John A. Dutton e-Education Institute

METEO 101: Understanding Weather Forecasting

University Continuing Education Association

2003 Meritorious Course Award University Distance Education Course


METEO 101: Understanding Weather Forecasting

So you want to be an apprentice weather forecaster? Well, you've come to the right place to start your first apprenticeship in weather forecasting because there is no other course like Meteo 101: Understanding Weather Forecasting.

Course Description: At the conclusion of this course, will I be able to forecast the weather?

A portion of a forecast map generated by a computer.

Imagine going online and accessing a forecast map generated by a computer (like the "computer prog" shown on the right). Now imagine creating your very own weather forecast based on this tool. Sound far-fetched? Meteo 101 will make it happen! By successfully completing Meteo 101, you will be able to competently interpret and effectively use computer "progs" and other tools that professional weather forecasters look at everyday.

Got a trip planned for Europe and want to know what the weather will be? You'll be able to go to a website that shows the current and predicted upper-level wind patterns over Europe and then make your very own forecast based on what you've learned in Meteo 101. And you'll get plenty of other opportunities to practice as well! Each week of the semester, you will participate on the discussion board in The Weather Station. For example, you may be asked to access a "loop" of computer forecasts like the one for Europe that you just clicked on. In this case, you will be asked to locate a European city where you believe precipitation will fall at a specified forecast time and then you will later "verify" your forecast. This virtual "class participation" will allow you to apply principles you learn in the week's lesson. Past students in Meteo 101 often remarked how rewarding it was to be able to accurately forecast weather a continent away. Or, if their forecast didn't work out exactly the way they had planned, they gained an appreciation for how challenging weather forecasting can be. It's a win-win situation because students learn and are rewarded in either case.

But don't take our word for it. Here are a few accolades from former students...

I can't tell you how much this class has meant to me and your incredible involvement in our learning. I never dreamed an on-line class could be so personal. I feel that I know you without even spending a day in class with you (though I have spent countless hours IN class!!). Last night I dreamed all night about jet streaks and the placement of surface lows!! What is happening to me??!!!
-- Carol, Adult Learner in Environmental Sciences

This has been a truly rewarding and challenging course. I find I'm thinking about it all the time and piecing it together slowly but surely. Could it be you've turned me into a weather weenie? I gotta tell ya, it is really cool to look at maps that were unintelligible just a few short weeks ago and be able to read them.

-- Joe, Television Reporter

I enjoyed the course, and I know that I will use a lot of the concepts that I learned in my daily life. I cannot begin to explain how appreciative I am to have you as an instructor. Because you clearly structured the course and were available to answer all little and big questions, you were a lot easier to learn from then many other professors (and the course was even online!).

-- Amy, Business Administration

I just thought I would send this link to you. After telling my editor I took a meteorology class this past semester, he assigned me a weather story that is on the front page of the metro section of the paper where I am working. And the people I interviewed at NWS were pleasantly surprised that I knew what I was talking about when I called them--when I told them where I took my class, they commented on our "very respectable" meteo program.

-- Renee, Journalism

Prerequisite Skills: Do you need to be a science whiz to enroll in Meteo 101?

To the contrary, journalists, weather enthusiasts, high-school teachers and college students from all majors have already successfully completed Meteo 101. So apprentice forecasters from all walks of life can thrive in this unique online course. Students who are disciplined and motivated will be highly successful in Meteo 101 because these qualities allow students to better assume a greater degree of responsibility for their own learning. Please be advised that successful students should feel at home navigating on the World Wide Web. You must also be a self-starter who feels confident about reading to learn and who is comfortable working independently.

Online Learning Environment: I've never taken an online course before. Will I be completely isolated from other students and my instructors?

Meteo 101 is indeed a completely online learning experience. But before you have second thoughts about whether you can thrive in the course's virtual classroom, rest assured that you'll likely have more interaction with your instructors than you would have in a traditional, large-lecture classroom setting. Granted, you can't meet with them face to face, but there are three separate discussion boards that you can easily use to communicate with your instructors. And that's only the tip of the iceberg! The learning community populated by your fellow classmates (some from all over the world) will be surprisingly social, with students helping other students on the discussion boards. You can also attend virtual office hours held by teaching assistants who will answer your real-time questions via AOL's Instant Messenger. For private matters, students have easy access to email. So, as you can see, there will be ample opportunity for you to personally interact in Meteo 101.

Course Structure and Assessment: How is the course structured?

There are 12 lessons on METEO 101. Each lesson contains interactive exercises, links, animations, movies and novel explanations of the basic scientific principles of how the atmosphere works. To sample Meteo 101, you're invited to browse through Lessons Two: "Data, Data, Everywhere" and Nine: "The Cyclone Model" to get a feel for the tenor and focus of the course. To view all of the exercises on these pages, you will need the following plug-ins: Flash 5+, Quicktime 5+, and Shockwave 8+. We also recommend that you view these pages with Internet Explorer 5.0+.

At the end of each Lesson, you will take an open-book "Promotional Exam" that allows you to improve your status as an apprentice forecaster. Indeed, you can attain the rank of a G-12 apprentice forecaster at Penn State University.

In addition to Promotional Exams and weekly assignments on the discussion board in The Weather Station, you will be assigned four projects throughout the semester. Projects are also open book but require you to apply the principles you've learned to past case studies of storms and specific weather patterns.

Instructor Lee Grenci demonstrates Schlieren photography, which allows students to see invisible convection.

One of the advantages of online instruction is that instructors can take you on virtual field trips to augment your understanding of meteorology. Here, instructor Lee Grenci visits the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering to teach students about Schlieren photography, which is an ingenious way to photograph invisible convection. In this specific part of the lesson, Grenci exposes the lack of scientific basis for claiming that "Clouds act like a blanket", which is one of the mistaken notions that television weathercaster, Hale Stone, says sometimes when he's "on air". By the way, Hale Stone is a fictional character who appears throughout Meteo 101 in the role of the misinformed weather guy. Poor Hale. He has a lot of shaky notions of how the atmosphere really works, but students in Meteo 101 always learn from Hales' mistakes.

Your Commitment: How much time should I spend online each week?

To successfully complete your forecasting apprenticeship in Meteo 101, we strongly recommend that students spend at least three hours each week working online. Your online time will be spent reading the week's lesson, critically thinking about the material, following related web links and taking full advantage of all the interactive exercises. Our contention that each apprentice forecaster should spend at least three hours each week studying online has its basis in past student performance. Indeed, this plot of student success versus average weekly online time strongly supports our recommendation. The bottom line here is that the road to success in Meteo 101 is paved with quality online time.

Technical Specifications: What kind of computer hardware and software will I need?

For this course we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on our "Program and Course Technical Requirements" page, located at

Registration: How do I enroll?

If you're interested in enrolling in Meteo 101 and you're a student at the University Park Campus or any of the participating Commonwealth Campuses, register for this course as you would any other class. If you're not a student at the University Park Campus or any of the participating Commonwealth Campuses, check out the web site of Penn State's World Campus. The course is offered through the World Campus during the fall, spring and summer semesters. At the start of each semester, all enrolled students should access Meteo 101 at the site of Penn State's Course Management System.

We hope to see you online!