Introductory Meteorology

METEO 3: 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.

If you like METEO 3 and want to go more in-depth with learning about weather forecasting, check out Penn State's online undergraduate certificate in weather forecasting!

Registered METEO 3 students should enter the course through their course section in Canvas.

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 3

Course Overview

METEO 3 is a General Education course offered by the Department of Meteorology. The course is designed specifically for distance learners seeking general science credit. METEO 3 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!

Granted, Benjamin Franklin dabbled in many diverse topics, but why did he find the study of weather so important? Perhaps Franklin found the weather to be so important because it so profoundly affects everyone. Think about it. No matter where you live or what you do, weather is going to have some impact on your life. Weather helps determine the types of clothes we wear, may impact your source of income, and on rare occasions, it may affect your very health and safety (think about extreme events like hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods). 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 3 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: A Meteorologist's Toolbox (applications of meteorology, composition of the atmosphere, UTC, and common U.S. time zones, temperature scales, observations and station models, common statistical measures (range, mean, and normal), map features (latitude lines, meridians, and projections), reading isoplethed maps, gradients)

Lesson 2: The Global Ledger of Heat Energy (electromagnetic spectrum, laws of radiation, 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, measuring temperature)

Lesson 4: The Role of Water in Weather (hydrological cycle, water phase changes, evaporation rates, condensation rates, relative humidity, air "holding" water fallacy, cloud and fog formation, interpreting dew point temperature and relative humidity)

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

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

Lesson 7: Mid-Latitude Weather Systems (upper-air patterns and the jet stream, convergence / divergence effect on surface pressure, mid-latitude cyclones (development, features, weather, conveyor belts), types of winter precipitation, winter weather safety)

Lesson 8: Stability and Thunderstorms (hydrostatic equilibrium, vertical velocity, buoyancy and stability, clouds vs stability, lightning (formation and safety tips), thunderstorms (climatology, types, terms, and life cycle)), lake-effect snow and snow squalls.

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 vortices)

Lesson 10: The Human Impact on Weather and Climate (local and regional-scale anthropogenic climate-change drivers (urbanization, deforestation, etc.), natural causes of climate change (solar cycles, volcanoes, orbital changes, ocean cycles), anthropogenic climate change (terms, processes, impacts), carbon-cycle, Earth's temperature record, global warming impacts, global warming and extreme weather, general circulation models, ozone layer, ozone hole)

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, El Niño (and La Niña), teleconnections)

Lesson 12: Hurricanes (tropical cyclone terms, hurricane climatology, tropical-cyclone naming conventions, ingredients for tropical cyclone formation and processes for strengthening, land-falling hurricane impacts, assessing hurricane damage potential)

Lesson 13: Becoming a Savvy Weather Consumer (historical perspective on how weather forecasts are made, computer models and their sources of error, ensemble forecasting, assessing forecast accuracy, common sources of weather forecasts, forecast scenarios with great uncertainty, finding trusted sources of weather information on social media)

How does this course work?

METEO 3 uses an online text, which includes digital video, audio, simulation models, virtual field trips to online 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 online reading assignment, along with online interactive exercises, links, animations, movies, and supplementary explanations of basic scientific principles.