Extratropical Cyclones: A Century of Research on Meteorology’s Centerpiece

Schultz, David M.; Bosart, Lance F.; Colle, Brian A.; Davies, Huw C.; Dearden, Christopher; Keyser, Daniel; Martius, Olivia; Roebber, Paul J.; Steenburgh, W. James; Volkert, Hans; Winters, Andrew C. (2019). Extratropical Cyclones: A Century of Research on Meteorology’s Centerpiece. Meteorological monographs, 59, 16.1-16.56. American Meteorological Society 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-18-0015.1

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The year 1919 was important in meteorology, not only because it was the year that the American Meteorological Society was founded, but also for two other reasons. One of the foundational papers in extratropical cyclone structure by Jakob Bjerknes was published in 1919, leading to what is now known as the Norwegian cyclone model. Also that year, a series of meetings was held that led to the formation of organizations that promoted the international collaboration and scientific exchange required for extratropical cyclone research, which by necessity involves spatial scales spanning national borders. This chapter describes the history of scientific inquiry into the structure, evolution, and dynamics of extratropical cyclones, their constituent fronts, and their attendant jet streams and storm tracks. We refer to these phenomena collectively as the centerpiece of meteorology because of their central role in fostering meteorological research during this century. This extremely productive period in extratropical cyclone research has been possible because of 1) the need to address practical challenges of poor forecasts that had large socioeconomic consequences, 2) the intermingling of theory, observations, and diagnosis (including dynamical modeling) to provide improved physical understanding and conceptual models, and 3) strong international cooperation. Conceptual frameworks for cyclones arise from a desire to classify and understand cyclones; they include the Norwegian cyclone model and its sister the Shapiro–Keyser cyclone model. The challenge of understanding the dynamics of cyclones led to such theoretical frameworks as quasigeostrophy, baroclinic instability, semigeostrophy, and frontogenesis. The challenge of predicting explosive extratropical cyclones in particular led to new theoretical developments such as potential-vorticity thinking and downstream development. Deeper appreciation of the limits of predictability has resulted from an evolution from determinism to chaos. Last, observational insights led to detailed cyclone and frontal structure, storm tracks, and rainbands.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Impact
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Romppainen-Martius, Olivia


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 910 Geography & travel




American Meteorological Society




Hélène Christine Louise Barras

Date Deposited:

29 Jan 2020 07:54

Last Modified:

29 Jan 2020 07:54

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Extratropical cyclones; Fronts; Jets; Synoptic-scale processes





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