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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – We’re heating up the weather lesson with a learning segment about the transfer of heat! This topic goes down to the foundation of meteorology, but these concepts are filed under a physics branch called thermodynamics. Thermodynamics introduces temperature and the processes that involves the change of heat and energy.

Weekend Meteorologist Joseph Dames

The concepts that we will be discussing today are useful for forecasting and basic understanding of the transfer of heat. These are likely words you’ve heard of before but maybe you haven’t thought about how they apply to our weather. Before we discuss those routes, why don’t we go through the three main processes.


Conduction: This may be the easiest of the three to envision because this concept is the transfer of heat through direct contact. Likely something we’ve all experience before in the kitchen or a bonfire. Think about holding a chef spoon or pot over a flame, that utensil and pot will eventually get extremely hot to touch. Heat will travel from the warm source to the colder object.

Convection: This is a transfer of heat with the circulating of liquid or gas. This process of mixing leads to rising warm air and sinking cool air. That process can be called a convective current. This is vertical transport of heat and moisture. Think about a boiling pot of water.

Radiation: This is the transfer of heat energy through space by electromagnetic radiation. If you were to stand near a heat lamp or fire, you can feel the heat coming off that source warming part of your body. Although you can’t actually see the heat, you can feel it through the air.


All three methods are in action around us everyday. What is our source of radiation? I’m sure you’ve guessed it, the sun is the guilty provider. We have solar radiation that penetrates the atmosphere and warms the atmosphere. That incoming energy will warm the surface up, unless there is a thick layer of clouds that may reflect that back out to the atmosphere.

Generic Example

Once the surface heats up, it will then heat the air up through the process of conduction. That warm rising air will then carry out the process of convection, which is the source for thunderstorm development.

Next time you see a sunny day turn into a stormy afternoon, you can work through the transfer of energy in your head!