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Hurricanes: Science and Society
Pressure Gradient

Pressure is a force per unit area. In the case of this website, we are generally talking about atmospheric pressure or water pressure and we use units of millibars (mb). Atmospheric pressure at the Earth's surface is the result of the weight of the air above the surface. If the pressure is different in two parts of the atmosphere next to each other, there will be a greater force on one side. The part with a greater pressure will exert a force on the other part and this is called the pressure gradient force.

Illustration of pressure gradient.
Illustration of a pressure gradient. The black lines are isobars - lines of equal pressure. From point A to point B, there is a 2 mb pressure difference. The force from high pressure to low pressure is the pressure gradient force. Image by C. Knowlton, URI

If there are no other forces, then air will flow from the higher pressure to the lower pressure creating wind. Pressure gradients in the atmosphere are typically caused by air of different temperatures.