Severe and Unusual Weather


Severe and Unusual Weather

Fall Semester, 2019

Time/Place: MWF, 2:30 PM – 3:20 PM, 112 Walker

Prof. Paul Markowski, 520 Walker, email:, phone (work): 865-9736, web:

Teaching Assistant:
Mr. Scott Loeffler, 412 Walker, email:

Office Hours

Prof. Markowski: MW, 11:00 am–12:00 pm, and by appointment.

Scott Loeffler: TR, 11:00 am–12:00 pm, and by appointment.

Course Description

METEO 5 provides a current, relevant, and scientifically accurate discussion of a wide range of severe and unusual weather, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, downslope windstorms, blizzards, heat waves, and droughts. Severe weather has made a major imprint on the world's cultures and economies throughout history (e.g., the drought of the 1930s led to westward migration and changes in agriculture practices in the U.S., utilities in East Coast cities were placed underground after the Blizzard of 1888, and the severe winter of 1941–1942 helped change the momentum of World War II), and also has been prominent in our literature and entertainment (e.g., The Wizard of OzThe Grapes of WrathTwisterThe Perfect Storm).

Students will learn about the fundamental principles that govern severe and unusual weather. Concepts are taught in a descriptive manner without relying heavily on mathematics; thus, the material is highly accessible to students with a wide variety of backgrounds. It is believed that learning about weather is enhanced by experiencing weather. For this reason, the class frequently draws upon examples of significant historical and recent severe weather events. Students will be able to apply what they have learned immediately to weather events occurring near their homes or around the world.  

Course Objectives

  1. Students will learn about the physics of tornado formation, hurricane formation, and severe and unusual weather generated by mountains, extratropical cyclones, and anticyclones.
  2. Students will learn how "larger-scale" influences from El Nino, La Nina, or even climate change can influence where and when severe and unusual weather occurs.
  3. The course also strives to teach students about how science works—where does our knowledge come from?  I will share my perspectives and experiences in hopes that every pupil in the class will walk away with some appreciation and understanding of what science is, what scientists do, and how science works to improve our lives.  Students will learn about how science is funded and how science is "quality-controlled" via the peer-review process (either at the proposal stage or publication stage).  Students also will learn about the importance of reproducibility and hypothesis testing.

Course Designation: GN

General Education Learning Objectives

CRITICAL AND ANALYTICAL THINKING – the habit of mind characterized by comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating a conclusion. It is the intellectually disciplined process of conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

INTEGRATIVE THINKING – the ability to synthesize knowledge across multiple domains, modes of inquiry, historical periods, and perspectives, as well as the ability to identify linkages between existing knowledge and new information. Individuals who engage in integrative thinking are able to transfer knowledge within and beyond their current contexts.

CREATIVE THINKING – the capacity to synthesize existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways and the experience of performing, making, thinking, or acting in an imaginative way that may be characterized by innovation, divergent thinking, and intellectual risk-taking.

Required Textbook: None.


Yes!  If you don't already have one, you need to get one (hopefully you'll be able to use it in many other classes as well).  For more information and/or to register your clicker, visit (Links to an external site.).  In 112 Walker, the clicker channel is "AB."  Clickers will be used for recording attendance and in-class learning assessments.

Grading Policy

Each student's grade will be determined by the following:

  • homework assignments, 25%
    • Assignment 1: Estimating the energy released by a thunderstorm (10 points)
    • Assignment 2: Past and future tropical cyclones (24 points)
    • Assignment 3: Estimating the average return period for a tornado (12 points)
    • Assignment 4: You are the scientific consultant for the film Twister (15 points)
    • Assignment 5: Saving humanity from tornadoes and hurricanes (20 points)
  • exams, 60%(the scores, ranked from best to worst, contribute 25%, 20%, and 15%)
  • attendance, 15%

The first exam will be offered at the Pollock Testing Center on Monday, September 30.  The second exam also will be offered at the Pollock Testing Center in the period Monday–Wednesday, November 4–6.  The third exam will take place during final exam week, hopefully at the Pollock Testing Center (the date and time will be announced by the University later in the semester).  

Homework must be submitted on or before the due date/time in order to receive credit, except in cases in which the instructor's permission was obtained beforehand. Make-up exams may be scheduled at the instructor's convenience for excused absences. The make-up should be taken before the scheduled exam time, if at all possible. 

A: 90–100; A–: 85–90; B+: 80–85; B: 75–80; B–: 70–75; C+: 65–70; C: 60–65; D: 50–60; F: <50 

Academic Integrity

Class members may collaborate on homework assignments, but the final product to be handed in must be your own work.  Students may not plagiarize text from papers or websites written by others.  Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment, and may well receive an F or XF in the course.  Please see the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy (, which this course adopts.  To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity tutorial here: (Links to an external site.) 

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus at For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website (

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.


This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11 ( and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35 ( Please also see Illness Verification Policy ( and Religious Observance Policy ( Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes.  Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews).  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student Care and Advocacy for help (  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office ( at least one week prior to the activity.

Weather Delays

Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News. and communicated to cell phones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at 

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated ( and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Services include the following: 

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741 

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail (see to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review some general Netiquette guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course.

Disruptive Behavior

Behavior that disrupts normal classroom activities will not be tolerated, in accordance with Items 9 and 14 in the Student Code of Conduct.  Cell phone use during class is prohibited. Please turn your phones off prior to the start of class.


In the case of an emergency, we will follow the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Critical Incident Plan ( In the event of an evacuation, we will follow posted evacuation routes and gather at the Designated Meeting Site. Evacuation routes for all EMS buildings are available at For more information regarding actions to take during particular emergencies, please see the Penn State Emergency Action Guides.

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework.  For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct and Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Disclaimer Statement

Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes to the syllabus shall also be given to the student in written (paper or electronic) form.