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Features February 2018 Issue

The Dreaded Squall Line

Notice the bookend vortex at the top of this radar image of a severe squall line in Missouri in May 2009.

The Dreaded Squall Line

Feared by pilots and detested by storm chasers, squall lines are among the most serious of routine weather phenomena with their strong winds, hail and heavy rain

February and March bring the peak season of the squall line. They are perhaps the most formidable of all the mid-latitude weather systems. Most of us at one time or another have witnessed the alarming black mass spanning almost the entire western horizon, followed by the fury of raw wind, small hail, and torrential rains. Indeed these storms were recognized by early Scandinavian fishermen and traders for the sheer amount of rain they produced. In the 17th century the Norwegians gave us the word skval, meaning a sudden rush of water, anglicized to squall by the sailors of Britain.

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