Introductory Meteorology

METEO 003: Introductory Meteorology


This course is offered as part of the Open Educational Resources initiative of Penn State's John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. You are welcome to use and re-use materials that appear in this site (other than those copyrighted by others) subject to the licensing agreement linked to the bottom of this and every page.

Registered METEO 003 students should enter the course through their course section in ANGEL.

Not registered? Students who register for this Penn State course gain access to assignments and instructor feedback, as well as earn academic credit. Information about registering for this course is available at the Penn State World Campus.

Quick Facts about METEO 003

METEO 003 is a General Education course offered by the Department of Meteorology. The course is designed specifically for distance learners seeking general science credit. METEO 003 will introduce to you a wide variety of basic atmospheric concepts so that you can become a better "weather consumer" (better understand and evaluate weather information) and gain a better understanding of "how the weather works."

Why learn about the atmosphere?

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
"Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky" by Benjamin West (1738-1820).
Phil. Mus. of Art

Most everyone is familiar with Benjamin Franklin's foray into cloud electrification using a kite. However, did you know that Franklin was an avid student of the weather? He was the first person to note that storms generally traveled from west to east at predictable speeds. Franklin also noted in 1743 that storms do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing winds - in fact can travel against the prevailing winds in some cases. Here's even a figure from a paper entitled "Waterspouts and Whirlwinds" written by Franklin.

Granted, Benjamin Franklin dabbled in many diverse topics, but why did he find the study of weather so important? Well, I'm of the opinion that it might have been because weather affects all of us. Think about it. No matter where you live or what you do, weather is going to have some impact on your life. It may be that the effect is on the periphery of your life (such as determining what you wear on a certain day), or it may affect you more substantially (such as having a directly impact on your sources of income). Or, in rare cases, it may affect your very life (in an extreme event like a hurricane or a tornado). In whatever way the weather affects you, one thing is for sure… the weather does affect you.

So then, doesn't it make sense to know something about how the atmosphere works and make use of the many types of weather data available to you? I certainly think so. However, I am continually startled that a lot of people know so very little about something that plays such a pivotal role in their lives. Indeed, many people are interested in the weather, but not necessarily interested in learning about the weather. Hopefully, as a result of this course, you will come away with some very practical knowledge about the weather. This knowledge will make you a better weather consumer (that is, someone who can intelligently process weather information presented to you). And, who knows, this knowledge may even save your life! In the words of Ben Franklin, you'll be "weather-wise."

What will you learn in this course?

METEO 003 seeks to give you a better understanding of atmospheric structure and processes so you can better apply the weather information you encounter. With this knowledge of how the atmosphere works, you'll be able to understand what controls the evolution of storms and appreciate why weather forecasts are sometimes highly uncertain. You will also learn to "read" the sky so you can make your own short-term forecasts and adjust your behavior accordingly. You will also be better able to assess the validity of the commonly expressed concerns about climate change and deteriorating air quality.

Lesson 1: Weather Analysis Tools (composition of the atmosphere, map features (latitude lines, meridians and projections), UTC and common U.S. time zones, temperature scales, common statistical measures (range, mean, and normal), reading isoplethed maps, gradients, station models, meteograms)

Lesson 2: The Global Heat Budget (electromagnetic spectrum, Stefan-Boltzmann Law and Wien's Law, radiation processes, albedo, energy budgets, radiation at the Earth's surface, clouds and radiation, greenhouse effect, conduction and convection)

Lesson 3: The Global and Local Controllers of Temperatures (seasonal changes, climatic temperature variations, vertical temperature variation, air masses and fronts, advection, diurnal temperature changes)

Lesson 4: The Role of Water in the Atmosphere (hydrological cycle, water phase changes, vapor pressure and equilibrium vapor pressure, air "holding" water fallacy, relative humidity, cloud and fog formation, dew point temperature)

Lesson 5: Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere (remote sensing versus in-situ measurements, polar orbiting versus geostationary satellites, visible imagery, IR imagery, water vapor imagery, radar)

Lesson 6: Surface Patterns of Pressure and Wind (atmospheric pressure, "station pressure" vs "sea-level pressure", decoding station model pressure, troughs and ridges, wind (forces, direction at surface and aloft), convergence and divergence)

Lesson 7: Mid-Latitude Weather Systems (pressure decrease versus temperature, pressure heights, convergence / divergence effect on surface pressure, vorticity, short waves, jet streaks, mid-latitude cyclones (development, features, weather, conveyor belts))

Lesson 8: Stability and Thunderstorms (hydrostatic equilibrium, vertical velocity, buoyancy and stability, clouds vs stability, Bergeron-Findeisen process, lightning (terms and safety), thunderstorms (climatology, types, terms and life cycle))

Lesson 9: Severe Weather (flash floods, hail, microbursts, watches and warnings, squall line, derecho, bow echo, tornadoes (climatology, supercells, terms, radar signature, safety, Fujita scale, myths), other vorticies)

Lesson 10: The Human Impact on Weather and Climate (anthropogenic climate change (terms, processes, impacts), carbon-cycle, volcano impacts, global climate models, ozone layer, ozone hole, deforestation and urbanization)

Lesson 11: Patterns of Wind, Water, and Weather in the Tropics (tropics importance to general circulation, Hadley circulation, ITCZ, subtropical high pressure regions, Trade Winds, subtropical jet stream, Asian Summer Monsoon, Ekman Transport, El Niño (and La Niña), teleconnections)

Lesson 12: Hurricanes (tropical cyclone terms, hurricane climatology, tropical-cyclone naming conventions, tropical cyclone formation, easterly waves, structure of a mature hurricane, land-falling hurricane impacts)

How does this course work?

METEO 003 combines a traditional textbook (A World of Weather: Fundamentals of Meteorology, 5th Edition, by Lee M. Grenci and Jon M. Nese, 2010) with digital video, audio, simulation models, virtual field trips to on-line data resources, and interactive quizzes that provide instantaneous feedback. The course consists of 12 lessons, plus a course orientation week at the beginning of the semester. Lessons consist of an offline reading assignment, along with online interactive exercises, links, animations, movies, and supplementary explanations of basic scientific principles.