Latest 500mb Surface
This panel shows the latest 500 mb fields for geopotential height, wind speed (isotachs), and wind vectors. 500 mb charts depict conditions in the middle troposphere (roughly 5000 meters).
Geopotential height approximates the actual height of a pressure surface above mean sea-level and is represented by the solid white contours. The geopotential height field is given in meters with an interval of 60 meters between height lines. The 500 mb height field encircling the globe consists of a series of troughs and ridges, which are the upper air counterparts of surface cyclones and anticyclones. The distance from trough to trough (or ridge to ridge) is known as a long wave. Embedded within the long waves are short waves, which are smaller disturbances often responsible for triggering surface cyclone development.
Wind vectors provide information about wind direction and wind speed and are drawn here as tiny red arrows. Wind vectors point towards the direction in which the wind is blowing and the longer the wind vector, the stronger the wind. The unit of magnitude for wind speed as depicted by the wind vectors is meters per second.
Isotachs are contour lines which join points with identical wind speed. They can be used to identify ridges, troughs, and jet streaks. On a 500mb map, you should be looking for vorticity advection