Introductory Meteorology

Lesson 1: A Meteorologist's Toolbox


photo of old tools
Tools make difficult tasks easier.

You might be used to the idea of carpenters or "handy" workers carrying a toolbox containing all the tools they need to complete a job. But, in reality, all people use various tools all the time, and in this lesson, we're going to focus on the tools that meteorologists use. Of course, meteorologists aren't using hammers and screwdrivers to understand the world around them, so we need to think more generally about tools. In general, a tool is something that 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 (a toothbrush). When you communicate with someone, you often use some sort of tool (perhaps a cell phone). When you want to collect and analyze information, you use tools (perhaps computer software). Indeed, you are surrounded by a multitude of tools that you use without even thinking about it!

Of course, also knowing how to use tools is extremely important. Think back to the last time you got a new cell phone or some other device made to make your life easier. There's a good chance that it didn't make your life easier right away. 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 a new tool into your life, you can't imagine life without it! This is typical of all tools: you must know what the tool does, how to use it, and actually get 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.

So, what's all this talk about tools have to do with meteorology? Well, Lesson 1 is all about the tools that meteorologists use to understand the world around them. We'll start off examining such tools as map projections, universal time, temperature scales, and mathematical tools such as climate 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 understanding meteorology 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 we get started the tools in a meteorologist's toolbox, however, since this course is an introduction to meteorology, it's probably a good idea to define exactly what meteorology is (and identify the types of things that meteorologists study). Let's get started!