Reading weather charts: What you need to know

KOIN 6 Weather Kids

Editor’s note: The KOIN 6 Weather team is presenting weather and science lessons to help serve our teachers and students as schools close across the nation amid the novel coronavirus response. Click here for more lessons, and click here for complete coverage.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – We are really moving along with our weather lessons and today will be a few steps back to some of the “basics.”

As we start to dabble with different types of weather elements and understanding some of the processes that take place, now is a good time to understand how to read the part of our weather language — a combination of symbols, numbers and words to create a weather dialogue that quickly tells the reader what the weather was at the time of the observation.


Weekend Meteorologist Joseph Dames

A weather chart or map is a collection of data that describes the state of the atmosphere across an extended area at a particular moment of time. Weather charts can include many different meteorological elements and analyses. They may be a surface chart or it could be a chart describing what is going on at 30,000 feet in the atmosphere. However, a popular chart that has been around for a very long time (19th century) is what we call the surface weather chart.

These charts are full of information – providing many weather station plots that read the observed weather at that point of time displayed with symbols and numbers. A surface analysis weather chart will include fronts and pressure. Giving another layer of what is unfolding over a large area. Below are two examples of using weather charts to help describe what is going on at a particular time and location. Now it is time to start to learn what everything is saying on those maps.

Satellite w/ Station Plots
Surface Analysis Chart


Let’s discuss what you may see on a weather map and how to decipher what the information is saying.

The best way to do that is to take the information and match it with the legend below. Then, at the end of this lesson, you can go back to the surface charts and point out the weather symbols that you learned.

You will come across many basic symbols that will determine the weather elements, wind speed and direction and even the cloud type for some detailed weather maps.


It is very important to learn the weather element symbols. Rain, drizzle, showers and snow are used frequently. These are our major types of precipitation and they describe the intensity and or type of precipitation with just a symbol.

These are really important for different types of jobs. A truck driver would find a weather map really helpful, especially if they have to drive through mountains to deliver goods. Weather symbols are equally important for pilots! Not only is it important to know the conditions for flying, but it’s really important for landing.


There are additional illustrations that you will find on a weather map that are representing fronts and pressure.

Cold Front: The leading edge of a relatively cold air mass. Cold air will replace warmer air.

Warm Front: The leading edge of a relatively warm air mass. Warm air will replace cooler air.

Stationary Front: A front that is stationary or acting just about stationary. Generally, a front that is moving less than 5kts.

Occluded Front: This front will separate air behind the cold front from air ahead of the warm front

Dry Line: Representing an area that separates moist air and dry air.

Finally, take a look at the station plot information in the legend above. This is information that you can find at weather stations across Oregon and the United States. It is a small icon that will tell you temperature, dew point, sky cover, wind and more. The legend is just an example of what a station plot may look like.

Below is an example of a surface map for Oregon on a spring morning. The wind is coming out of the southwest, with mostly cloudy to partly cloudy conditions. Astoria is receiving rain showers with a temperature of 42 degrees.

Another example of a surface weather chart

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