Fundamentals of Tropical Forecasting

METEO 241: Fundamentals of Tropical Forecasting


Looking for the lesson content?  Registered METEO 241 students can access and navigate through the lessons in the "Lessons" menu (you might need to log in with your PSU user ID and password).

Quick Facts about METEO 241

METEO 241 is one in a series of four online courses in the Certificate of Achievement in Weather Forecasting program. It is offered every Fall (August - September) semester and periodically in the Summer (May - August) semester.

Course Prerequisite(s): METEO 101 (METEO 241 is designed specifically for adult students seeking a Certificate of Achievement in Weather Forecasting.  The course will build on the general atmospheric principles covered in METEO 101 in order to draw comparisons between mid-latitude and tropical weather.)

Visible satellite image of Hurricane Katrina
Visible satellite image of Category-5 Hurricane Katrina approaching the Gulf Coast of the United States, from August 28, 2005.
Credit: NASA

Why learn about tropical forecasting?

When you think of the tropics, you might picture white, sandy beaches and enticing vacation destinations. But, the tropics aren't merely a relaxing paradise. They're also home to some fascinating meteorology! Indeed, some of the most devastating and costly weather disasters on Earth come from the tropics. It's not a coincidence that on the National Centers for Environmental Information's list of billion-dollar weather disasters to affect the United States from 1980 through 2014, the top three came from the tropics!

Furthermore, the tropics comprise a large portion of our planet--up to half of the Earth's surface, depending on the definition of the tropics you use. Thus, the tropical atmosphere and oceans can serve as important drivers for weather all across the globe. Yes, what happens in the tropics doesn't necessarily stay in the tropics! In other words, you simply can't ignore the tropics if you want a complete picture of global weather patterns.

What will you learn in this course?

Your journey through the tropics will begin by meeting the tropics and drawing comparisons and contrasts with the mid-latitudes, and by the end of the course you'll learn all about tropical cyclone development, structure, and hazards to coastal and inland communities. You'll also learn about key forecasting and observational tools that tropical forecasters use to predict tropical weather. METEO 241, however, isn't just a course about tropical cyclones, as the course outline below demonstrates:

Lesson 1: Meet the Tropics (patterns of temperature and pressure in the tropics (and comparisons to the mid-latitudes), naming conventions for tropical cyclones, comparisons between tropical cyclones and mid-latitude cyclones, computer guidance for tropical forecasters, forecasting products from the National Hurricane Center)

Lesson 2: Remote and In Situ Observations in the Tropics (tropical ocean buoys, Air Force and NOAA Hurricane Hunters, vortex data messages, the Dvorak Technique, cloud-drift winds, assessing precipitation from satellites, the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, scatterometry)

Lesson 3: The Tropics from Top to Bottom (the tropical tropopause, potential temperature, mixing ratio, wet-bulb processes, equivalent potential temperature, hot towers and tropical cloud clusters, trade-wind cumulus and subtropical convection, tropical easterly wind / terrain interactions)

Lesson 4: General Circulation (Hadley Cell structure, the Intertropical Convergence Zone, subtropical highs, trade winds and their roles in Earth's angular momentum budget and energy transport, the subtropical jet stream, high-altitude easterly winds in the tropics)

Lesson 5: Monsoons (monsoon definition, likeness to a grandiose sea breeze, monsoon climatology, features that drive the monsoon throughout the troposphere (such as the Somali Low-Level Jet, onset vortex, and Tropical Easterly Jet), monsoon depressions)

Lesson 6: El Niño (air-sea interactions, tropical oceanography, theories for El Niño's onset, the Walker Circulation, local oceanic and atmospheric impacts of El Niño, global teleconnections and seasonal forecasting based on o El Niño and La Niña)

Lesson 7: Tropical Cyclones: Cooking Up a Storm (global tropical-cyclone climatology and its connection to sea-surface temperatures, tropical cyclone heat potential, the role of latitude in tropical cyclone development, low-level vorticity in convective cloud clusters, the role of relative humidity in the middle troposphere, historical and current theories of tropical cyclone development, the role of vertical wind shear, the Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme)

Lesson 8: Tropical Cyclones and the Upper-Air Connection (climatology, origins, and structure of easterly waves, upper-level lows, subtropical cyclones, the Saharan Air Layer)

Lesson 9: Wind Fields in and Around Tropical Cyclones (the dynamics of cyclonic inflow and anticyclonic outflow, structure and forecasting implications of Tropical Upper-Tropospheric Troughs, steering forces for tropical cyclones, the Fujiwhara Effect)

Lesson 10: Structure and Hazards of Tropical Cyclones (eye mesovortices, eyewall dynamics, spiral bands and tornadoes, storm surge, methods of quantifying tropical cyclone destructive potential, inland flooding)

How does this course work?

Much like METEO 101, all course materials are presented online. The course lessons include many animations and interactive tools to provide a tactile, visual component to your learning. Your instructor will assess your progress through online quizzes, lab exercises, and projects, all of which focus on your ability to analyze key observational and forecast information regarding current or past tropical weather events. While deadlines in this course may not occur every week, you should expect to spend 8 to 10 hours per week studying the lesson material and completing assignments to stay on pace. Assignment deadlines generally occur every few weeks.