National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Introduction to Synoptic Meteorology

The word synoptic means "view together" or "view at a common point". Therefore, synoptic meteorology is primarily concerned with viewing the weather at a common point -- time.

Also known as large scale or cyclonic scale, the size of weather patterns we are looking at range upwards from about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) across to about 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers).

When different parameters of the earth's atmosphere are viewed together at the synoptic scale then large-scale weather patterns emerge, such as extratropical cyclones and their associated fronts.

The current surface synoptic weather map. It shows the positions of high- and low-pressure systems, surface weather plots and locations of fronts.

But before this map will provide any relevant information, one of the primary things a good meteorologist will check is the "time" these various weather elements were observed. We will begin by learning about synoptic times displayed on weather maps and text products issued by the National Weather Service.