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I know that the passage of a cold front affects local conditions by decreasing the temperature and shifting the winds. Some precipitation could happen as well.

How do software that analyze weather station data identify a cold front passage? Is there a certain change in temperature, wind, pressure, or other variable that allows the software to identify a front?

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A cold front lies in a trough of low pressure and separates air masses. As you mention in your question there are differences in temperature and the winds on either side of the front, though these can be subtle depending on latitude and season.

A "classic" (mid-latitude NH) cold frontal passage might be recorded as southerly or southwesterly winds, increasing in in strength, temperatures rising and pressure falling. As FROPA occurs the pressure will bottom out and start to rise, winds shift to northwesterly or northerly, temperatures start to fall and skies clear.

A "classic" (mid-latitude NH) warm frontal passage might be seen as temperatures stable, calm or weak southerly or easterly winds, high clouds with bases lowering over time and pressure falling. The FROPA will see pressure at its minimum and starting to rise, winds shifting to southerly and temperature warming.

The common factors the changes in pressure, wind and temperature and can be used to determine frontal passage. Look for a pressure minimum, a change in temperature trend and a shift in wind. A cold frontal will also generally bring drier air, and a warm front humid air, so this can also be used.

Here is a meteogram from SLC: enter image description here

In this plot, cold frontal passage occurs around 7Z, marked by a minimum pressure trending upward, dropping temperatures and dew points, winds shifting to northerly and skies starting to clear once the precipitation ends.

Individual frontal passages will be different in exact details, but these general set of trends should help you out.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is very helpful. Do you know if this pattern still holds in mountainous regions or on the coasts? $\endgroup$ – jgadoury Sep 13 '16 at 14:06

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