Weather 101: What is a Back Door Cold Front?

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By Matt Harding

As we approach the winter months (ducks to avoid the fruit you’ll inevitably throw,) we will talk more about cold fronts & how they impact our weather.

Some fronts come through with just a wind shift, others bring rain and storms. Some fronts come from the west, and yes, some fronts come from the northeast. And it’s those northeast-to-southwest moving fronts that have a special nickname: a back door cold front.

Every aspect of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has a general movement from west to east. With that thinking in place, the term “back door front” means that a cold front that is coming at us is doing so from the opposite direction.

backdoor 1
An example of a typical front moving through the Central Plains

Back door cold fronts are most popular on the east coast. In the Northeast United States, they can often produce wide ranges in temperatures, especially during the summer (cooler marine air versus the warmer air from the land). The winds usually shift northeast and can sometimes bring in a deck of low clouds with it. In the mid-Atlantic and southeast U.S., back door cold fronts usually ride from north to south, primarily east of the Appalachian Mountains, and produce “cold air damming,” which can sometimes lead to major winter storms. In the spring and summer months, back door cold fronts and their associated “cold air damming” can protect areas from significant severe weather.

 

So what about Kansas? Well, that’s a little more tricky.

Backdoor cold fronts generally do not happen all that often. The setup for those generally comes when there is an upper-level low pressure over the prairies of Manitoba or western Ontario. When a chunk of cold air dislodges, a back door cold front can form and move into the state from the northeast.

backdoor 2
An example of a “back door cold front”

Generally, this occurs most often in the winter months. When the front passes, the winds shift to the northeast and temperatures cool off. In some instances, but not all, this can lead to a setup for wintry precipitation in Kansas, however, this is happens with more regularity along the foothills of the Rockies, where back door cold fronts can serve as an extra boundary to focus heavy winter precipitation.

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