Severe and Unusual Weather

Meteo 5 – Severe and Unusual Weather

Course Syllabus, Fall 2020 Semester 


Dr. Kevin Bowley, 619 Walker Building, 814-863-8253,
Office Hours: Thursdays 9:00-11:00 am, or by appointment - Zoom 

Teaching Assistant

Scott Loeffler,
Office hours: TBA 

Class Meeting Times & Location

Monday/Wednesday/Friday 2:30-3:20 pm - Zoom (Zoom links will be posted to Canvas) 

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 Goals and 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 Niño, La Niña, and 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 Textbooks None 

Content, Assignments and Grading

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

  • Homework assignments (5-6)                                     30%
  • Midterm Exams (2 exams) 30%
  • Final Project 25%
  • Attendance 15%

Grades will be assigned as: 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 

Homework Assignments: 30%

You will be tasked with 5-6 homework assignments spread out through the semester.  These assignments will be relevant to the course material, but will also challenge you to think critically and imaginatively to solve unique problems surrounding the topic of severe and unusual weather.  Examples will include estimating how much energy a thunderstorm generates, watching and critiquing a severe weather movie, and exploring how frequently tornadoes and hurricanes may impact a region, amongst other potential assignments. 

Assignments are due at the days/times indicated on the class schedule.  Late assignments will be penalized 20% per day.  If you have a legitimate conflict with an assignment, request an accommodation from the instructor in advance. 

Midterm Exams: 30%

We will have two midterm exams in class that cover materials discussed during our lecture periods (preliminary exam dates: Friday October 9 and Wednesday, November 11).  The exams will be 50 minutes in length (unless other accommodations are established with the instructor) and will take place during class.  The exams will be taken through Canvas and students will be required to be present with their webcam on during the exam (unless other accommodations are established with the instructor).  The better of your two exams will count for 18% of the final mark, and the worse of your two exams will count for 12% of your final mark. 

Final Project: 25%

Rather than completing a final exam during our finals period, you will instead be tasked with a final project.  The final project for our class is to create an infographic that focuses on topics surrounding one of the following severe and unusual weather phenomena: 

  • Thunderstorms (including thunderstorms, downbursts, hail, and/or tornadoes)
  • Tropical Weather (including tropical cyclones and/or their various basin-specific names, and/or El Niño & La Niña)
  • Extratropical Cyclones (including Midlatitude cyclones and/or anticyclones, Winter Storms, and/or Lake effect snow)
  • Mountain Weather (including cold air damming, wind storms, and/or turbulence) 

You will be tasked with creating an infographic using a program such as Adobe Spark, PowerPoint, Adobe Illustrator, or otherwise with a maximum size of 11 inches by 17 inches.  Requirements for the project, which will be outlined in a more specific rubric when the project is formally announced, will include: a) Providing an overview of relevant scientific information about the phenomena you’ll explore; b) Discuss a specific societal impact of your phenomena of interest; and c) Discuss either the implications of climate change on your phenomena of interest OR discuss how the scientific process played a role in the evolution of our understanding of your phenomena of interest.  Relevant information will need to be identified from appropriate sources and properly cited.  

Though the project overall is worth 25% of your mark, there will be several benchmarks along the way that count for part of your final overall mark.  These benchmarks include:

  • October 30: Submit to Canvas a short statement stating what you intend to research and present relating to the three required components outlined in the previous paragraph (5%)
  • November 16: Submit a draft of your infographic to Canvas. This can be a working draft, but must contain enough information and images such that a reviewer can understand your infographic and provide feedback (5%)
  • December 2: Complete review of 3 infographics from other students in class. A feedback rubric will be provided and must be submitted to Canvas. (5%)
  • December 11: Final Project due to Canvas (10%) 

Your infographics will be assessed based on how well ‘put together’ they are (creativity matters, but so does clarity!), scientific accuracy of the infographic (including citations!), and the ability to tell a story that meets the outlined requirements for the project.  The goal in the end: For you to create something that catches your eye, communicates knowledge, and that you’re proud of!  A great guide to infographics can be found here: 

Participation: 15%

Though our class is being held in Zoom, there will still be more than enough opportunities for you to participate.  In fact, participation in a class when held online is one of the best ways to succeed – it will keep you ‘plugged in’ to the class and provides an excellent opportunity to ask questions and interact with your classmates (for example, we’ll be using Zoom breakout sessions to discuss some topics).  To gauge participation, we will be using Zoom polls (or similar) to ask you questions during class.  These polls will be used to gauge your attendance throughout the semester – but more importantly provide a source of quick feedback for yourself and the class – essentially a low-stakes opportunity to test your knowledge.  Your attendance mark will be 100% if you participate in 85% of polling questions through the semester, and will decrease linearly to 0% if you participate in 0% of polling questions through the semester.  Your attendance mark will be updated every two weeks so you know where you stand as the semester goes on.  

Class Materials:

We will use Canvas for this class.  All class materials will be posted on Canvas, including lectures and assignments.  Students will also use Canvas to submit assignments, quizzes, and project components. 

Academic Integrity

Classmates may collaborate on homework assignments (I encourage this – especially in a digital classroom!).  However, the final product handed in must be your own – meaning duplicate or near-duplicate solutions will be considered as possible to likely acts of plagiarism.  Students are not to copy problem or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own; 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: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy:, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

Covid-19 Overview, requirements, and important notes

Meteo 5 will not have in-person meetings.  However, please keep in mind the following if on campus: 

We know from existing data that wearing a mask in public can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community (Lyu & Wehby, 2020; CDC, 2020; Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020). In accordance with PA Department of Health regulations and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Pennsylvania State University has determined that everyone will be required to wear a face mask in university buildings, including classrooms.  You MUST wear a mask appropriately (i.e., covering both your mouth and nose) in the building if you are attending a class in person. Masks have been provided for students, instructors, and staff, and everyone is expected to wear one. 

Students who choose not to wear a mask may not attend classes in person.  If you find yourself in this situation, it is your responsibility to work with your instructor to identify how to navigate a successful completion of the in-person component of a course.  This is to protect their health and safety as well as the health and safety of their classmates, instructor, and the university community. Anyone attending class in person without a mask will be asked to put one on or leave.  Instructors will end class if anyone present refuses to appropriately wear a mask for the duration of class.  Students who refuse to wear masks appropriately or adhere to other stated requirements may face disciplinary action for Code of Conduct violations.  

On a case-by-case basis, students may consult with Student Disability Resources for accommodations if they cannot wear a mask. Students requiring such accommodations may be advised to take advantage of and participate in the course through synchronous remote learning, if available. Students requiring such accommodations should consult with academic advisors before the end of the drop/add period to locate alternative course offerings that will allow their participation through remote learning. 

Finally, students who are experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms should not attend classes in person and are encouraged to contact a health care provider immediately. 

Zoom: Though this class is being held as a synchronous online course, all course lectures will be recorded and shared with the class in order to maximize the health and safety of our class members.  You are not required to have your camera on, and I ask that you please mute your microphones in class unless you are asking a question or interacting with your instructors or classmates at appropriate times.  I do, however, encourage you to keep your camera on if possible – it is an excellent way to increase our class interactions and to create a stronger sense of class community.


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


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

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: ( 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 labs.  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:, 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:  In the case of a weather delay that occurs on a day where we are meeting digitally, a message will be communicated by the instructor clarifying the plan of action for the class that day. 

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
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
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 or through Canvas. 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 for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40 ( To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period. It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion.  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. 

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 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.