Definition Of A Stationary Front – What Weather Is Associated With It?

Those who regularly watch weather reports are most likely to be familiar with well known terms like cold fronts as well as warm fronts.

However, as well as these two terms there is also a frontal system which is much less well known which is called a stationary front.

Definition Of A Stationary Front - What Weather Is Associated With It

Since this term is much less commonly it is unlikely that everyone knows what its definition is as well as the contexts in which it is utilized.

And just because the term is used much less frequently, this does not mean it is any less important than the more commonly used terms. 

For a quicker answer, a stationary front is defined as a frontal system which will form at a location which is fixed when two different air masses meet each other and in a situation where neither of the masses will be strong enough to replace the other.

If then an air mass will gain more strength, or in a situation where the wind direction changes, this front will start to move again either now as a cold or a warm front, dependent on which of the air masses ends up being dominant.

Generally speaking, any conversations surrounding weather are dominated by talking about either warm or cold fronts.

However, the aforementioned stationary as well as occluded fronts are often overlooked in spite of the significance they have when it comes to forecasting and predicting the weather conditions in a certain location.

The rest of this article will go more in-depth surrounding the definition of a stationary front as well as looking at what different weather conditions are associated with conversation surrounding this weather type.

What Is A Stationary Front?

Even though a quick definition of a stationary front has been provided in the introductory segment, there is more to the definition which has not been properly explained and needs a dedicated section.

This is similar to all weather fronts, and it is good to have a clear definition to make sure you are not misspeaking when it comes to talking about forecasts and the weather.

This section will also help with exploring the characteristics of a stationary front which have not been explored yet.

A stationary front, as has been alluded to, is a frontal system which is formed at a fixed location, and it is made when the two air masses come together, however, neither of them has enough strength to be able to displace and replace the other air mass.

This does not last forever and will end when one of the air masses gains more strength. It can also end if the direction of the wind changes.

Once this happens the conjoined mass will continue moving in the same direction just this time as whichever mass ended up being stronger.

While a stationary front will tend to remain in a single position, this does not mean that the weather conditions which are inside it will come to a stand still as well, this is also the same when it comes to considering the state of the air movement inside the stationary front as well. 

So while the name and the initial description of a stationary front implies that the weather conditions come to a standstill and that there will be few changes until one of the air masses ends up being stronger, the truth, which will be explored in the upcoming sections, is that the weather and air conditions can remain to be quite dynamic within a stationary front.

How Does A Stationary Front Form?

As has been previously mentioned in the last two sections, a stationary front is formed when two air masses meet but neither of them have enough force to be able to replace and displace the other one, so they are stuck next to each other until circumstances arise where one gains enough strength to continue moving.

A stationary front will usually occur in a situation where a warm front and a cold front catch up with each other when they are moving.

Some people describe a stationary front as a kind of stalemate as both of the fronts are similar enough in power to not be able to move the other one and become dominant.

This stationary front will usually remain in the same location, and it can sometimes be there for up to days at a time in this stalemate. 

In the location of the stalemate it is expected to bring about extended periods of time with miserable and dreary weather which will be further emphasized in the following section.

However, after this period of time, it can be expected that this front will be able to begin moving again.

This will be because of one of the two conjoining air masses being able to gain strength, or in the circumstance wherein a change in the wind direction changes leading to the stationary front being able to finally move again.

This means the stationary front will now become a faster moving front which moves forward and could be either a cold or warm front.

This decision between the stationary front becoming either a cold front or a warm front is fully dependent on which of the two fronts which the stationary front had comprised of becomes dominant.

Definition Of A Stationary Front - What Weather Is Associated With It (1)

The dominant front will have been decided by one of them gaining more strength and being able to displace the other, or the wind direction changing to make it so one of the fronts will be able to replace the other one.

This is not the only way in which a stationary front can dissipate however. It is possible that a stationary front could break up and just disappear after an extended period of time.

The stationary front could also develop into shear lines after a certain amount of time has passed. Shear lines are much more likely to develop in a location which is very large and open like the ocean.

What Weather Will Be Brought On By A Stationary Front?

While the circumstances of a stationary front are quite specific, the weather which this specific front brings on is not as dormant as the activity of the movement of the front it resides in.

The weather inside a stationary front is likely to have winds which are blowing in a direction that is parallel to the direction that the stationary front is in.

There are more characteristics of the weather in a stationary front however, one of these is that there is a distinct different in the temperature which is present on both sides of the fixed barrier which the stationary front creates.

If there is a mass of air which is behind an approaching warm front, this is much more likely to a have a significantly higher temperature than a mass of air which will be following an approaching cold front.

The weather inside a stationary front is most likely to be overcast as well as having very dreary conditions. It is likely for the weather to have some light precipitation and this could last for a few days while the stationary front is present.

The condition of this specific type of precipitation will greatly depend on the amount of humidity as well as moisture which is present within the area of the stationary front.

Occasionally the conditions within a stationary front could even become extreme.

An example of this is when there is a higher than average percentage of moisture which is in the atmosphere, this will eventually lead to very persistent and heavy rain and this very often devolves into flooding in the region which includes the stationary front.

There is also a chance of heavy winds which are called Derechos forming and this can happen because of the strong downdrafts which can be along the border of a stationary front.

The Derechos winds are able to reach a speed of up to 160 km an hour (100 miles an hour) and this is very likely to cause damage to vulnerable infrastructure as well as potentially endangering human life.

So while the term stationary front implies calm weather, the truth can often be very far from this.

Symbol For A Stationary Front

There are many different ways that a stationary front can be depicted in media which discusses the forecast and different weather conditions, and it is likely that you have already witnessed a few of them but just not known or understood what they were representing.

This section will explain one of the most common ways this phenomenon is often depicted.

The most common representation of a stationary front is a series of blue and red sections which are interconnected with each other.

Each of the sections which are intersecting will either have a triangle or a semicircle attached to them. This marking will alternate between the segments from one to another.

The blue sections on this marking are used to represent the cold air mass which part of the stationary front comprises of and this will also the feature of the blue triangle which is also found on the symbol for a standard cold front.

This triangle is useful as it is pointed in the direction in which the cold front half of the stationary front is attempting to move in.

The red sections on the stationary front symbol are of course then the representation of the warmer air mass which is the other part of the stationary front and instead of using the triangles which are used for a cold front, you will instead find the semicircles which are used for displaying a warm front.

And just like the triangles, the semicircles will be pointing in the direction which the warmer front is attempting to move in.

You will want to make sure to not confuse the symbol which is being used for representing a stationary front, for the symbol which is being used for representing an occluding front, this is because both of these symbols utilize alternating semicircles and triangles.

However, an occluded front will be represented using a homogenous single purple symbol instead of the alternating red and blue segments which are used for a stationary front.


So as you now know, there are 4 main types of weather fronts and these are; cold fronts, warm fronts, occluded fronts, and of course, the stationary fronts.

And while cold fronts and warm fronts definitely dominate the conversation surrounding weather, stationary fronts are just as impactful and can cause very significant weather conditions.

From reading this article you should now know what a stationary front is, how they are formed, what kind of weather they create, and how they are symbolized.

Andrew Capper