What are Synoptic Charts?

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What are Synoptic Charts?

The word synoptic means a summary of the current situation. Therefore, in weather terms, a synoptic chart is a map that summarises what kind of weather is moving over places like Britain. Think of it as a snapshot of the weather at a particular moment. Synoptic charts are a tool meteorologists use to observe and predict weather conditions over a large area, such as a country or continent. Here’s what you need to know:

What do synoptic charts show?

  • Air Pressure: One of the main elements displayed on a synoptic chart is air pressure, which is critical for forecasting weather.
  • Isobars: These are lines that connect areas of the same air pressure. They help identify high and low-pressure systems.
  • Weather Fronts: Cold fronts, warm fronts, and occluded fronts are often shown, representing different air masses meeting.
  • Wind Patterns: By studying the isobars, meteorologists can deduce the wind direction and speed.
  • Temperature, Rainfall, and Other Weather Symbols: These charts may also include specific symbols that represent different weather conditions like temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc.

High and low-pressure systems:

  • High Pressure: This often means settled and clear weather. On the chart, it’s represented by widely spaced isobars.
  • Low Pressure (Depression): This is typically associated with unsettled weather, like rain and storms. Closely spaced isobars represent low pressure.

Why are synoptic charts important in weather forecasting:

  • Synoptic charts provide a big-picture view of the weather over a region, making them essential for weather prediction.
  • They help in understanding the movement and development of weather systems.
  • They are helpful for everyone, from meteorologists to pilots, sailors, and even ordinary people planning their day.

Tips for reading a synoptic chart

The synoptic chart below has been annotated to explain some of its characteristics. Click the information (i) icons to explore each feature.

Still need to get your head around synoptic charts? Watch the video by the Met Office below.


  • Synoptic charts are weather maps that provide a snapshot of the weather over large areas like countries or continents, including elements like air pressure, isobars, weather fronts, wind patterns, and specific weather conditions.

  • High-pressure systems are marked by widely spaced isobars and indicate clear weather, while low-pressure systems (or depressions) have closely spaced isobars and signify unsettled weather like rain and storms.

  • These charts are vital for understanding and predicting weather patterns, and tracking the movement and development of weather systems over a region.

  • Synoptic charts are valuable tools for various professionals including meteorologists, pilots, sailors, and ordinary people for planning activities based on weather conditions.


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