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FASTEX: a quick tour

A time series of sat images showing cyclogenesis Figure A: 36h of weather evolution in the Atlantic during a period of zonal weather regime (one image every 12 h). A ``second generation'' low forms along the front of its parent (blue shading, top left panel) and reaches Europe (green shading) while developing rapidly, and its characteristic cloud system takes shape and expands. This phenomena is the main character of FASTEX. The original GOES and METEOSAT images have been retrieved on line from the FASTEX Data Base. The dates are 7 and 8 February 1997.

The Fronts and Atlantic Storm-Track Experiment is an atmospheric science project that focuses on the mid-latitude cyclones that form and develop over the North-Atlantic ocean and eventually hit the West Coast of Europe (as illustrated by Fig.A). These cyclones provide most of northern Europe's resources in water. They are also, however, responsible for the most damaging weather over large areas, such as floods and strong winds.

On the long time scales, the Atlantic mid-latitude cyclones play a key role in shaping the climate of Western Europe. They are the main rainmakers in this area, and, in close relationship, they also are the main cloudmakers. Cyclones act within the climate system both individually and as a population. As the latter, they strongly interact with the very large scale flow: they contribute to maintening, for periods of several days to several weeks, the same large scale pattern and as a result, they travel along the same track: this observational fact has led to coin the name ``storm-track''.

These periods of continuing weather pattern are called weather regimes. The storm-tracks are the zones of most active energy and water exchange in mid-latitudes, hence their importance in the global climate balance. The activity of storm-tracks embodies essentially the collective impact of cyclones. However, cyclones can reach such extreme values in wind and rain generation that they can, individually, also influence the longer term evolution: individual events are, for example, suspected of causing regime transitions.

For the same reason, namely their ability to generate large winds and rainfalls over large areas for relatively long times, mid-latitude cyclones are critical to the economy.

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