National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Field Guide Glossary


Marginal Risk (of severe thunderstorms)

An area of severe storms of either limited organization and longevity, or very low coverage and marginal intensity. Specifically,

  • 2% probability or greater tornado probability OR
  • 2% probability or greater for severe hail (≥1" / ≥2.4cm) OR
  • 2% probability or greater severe wind (≥58 mph / ≥93 km/h).

See High Risk, Moderate Risk, Enhanced Risk, Slight Risk, General Thunderstorms, convective outlook.

Mammatus Clouds
Rounded, smooth, sack-like protrusions hanging from the underside of a cloud (usually a thunderstorm anvil). Mammatus clouds often accompany severe thunderstorms, but do not produce severe weather; they may accompany non-severe storms as well.
MCC - Mesoscale Convective Complex.

A large MCS, generally round or oval-shaped, which normally reaches peak intensity at night. The formal definition includes specific minimum criteria for size, duration, and eccentricity (i.e., "roundness"), based on the cloud shield as seen on infrared satellite photographs:

  • Size: Area of cloud top -32°C or less: 100,000 square kilometers or more (slightly smaller than the state of Ohio), and area of cloud top -52°C or less: 50,000 square kilometers or more.
  • Duration: Size criteria must be met for at least 6 hours.
  • Eccentricity: Minor/major axis at least 0.7.

MCCs typically form during the afternoon and evening in the form of several isolated thunderstorms, during which time the potential for severe weather is greatest. During peak intensity, the primary threat shifts toward heavy rain and flooding.

MCS - Mesoscale Convective System.
A complex of thunderstorms which becomes organized on a scale larger than the individual thunderstorms, and normally persists for several hours or more. MCSs may be round or linear in shape, and include systems such as tropical cyclones, squall lines, and MCCs (among others). MCS often is used to describe a cluster of thunderstorms that does not satisfy the size, shape, or duration criteria of an MCC.
Medium Range
In forecasting, (generally) three to seven days in advance.
Meridional Flow
Large-scale atmospheric flow in which the north-south component (i.e., longitudinal, or along a meridian) is pronounced. The accompanying zonal (east-west) component often is weaker than normal. Compare with zonal flow.

A storm-scale region of rotation, typically around 2-6 miles (3-10 km) in diameter and often found in the right rear flank of a supercell (or often on the eastern, or front, flank of an HP storm). The circulation of a mesocyclone covers an area much larger than the tornado that may develop within it.

Properly used, mesocyclone is a radar term; it is defined as a rotation signature appearing on Doppler radar that meets specific criteria for magnitude, vertical depth, and duration. Therefore, a mesocyclone should not be considered a visually-observable phenomenon (although visual evidence of rotation, such as curved inflow bands, may imply the presence of a mesocyclone).

A mesoscale high pressure area, usually associated with MCSs or their remnants.
Mesolow (or Sub-synoptic Low)

A mesoscale low-pressure center. Severe weather potential often increases in the area near and just ahead of a mesolow. Mesolow should not be confused with mesocyclone, which is a storm-scale phenomenon.

A regional network of observing stations (usually surface stations) designed to diagnose mesoscale weather features and their associated processes.
Size scale referring to weather systems smaller than synoptic-scale systems but larger than storm-scale systems. Horizontal dimensions generally range from around 50 miles to several hundred miles. Squall lines, MCCs, and MCSs are examples of mesoscale weather systems.
A small, concentrated downburst affecting an area less than 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles) across. Most microbursts are rather short-lived (5 minutes or so), but on rare occasions they have been known to last up to 6 times that long.
Mid-level Cooling
Local cooling of the air in middle levels of the atmosphere (roughly 8 to 25 thousand feet / 2,400 to 7,600 meters), which can lead to destabilization of the entire atmosphere if all other factors are equal. Mid-level cooling can occur, for example, with the approach of a mid-level cold pool.
Moderate Risk (of severe thunderstorms)

An area where widespread severe weather with several tornadoes and/or numerous severe thunderstorms is likely, some of which should be intense. This risk is usually reserved for days with several supercellssupercells producing intense tornadoes and/or very large hail, or an intense squall line with widespread damaging winds. Specifically,

  • 15% tornado probability AND 10% or greater probability of an EF2+ tornado, OR
  • 30% probability for any tornado, OR
  • 45% severe wind (≥58 mph / ≥93 km/h) probability AND 10% or greater probability of a wind gusts 75 mph (120 km/h) or greater, OR
  • 45% severe hail (≥1" / ≥2.5 cm) probability AND 10% or greater probability of hail 2" (4.8 cm) or greater in diameter, OR
  • 60% severe wind (≥58 mph / ≥93 km/h) probability, OR
  • 60% severe hail (≥1" / ≥2.5 cm) probability WITH OR WITHOUT 10% or greater probability of hail 2" (4.8 cm) or greater in diameter.

See High Risk, Enhanced Risk, Slight Risk, Marginal Risk, General Thunderstorms, convective outlook.

Moisture Advection
Transport of moisture by horizontal winds.
Moisture Convergence
A measure of the degree to which moist air is converging into a given area, taking into account the effect of converging winds and moisture advection. Areas of persistent moisture convergence are favored regions for thunderstorm development, if other factors (e.g., instability) are favorable.
Morning Glory
An elongated cloud band, visually similar to a roll cloud, usually appearing in the morning hours, when the atmosphere is relatively stable. Morning glories result from perturbations related to gravitational waves in a stable boundary layer. They are similar to ripples on a water surface; several parallel morning glories often can be seen propagating in the same direction.
Multi-cell Thunderstorm
A thunderstorm consisting of two or more cells, of which most or all are often visible at a given time as distinct domes or towers in various stages of development. Nearly all thunderstorms (including supercells) are multi-cellular, but the term often is used to describe a storm which does not fit the definition of a supercell.
Multiple-vortex (or Multi-vortex) Tornado
A tornado in which two or more condensation funnels or debris clouds are present at the same time, often rotating about a common center or about each other. Multiple-vortex tornadoes can be especially damaging. See suction vortex.
Mushroom - [Slang]
A thunderstorm with a well-defined anvil rollover, and thus having a visual appearance resembling a mushroom.