weather glossary


dBZ - Nondimensional "unit" of radar reflectivity which represents a logarithmic power ratio (in decibels, or dB) with respect to radar reflectivity factor, Z.

The value of Z is a function of the amount of radar beam energy that is backscattered by a target and detected as a signal (or echo). Higher values of Z (and dBZ) thus indicate more energy being backscattered by a target. The amount of backscattered energy generally is related to precipitation intensity, such that higher values of dBZ that are detected from precipitation areas generally indicate higher precipitation rates. However, other factors can affect reflectivity, such as width of the radar beam, precipitation type, drop size, or the presence of ground clutter or AP. WSR-88D radars can detect reflectivities as low as -32 dBZ near the radar site, but significant (measurable) precipitation generally is indicated by reflectivities of around 15 dBZ or more. Values of 50 dBZ or more normally are associated with heavy thunderstorms, perhaps with hail, but as with most other quantities, there are no reliable threshold values to confirm the presence of hail or severe weather in a given situation. See VIP for threshold dBZ values associated with each VIP level.

*Debris Cloud - A rotating "cloud" of dust or debris, near or on the ground, often appearing beneath a condensation funnel and surrounding the base of a tornado.
This term is similar to dust whirl, although the latter typically refers to a circulation which contains dust but not necessarily any debris. A dust plume, on the other hand, does not rotate. Note that a debris cloud appearing beneath a thunderstorm will confirm the presence of a tornado, even in the absence of a condensation funnel.

Delta T - A simple representation of the mean lapse rate within a layer of the atmosphere, obtained by calculating the difference between observed temperatures at the bottom and top of the layer. Delta Ts often are computed operationally over the layer between pressure levels of 700 mb and 500 mb, in order to evaluate the amount of instability in mid-levels of the atmosphere. Generally, values greater than about 18 indicate sufficient instability for severe thunderstorm development.

Derecho - (Pronounced day-RAY-cho), a widespread and usually fast-moving windstorm associated with convection. Derechos include any family of downburst clusters produced by an extratropical MCS, and can produce damaging straight-line winds over areas hundreds of miles long and more than 100 miles across.

Dew Point (or Dew-point Temperature)
- A measure of atmospheric moisture. It is the temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation (assuming air pressure and moisture content are constant).

Differential Motion - Cloud motion that appears to differ relative to other nearby cloud elements, e.g. clouds moving from left to right relative to other clouds in the foreground or background. Cloud rotation is one example of differential motion, but not all differential motion indicates rotation. For example, horizontal wind shear along a gust front may result in differential cloud motion without the presence of rotation.

Difluence (or Diffluence) - A pattern of wind flow in which air moves outward (in a "fan-out" pattern) away from a central axis that is oriented parallel to the general direction of the flow. It is the opposite of confluence.
Difluence in an upper level wind field is considered a favourable condition for severe thunderstorm development (if other parameters are also favourable). But difluence is not the same as divergence. In a difluent flow, winds normally decelerate as they move through the region of difluence, resulting in speed convergence which offsets the apparent diverging effect of the difluent flow.

Directional Shear - The component of wind shear which is due to a change in wind direction with height, e.g., south-easterly winds at the surface and south-westerly winds aloft. A veering wind with height in the lower part of the atmosphere is a type of directional shear often considered important for tornado development.

Diurnal - Daily; related to actions which are completed in the course of a calendar day, and which typically recur every calendar day (e.g., diurnal temperature rises during the day, and diurnal falls at night).

Divergence - The expansion or spreading out of a vector field; usually said of horizontal winds. It is the opposite of convergence. Divergence at upper levels of the atmosphere enhances upward motion, and hence the potential for thunderstorm development (if other factors also are favourable).

Doppler Radar - Radar that can measure radial velocity, the instantaneous component of motion parallel to the radar beam (i.e., toward or away from the radar antenna).

*Downburst - A strong downdraft resulting in an outward burst of damaging winds on or near the ground. Downburst winds can produce damage similar to a strong tornado. Although usually associated with thunderstorms, downbursts can occur with showers too weak to produce thunder. See dry and wet microburst.

Downdraft - A small-scale column of air that rapidly sinks toward the ground, usually accompanied by precipitation as in a shower or thunderstorm. A downburst is the result of a strong downdraft.

- In the same direction as a stream or other flow, or toward the direction in which the flow is moving.

Dry Adiabat - A line of constant potential temperature on a thermodynamic chart.

Dry Line - A boundary separating moist and dry air masses, and an important factor in severe weather frequency in the Great Plains. It typically lies north-south across the central and southern high Plains states during the spring and early summer, where it separates moist air from the Gulf of Mexico (to the east) and dry desert air from the southwestern states (to the west). The dry line typically advances eastward during the afternoon and retreats westward at night. However, a strong storm system can sweep the dry line eastward into the Mississippi Valley, or even further east, regardless of the time of day. A typical dry line passage results in a sharp drop in humidity (hence the name), clearing skies, and a wind shift from south or southeasterly to west or southwesterly. (Blowing dust and rising temperatures also may follow, especially if the dry line passes during the daytime; see dry punch). These changes occur in reverse order when the dry line retreats westward. Severe and sometimes tornadic thunderstorms often develop along a dry line or in the moist air just to the east of it, especially when it begins moving eastward. See LP storm.

Dry-line Bulge - A bulge in the dry line, representing the area where dry air is advancing most strongly at lower levels (i.e., a surface dry punch). Severe weather potential is increased near and ahead of a dry line bulge.

Dry-line Storm - Generally, any thunderstorm that develops on or near a dry line. The term often is used synonymously with LP storm, since the latter almost always occurs near the dry line.

Dry Microburst - A microburst with little or no precipitation reaching the ground; most common in semi-arid regions. They may or may not produce lightning. Dry microbursts may develop in an otherwise fair-weather pattern; visible signs may include a cumulus cloud or small Cb with a high base and high-level virga, or perhaps only an orphan anvil from a dying rain shower. At the ground, the only visible sign might be a dust plume or a ring of blowing dust beneath a local area of virga. Compare with wet microburst.

Dry Punch - [Slang], a surge of drier air; normally a synoptic-scale or mesoscale process. A dry punch at the surface results in a dry line bulge. A dry punch aloft above an area of moist air at low levels often increases the potential for severe weather.

Dry Slot - A zone of dry (and relatively cloud-free) air which wraps east- or north-eastward into the southern and eastern parts of a synoptic scale or mesoscale low pressure system. A dry slot generally is seen best on satellite photographs.
Dry slot should not be confused with clear slot, which is a storm-scale phenomenon.

Dust Devil - A small atmospheric vortex not associated with a thunderstorm, which is made visible by a rotating cloud of dust or debris (dust whirl). Dust devils form in response to surface heating during fair, hot weather; they are most frequent in arid or semi-arid regions.

*Dust Plume - A non-rotating "cloud" of dust raised by straight-line winds. Often seen in a microburst or behind a gust front.
If rotation is observed, then the term dust whirl or debris cloud should be used.

*Dust Whirl - A rotating column of air rendered visible by dust. Similar to debris cloud; see also dust devil, gustnado, tornado.

Dynamics - Generally, any forces that produce motion or affect change. In operational meteorology, dynamics usually refer specifically to those forces that produce vertical motion in the atmosphere.