Meteo 101: Sample Content

This is a sample lesson page from the Certificate of Achievement in Weather Forecasting offered by the Penn State Department of Meteorology. Any questions about this program can be directed to: Steve Seman


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This course material requires a user account. Registered METEO 101 students and alumni can log in by clicking on the "login" link above (Penn State userID and password required). If you are not yet enrolled, please see the information presented below to learn more about this course.

Quick Facts about METEO 101

METEO 101 is the first in a series of four online courses that comprise the Certificate of Achievement in Weather Forecasting program. This course also serves an entry point for prospective Meteo majors, and as a General Education Science/Lab course. It is offered every Fall (August - September), Spring (January-May), and Summer (May - August) semester.

Course Prerequisite(s): none

Why learn about weather forecasting?

A computer model prog.
A 24-hour computer forecast, often referred to as a "prog."
Credit: Penn State e-Wall

Imagine going online and accessing a forecast map generated by a computer (like the one on the right). Now imagine creating your very own weather forecast based on this tool. Sound far-fetched? Not at all! By successfully completing this course, you will be able to competently interpret and effectively use computer "progs" and other tools that professional weather forecasters look at every day.

Weather affects nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Indeed, sometimes the weather can even threaten our very lives themselves. One of the goals of this course is to teach you to be an informed weather consumer.  These days, all sorts of weather data are available, on practically every electronic device we own.  How do you make sense of it all?  This course will teach you about the many different types of weather data, as well as some of the key processes behind the data. Our goal is to demystify the weather in a way so that you can apply the knowledge to your daily life. You may even find that you can tailor the weather forecast to suit your own personal situation, giving you an advantage at work or keeping you safe at play.

What will you learn in this course?

METEO 101 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. Here is a breakdown of what you will learn.

Lesson 1: An Introduction to Atmospheric Variables (observation times and procedures, time conversion and UTC, station models, temperature, dew point temperature, visibility and current weather, cloud cover, pressure, wind, and METARs)

Lesson 2: Data, Data Everywhere (reading and drawing contour maps, gradients, buoy/ship data, map projections, and meteograms)

Lesson 3: Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere (remote sensing versus in-situ measurements, electromagnetic spectrum, Stefan-Boltzmann Law and Wien's Law, radiation processes, albedo, polar orbiting versus geostationary satellites, visible imagery, IR imagery, water vapor imagery, and radar data)

Lesson 4: Controllers of Air Temperature (seasonal changes, local climatic controllers, surface energy budget, conduction and convection, advection, nocturnal inversion, and latent heat)

Lesson 5: Controllers of the Wind (displaying wind data, PGF and Coriolis forces, geostrophy, friction, wind direction from pressure maps, centers of high and low pressure, surface troughs and ridges, convergence and divergence)

Lesson 6: Vertical Variations in Temperature (skew-T diagrams, profiles of temperature and dew point, mixing ratio and relative humidity, clouds, and precipitation on a skew-T, dry versus moist ascent, stability, identifying the boundary layer and tropopause, orographic lift, statiform versus convective clouds)

Lesson 7: Patterns of Pressure and Wind Aloft (constant pressure surface, decrease in pressure with height versus temperature, upper-level troughs and ridges, upper-level winds, jet stream and jet streaks, and clear air turbulence)

Lesson 8: Upper-level Winds and Their Roles in Surface Highs and Lows (vorticity (relative, earth, and absolute), short waves, vorticity extremes, conservation of angular momentum for a parcel, convergence/divergence effect on surface pressure)

Lesson 9: The Cyclone Model (air masses and fronts, mid-latitude cyclones (initiation, self-development, occlusion, decay), conveyor belts, and propagation)

Lesson 10: Numerical Weather Prediction (computer simulations, model errors, types of weather models, interpreting common model progs, forecasting strategies, medium-range and ensemble forecasting)

Lesson 11: Forecasting High and Low Temperatures (Model Output Statistics (MOS), reading MOS output, MOS biases, the 850-mb method, climatology, and persistence forecasting)

Lesson 12: Forecasting Precipitation (PoP, model generated QPF, forecasting snow amount, forecasting sleet and freezing rain, and precipitation forecast data sources)

Course Objectives

In short, when you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:

  • Analyze and interpret conventional maps of surface and upper-air data, meteorological images, and soundings on a thermodynamic diagram. (1)
  • Demonstrate a fundamental knowledge of the basics by which atmospheric observations are taken, both in situ and remotely. (2)
  • Describe the processes by which synoptic-scale weather systems form, grow, and dissipate. (3)
  • Explain the fundamental forces that drive atmospheric motions, both in the horizontal and vertical. (4)
  • Apply the basics underlying weather forecasting and numerical weather prediction to create simple, point-forecasts for basic weather variables. (5)

How does this course work?

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 weather events. Most deadlines in this course occur every week on Friday night. You should expect to spend 8 to 10 hours per week studying the lesson material and completing assignments to stay on pace.