain Meteorology?
  • There are still things to be learned about mountain waves so researchers are still engaging in projects and experiments to better understand mountain waves.
mountain wave indicators
Mountain Wave Indicators
  • Lenticular clouds can develop when air moves quickly over the top of mountains. Standing waves, like water flowing over a rock in rapids, can develop which can be dangerous for airplanes. Click here to learn more


mountains channeling winds
Mountains Channeling Winds
  • Sometimes mountains channel the winds so they move very quickly through a small space. This movement is similar to how water moves quickly out the spout of a hose if you put your finger over part of the spout.

Whiteman (2000)

winds shaping snow
Winds Shaping Snow
  • Winds can move snow from one side of the slope to another and can build giant cornices as shown in the figure. These cornices can be very dangerous to walk on. Figure a shows where this cornice might break. If these cornices break, you can trigger an avalanche.

Whiteman (2000)

winds and plants
Winds and Plants
  • Strong winds can affect the trees and plants. Look for signs of winds along the mountains and in the valley. Which way do you think the winds might be blowing?
  • In addition to wind, water, sunlight and plant species can affect tree growth.

Whiteman (2000)

can air be warmer at the top of a mountain
Can air be warmer at the top of a mountain?
  • Sometimes storms with cold air move up to a mountain and the cold air does not make it all the way across. The cold air, since it is more dense, can easily remain in what is called a cold pool (click here to link to Jenny’s stuff).

Whiteman (2000)

mountain climates
Mountain Climates
  • To learn more about climates and biology click here (for older students)

mountain climates and plants
Mountain Climates and Plants

mountain climates and plants36
Mountain Climates and Plants

activities related to mountains and climate
Activities related to mountains and climate

utah climate info
Utah Climate Info
  • Name ___________________________________________________
  • 1. What is Utah's highest temperature?
  • 2. What is Utah's coldest temperature?
  • 3. What is the average temperature in Salt Lake City for July?
  • 4. What is the average temperature in your city for January?
  • 5. What is the 5 day forecast along the Wasatch Front?
  • 6. What is today's forecast for Salt Lake City?
  • 7. What types of severe weather are found in Utah?
  • 8. Write some facts about lightning or tornadoes.
  • 9. Where is it the coldest today?
  • Map -
  • Places -
  • 10. Where is it the hottest today?
  • Map -
  • Places -
  • Other climate data:
finding out about utah s weather
Finding out about Utah’s Weather
  • Wild Weather
  • Five Day Forecast
  • Precipitation- rain, hail, sleet or snow.
  • Topography- characteristics of land in terms of elevation, slope, and orientation
  • Orographic- average height of the land
  • Orographic lift- air lifted as it travels over mountains
  • Perpendicular- at a 90 degree angle (see diagram)
  • Axis- an imaginary line that an object rotates (or spins) around
  • mountain ranges- a group of mountains
  • Water vapor- water as a gas (this gas is invisible)
  • Condenses- the phase change of a gas turning into a liquid
  • Subtropical jet stream-subtropical jet stream—A band of relatively strong winds concentrated between 20° and 40° latitude in the middle and upper troposphere. It can be present at any longitude but is generally strongest off the Asian coast. Seejet stream. (AMS Glossary 2000)
    • jet stream—Relatively strong winds concentrated within a narrow stream in the atmosphere.
  • Whiteman, C. D., 2000: Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications. Oxford University Press, New York, 355pp.