Introductory Meteorology

Lesson 1. Tools of the Trade


photo of old tools
Tools make difficult tasks easier.

What role do tools play in your daily life? You might be tempted to say something like, "Well, I'm not really a handy person... I don't use tools very often." Well, I'm not just talking about the hammer or screwdriver kind of tools. If you search for a general definition of a tool, you might run across something like the following: "A broader definition of a tool is an entity used to interface between two or more domains that facilitates more effective action of one domain upon the other." (definition from Wikipedia). Umm... what does this mean, exactly? One simple interpretation is this, "A tool makes a particular task easier". Think about it. Everything that you use to make something easier is a tool. When you clean your teeth, you use a tool. When you communicate with someone, you most often use some sort of tool. When you want to collect and analyze information, you use tools. Indeed, you are surrounded by a multitude of tools that you use without even thinking about it. Does this realization change your perspective about "tools"?

Now that we've established the importance of tools, how important is it to know how to use them properly? Think back to the last time you got a new cell phone or some other such device made to make your life easier. It wasn't necessarily so labor-saving in the beginning, was it? In fact, until you became familiar with the new tool, it often took longer than the "old" way of doing things. But once you integrate the new tool into your life, you can't imagine life without it. This is typical of all tools. Not only do you have to know what it is and how it is used, but you must get yourself to the point of being comfortable using it. Only then can you realize the power of the tool itself. Alas, the only way to get comfortable with using a certain tool is to actually use it. This is an important fact that we will return to in a moment.

So, what's all this talk about tools have to do with learning about the weather? Well, Lesson 1 is all about the tools that meteorologists use to fashion understanding of the atmosphere out of raw observations. We'll start off examining such tools as map projections, universal time, temperature scales, and mathematical tools such as unit conversions and statistics. Then we'll move on to tools that deal with the analysis of meteorological data, in both time and space. Remember, these tools exist to make learning about the atmosphere easier (you need to learn them well). And, as with all tools, you not only need to learn about them, but you also need to practice using them. That is the only way to make these tools work for you.

Before you dive into the reading material, take a moment to consider the Learning Objectives on the next page. Understanding the learning objectives is very important because they very clearly define what tools you will be required to know about and use (and they specifically outline what you will be tested on).