Nearby Mountains

Air temperature decreases with increasing altitude because there are fewer molecules to collide with each other and less heat is generated. So the air atop a mountain range is typically colder than the air at its base. But altitude is not the only way mountain ranges shape climate. Mountain ranges have two additional effects, both of which are especially apparent if the mountains are near a coastal area. The first is obvious: If the mountain range separates the coastal region from the continent, the moderating influence of the ocean is limited to the windward side of the range.

The second effect is the rain shadow effect. As maritime air rises over the windward side of the mountains, the air cools. Cooler air holds less moisture, so rain or snow may fall, which dries the air. As the air descends down the leeward side of the mountains, it warms. In this high pressure cell, evaporation may exceed precipitation, so the weather on the leeward side of the range is relatively warm and dry. The Sierra Nevada range of California is a good example of the effects of mountain ranges on local climate. The west side of the Sierras is wet and forested,

Mountains Precipitation Effect

Rain shadow effect. Warm moist air from over the ocean rises and cools over a mountain range, resulting in precipitation. The air descends dry and hot to create a desert on the leeward side of the range.

including forests of towering Sequoia trees, but on the east side is the Great Basin, a desert known for its sagebrush and tumbleweeds.

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Responses

  • demi-lee maclean
    How does the rain shadow effect cause deserts?
    7 years ago

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