CA – Cloud-to-Air lightning.
Cap (or Capping Inversion) – A layer of relatively warm air aloft (usually several thousand feet above the ground) which suppresses or delays the development of thunderstorms. Air parcels rising into this layer become cooler than the surrounding air, which inhibits their ability to rise further. As such, the cap often prevents or delays thunderstorm development even in the presence of extreme instability. However if the cap is removed or weakened, then explosive thunderstorm development can occur. See CIN and Fig. 6, sounding. The cap is an important ingredient in most severe thunderstorm episodes, as it serves to separate warm, moist air below and cooler, drier air above. With the cap in place, air below it can continue to warm and/or moisten, thus increasing the amount of potential instability. Or, air above it can cool, which also increases potential instability. But without a cap, either process (warming/moistening at low levels or cooling aloft) results in a faster release of available instability – often before instability levels become large enough to support severe weather development.
CAPE – Convective Available Potential Energy. A measure of the amount of energy available for convection. CAPE is directly related to the maximum potential vertical speed within an updraft; thus, higher values indicate greater potential for severe weather. Observed values in thunderstorm environments often may exceed 1,000 joules per kilogram (j/kg), and in extreme cases may exceed 5,000 j/kg. However, as with other indices or indicators, there are no threshold values above which severe weather becomes imminent. CAPE is represented on a sounding by the area enclosed between the environmental temperature profile and the path of a rising air parcel, over the layer within which the latter is warmer than the former. (This area often is called positive area.) See also CIN and Fig. 6, sounding.
*Cb – Cumulonimbus cloud, characterized by strong vertical development in the form of mountains or huge towers topped at least partially by a smooth, flat, often fibrous anvil. Also known colloquially as a “thunderhead.”
CC – Cloud-to-Cloud lightning.
Cell – Convection in the form of a single updraft, downdraft, or updraft/downdraft couplet, typically seen as a vertical dome or tower as in a cumulus or towering cumulus cloud. A typical thunderstorm consists of several cells (see multi-cellular thunderstorm). The term “cell” also is used to describe the radar echo returned by an individual shower or thunderstorm. Such usage, although common, is technically incorrect.
*CG – Cloud-to-Ground lightning flash.
Chaff – Small strips of metal foil, usually dropped in large quantities from aircraft or balloons. Chaff typically produces a radar echo which closely resembles precipitation. Chaff drops once were conducted by the military in order to confuse enemy radar, but now are conducted mainly for radar testing and calibration purposes.
CIN – Convective INhibition. A measure of the amount of energy needed in order to initiate convection. Values of CIN typically reflect the strength of the cap. They are obtained on a sounding by computing the area enclosed between the environmental temperature profile and the path of a rising air parcel, over the layer within which the latter is cooler than the former. (This area sometimes is called negative area.) See CAPE and Fig. 6, sounding.
Cirrus – High-level clouds (16,000 feet or more), composed of ice crystals and appearing in the form of white, delicate filaments or white or mostly white patches or narrow bands. Cirrus clouds typically have a fibrous or hairlike appearance, and often are semi-transparent. Thunderstorm anvils are a form of cirrus cloud, but most cirrus clouds are not associated with thunderstorms.
Classic Supercell – See supercell.
Clear Slot – A local region of clearing skies or reduced cloud cover, indicating an intrusion of drier air; often seen as a bright area with higher cloud bases on the west or southwest side of a wall cloud. A clear slot is believed to be a visual indication of a rear flank downdraft.
Closed Low – A low pressure area with a distinct center of cyclonic circulation which can be completely encircled by one or more isobars or height contour lines. The term usually is used to distinguish a low pressure area aloft from a low-pressure trough. Closed lows aloft typically are partially or completely detached from the main westerly current, and thus move relatively slowly (see cutoff low).
Cloud Streets – Rows of cumulus or cumulus-type clouds aligned parallel to the low-level flow. Cloud streets sometimes can be seen from the ground, but are seen best on satellite photographs.
Cloud Tags – Ragged, detached cloud fragments; fractus or scud.
Cold Advection – Transport of cold air into a region by horizontal winds.
Cold-air Funnel – A funnel cloud or (rarely) a small, relatively weak tornado that can develop from a small shower or thunderstorm when the air aloft is unusually cold (hence the name). They are much less violent than other types of tornadoes.
Cold Pool – A region of relatively cold air, represented on a weather map analysis as a relative minimum in temperature surrounded by closed isotherms. Cold pools aloft represent regions of relatively low stability, while surface-based cold pools are regions of relatively stable air.
Collar Cloud – A generally circular ring of cloud that may be observed on rare occasions surrounding the upper part of a wall cloud. See Fig. 7, supercell. This term sometimes is used (incorrectly) as a synonym for wall cloud.
Comma Cloud – A synoptic scale cloud pattern with a characteristic comma-like shape, often seen on satellite photographs associated with large and intense low-pressure systems.
Comma Echo – A thunderstorm radar echo which has a comma-like shape. It often appears during latter stages in the life cycle of a bow echo (see Fig. 1).
Condensation Funnel – A funnel-shaped cloud associated with rotation and consisting of condensed water droplets (as opposed to smoke, dust, debris, etc.). Compare with debris cloud.
Confluence – A pattern of wind flow in which air flows inward toward an axis oriented parallel to the general direction of flow. It is the opposite of difluence. Confluence is not the same as convergence. Winds often accelerate as they enter a confluent zone, resulting in speed divergence which offsets the (apparent) converging effect of the confluent flow.
Congestus (or Cumulus Congestus) – same as towering cumulus.
Convection – Generally, transport of heat and moisture by the movement of a fluid. In meteorology, the term is used specifically to describe vertical transport of heat and moisture, especially by updrafts and downdrafts in an unstable atmosphere. The terms “convection” and “thunderstorms” often are used interchangeably, although thunderstorms are only one form of convection. Cbs, towering cumulus clouds, and ACCAS clouds all are visible forms of convection. However, convection is not always made visible by clouds. Convection which occurs without cloud formation is called dry convection, while the visible convection processes referred to above are forms of moist convection.
Convective Outlook (sometimes called AC) – A forecast containing the area(s) of expected thunderstorm occurrence and expected severity over the contiguous United States, issued several times daily by the SPC. The terms approaching, slight risk, moderate risk, and high risk are used to describe severe thunderstorm potential. Local versions sometimes are prepared by local NWS offices.
Convective Temperature – The approximate temperature that the air near the ground must warm to in order for surface-based convection to develop, based on analysis of a sounding. See Fig. 6. Calculation of the convective temperature involves many assumptions, such that thunderstorms sometimes develop well before or well after the convective temperature is reached (or may not develop at all). However, in some cases the convective temperature is a useful parameter for forecasting the onset of convection.
Convergence – A contraction of a vector field; the opposite of divergence. Convergence in a horizontal wind field indicates that more air is entering a given area than is leaving at that level. To compensate for the resulting “excess,” vertical motion may result: upward forcing if convergence is at low levels, or downward forcing (subsidence) if convergence is at high levels. Upward forcing from low-level convergence increases the potential for thunderstorm development (when other factors, such as instability, are favorable). Compare with confluence.
Core Punch – [Slang], a penetration by a vehicle into the heavy precipitation core of a thunderstorm. Core punching is not a recommended procedure for storm spotting.
Cumuliform Anvil – A thunderstorm anvil with visual characteristics resembling cumulus-type clouds (rather than the more typical fibrous appearance associated with cirrus). A cumuliform anvil arises from rapid spreading of a thunderstorm updraft, and thus implies a very strong updraft. See anvil rollover, knuckles, mushroom.
Cumulus – Detached clouds, generally dense and with sharp outlines, showing vertical development in the form of domes, mounds, or towers. Tops normally are rounded while bases are more horizontal. See Cb, towering cumulus.
Cumulus Congestus (or simply Congestus) – Same as towering cumulus.
Cutoff Low – A closed low which has become completely displaced (cut off) from basic westerly current, and moves independently of that current. Cutoff lows may remain nearly stationary for days, or on occasion may move westward opposite to the prevailing flow aloft (i.e., retrogression). “Cutoff low” and “closed low” often are used interchangeably to describe low pressure centers aloft. However, not all closed lows are completely removed from the influence of the basic westerlies. Therefore, the recommended usage of the terms is to reserve the use of “cutoff low” only to those closed lows which clearly are detached completely from the westerlies.
Cyclic Storm – A thunderstorm that undergoes cycles of intensification and weakening (pulses) while maintaining its individuality. Cyclic supercells are capable of producing multiple tornadoes (i.e., a tornado family) and/or several bursts of severe weather. A storm which undergoes only one cycle (pulse), and then dissipates, is known as a pulse storm.
Cyclogenesis – Development or intensification of a low-pressure center (cyclone).
*Cyclonic Circulation (or Cyclonic Rotation) – Circulation (or rotation) which is in the same sense as the Earth’s rotation, i.e., counterclockwise (in the Northern Hemisphere) as would be seen from above. Nearly all mesocyclones and strong or violent tornadoes exhibit cyclonic rotation, but some smaller vortices, such as gustnadoes, occasionally rotate anticyclonically (clockwise). Compare with anticyclonic rotation.