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Mother Nature's lapse rate limits


There are three inherent properties of the atmosphere that all pilots should be able to discuss without hesitation.


1. Here's the easy one. All pilots know that warm air is always less dense than cold air. If you are having trouble with this one, take a ride in a hot air balloon.


2. Not as intuitive, but pilots should understand that moist air is always less dense than dry air at the same temperature and pressure. Golfers understand this one…the more moisture in the air, the further you can drive the golf ball.


3. Lastly, pilots should be aware that when air ascends, it will always expand and cool. Just take a look at any developing cumulus cloud and you’ll witness this process in action.


There are very few topics in meteorology that don’t have their origins in these three basic properties of the atmosphere. Becoming comfortable with these properties will pave the way to learn more advanced concepts of weather. Once you've convinced yourself that you have mastered all three, it’s time to have a serious conversation about a little more advanced topic, namely, lapse rates. The discussion to follow may seem very technical at times, but all pilots should strive to comprehend its content.