A cold front is the leading edge of a mass of cold air that is cooler and/or drier than the air it is replacing, and usually marked by a wind shift. Typically in North America cold fronts move from northwest to southeast, from west to east, or north to south. The system moving through the central U.S. today is your "typical" cold front. The front is moving from northwest to southeast across the Plains and Midwest.
|Surface map for 1:00 p.m. CDT June 15, 2016|
A backdoor cold front is a cold front that moves to the west or southwest (from the east or northeast), typically in the Great Lakes or along the Atlantic seaboard. These are commonly occur in the spring along the Atlantic coast when colder air is pushed inland as high pressure builds over new England or the North Atlantic. These fronts can also move south along the eastern seaboard as well.
The cold front that pushed in the backdoor of the Midwest early this week was pretty impressive.
In the sequence of surface maps below you can see how the cold front went from an west-east orientation in the first map to a northwest-southeast orientation on the west end of the front. The cool, very dry air pushed from Michigan and Wisconsin across northeastern Illinois, eventually orienting on a line roughly fronm Des Moines, IA to St. Louis, MO to Evansville, IN.
|Surface maps for 10:00 p.m. CDT Saturday, June 11 (top), 7:00 a.m. CDT Sunday, June 12 (middle) and 10:00 p.m. CDT Sunday, June 12|
Dewpoints in the air behind the front reached the low 30s, not something you see very often in June in the Midwest. Southeast of the front, dewpoints were in the muggy upper 60s and low 70s. Here is a graph of the temperature and dewpoint at Chicago's O'Hare Airport prior to, during, and after the cold front passage. The front moved through the station between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. CDT on June 12, and in the next hour the dewpoint dropped 16 degrees, and 24 degrees in the first two hours.
Below is an animation of dewpoint maps every three hours that shows the push of the drier air from northeast to southwest.
|Loop of surface dew point maps from 10:00p.m. CDT Saturday, June 11 to 10:00 p.m. CDT Sunday, June 12|
I watched with anticipation as the cold front pushed south and west during on Sunday, hoping for some of that dry air to clear out the humidity. Winds shifted to the northeast during the late afternoon, but it was almost sunset before the really dry air pushed in. It was, however, only a brief respite from the high dewpoints, and by the morning of June 13 dewpoints were beginning to climb back into the 60s as the muggy air mass to the south replaced the retreating cooler, drier air.