Orographic Effect: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:00 What Is the Orographic Effect?
  • 0:34 Orographic Rain
  • 1:15 Rain Shadow
  • 1:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeff Fennell

Jeff has a master's in engineering and has taught Earth science both domestically and internationally.

This lesson describes the orographic effect. It also explains how this process can lead to vast differences in the level of vegetation on the two sides of a mountain.

What Is the Orographic Effect?

As a weather system moves over land, it follows the topography of the terrain. The air might rise up over mountains or sink down through valleys. Sometimes it even has to squeeze through the alleyways of a city. Orographic effect is the term used to describe changes to air flow when the topography of the land forces air upward. These changes can cause disturbances in the weather system. For example, as a weather system moves up a mountain, the temperature and pressure will change, oftentimes resulting in some form of precipitation.

Orographic Rain

On a hot day, you might notice water beads forming on the outside of a cold glass of water. This is caused by water vapor in the air cooling off from the cold of the glass and then condensing onto the glass. The same occurs when a weather system runs into a mountain. As the system moves up the side of the mountain, the temperature drops, causing water vapor in the air to also cool off and condense. Rain that results from this process is known as orographic rain.

The side of the terrain or mountain that causes the orographic lifting and thus receives orographic rain is called the windward side. The windward side tends to be lush with vegetation due to an abundance of precipitation.

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