METEO 497.002

Observing Meteorological Phenomena

METEO 497.002: Observing Meteorological Phenomena

Fall 2020 Syllabus


Designated Course Time: MWF, 10:10 - 11:00 am

Designated Course Room: 135 Reber Building; on campus outside (weather permitting)

Course Format: Mixed-mode (blended online/in-person). The course will consist of remote synchronous lectures, virtual student presentations, group discussions (hopefully outside, in-person), small-group sleuthing exercises, and/or other possibilities. 

A note on Zoom meetings: Please have your videos turned "on" during our virtual meetings. If this is not possible, please contact me and we can figure out an option to make sure you can remain engaged in class activities. See official language below.

A note on in-person meetings: Masks are required per the University's guidelines. We should also maintain social distancing (>6 ft) in any interactions. Also remember to frequently wash your hands, etc.

Course Instructor: Dr. Matthew Kumjian

Pre-req: Meteo 411 (Synoptic Meteorology), or discuss with me.

Office: 513 Walker Building; Working from home


Class Website:

Office Hours: ONLINE via Zoom, TBD and by appointment

Required Text: None; Dr. K will post all lecture notes and materials to Canvas. Some readings may be provided on Canvas, as well. 

Grading: Your final grade* will be based on the following:

  • Sky Journal 20%
  • Sky Journal Presentations 10%
  • Problem Sets / Experiments 20%
  • Final Paper 17.5% 
  • Midterm Exam 15% 
  • Final Exam 17.5%

Note: there is a 10% day-1 reduction in the grade for assignments turned in late.

*Final letter grades will be determined based on the overall distribution of scores at the end of the semester.  

Sky Journal (20%)

Each week, you will submit an entry to your "Sky Journal." These entries will consist of (i) a photograph, video, or time lapse of a meteorological phenomenon, and (ii) a ~1-paragraph written description of the entry. The photos/videos must be original content and may be captured on your phone, digital camera, etc. (If you do not have access, please let me know.)

The meteorological phenomena you capture should be related to light/optical effects, and/or unusual cloud colors/formations -- please don't send photos of our gray stratiform clouds each week! The uniqueness and quality of the phenomenon will be part of your grade. 

The written portion of the assignment should include the following information: location, time, and date of the phenomenon; context (i.e., relevant weather conditions); a clear and grammatically correct explanation of what is seen in the photo/video; and, a proposed physical explanation. The written portion will be graded for grammar/style, completeness, and, as the semester progresses, quality of the physical explanations based on concepts we cover in class.

The entries are due each week by Wednesday night at 11:59:59 pm; this will allow us to discuss in class on Fridays. 

Sky Journal Presentations (10%)

Each week, I will select one or two of the journal entries for presentation and discussion in class on Fridays. I will notify the presenter(s) via Canvas on Thursday morning, which should allow you plenty of time to put together a very short presentation to share on Friday. The presentation should be very short (< 2 minutes): 1-2 slides, including your entry and any supplementary materials for the physical explanation

Problem Sets / Experiments (20%)

Typically less than once per week, problem sets, experiments, hands-on activities and/or observations will be assigned to help reinforce concepts covered in class. These will be assigned on and submitted to Canvas with clear due dates (usually ≥ 1 week from the assignment date).   

Final Paper (17.5%)

A final research paper will be due at the beginning of the last class of the semester (Friday, 11 December, 10:10 am). This paper will be about a phenomenon of interest to you, and should include a detailed explanation of the physics behind its appearance (including concepts from class), a discussion about the meteorology supporting its occurrence, techniques to observe it, and references to at least one peer-reviewed scientific publication on the topic. I am more than happy to help you pick a phenomenon and track down good resources for your research!

The paper will have milestones or components due throughout the semester to motivate progress. These will include the following:

(i) Topic submission after consultation with me

(ii) Resources/reference list

(iii) Rough draft, which will undergo peer review (as well as instructor review!)

(iv) Final draft

The paper's text should be less than 10 pages, not including figures, tables, references, etc. The text should be double-spaced with 12-point font (you know, the standard stuff!). Figures and tables should appear at the end. References should follow AMS convention. 

Exams (1 Midterm @ 15%; 1 Final @ 17.5%)

Exams will be given at the following dates and times:

Midterm Exam: Friday, 16 October at 10:10 am.

Final Exam: date and time TBD by university officials with a much higher pay grade.

These dates/times are tentative and subject to change pending conflicts, etc. The exact format of the exam is also TBD, but will be communicated well in advance as we figure out the options. One option may be open book/open notes take-home. We can discuss in class. 

Course Objectives and Intents:

This course will cover beautiful and bizarre atmospheric phenomena, their underlying physics, and their observation and documentation. Students will make their own observations and documentation of atmospheric phenomena with hands-on activities, and work together to unlock the mysteries of these phenomena. 

Course Topics Include:

Fundamentals of light and the electromagnetic spectrum; scattering, reflection, refraction, and diffraction by atmospheric particles; optical phenomena in the sky, including sunrise/sunset colors, blue sky, green flashes, and mirages; optical phenomena involving liquid drops, including rainbows, haloes/glories, fogbows, Brocken specter, white/gray/green clouds, cloud iridescence ; optical phenomena involving ice crystals, including a variety of arcs, haloes, sundogs, light pillars, diamond dust, crown flashes; optical phenomena from convective clouds, including lightning, transient luminous events, sprites, jets, elves; fundamentals of photogrammetry.  These topics may be amended or omitted given student interest and/or time.

other required content below

University's language on webcams: This course may require you to have a webcam for class assessments. Classes and assessments may be conducted using Zoom or other technology selected by your instructor which may use your computer’s webcam or other technologies to communicate, monitor, and/or record classes, class activities, and assessments. Assessments may also be conducted using proctoring software, which may listen to you, monitor your computer screen, view you and your surroundings, and record (including visual and audio recordings) all activity during the proctoring process. Please contact me if you are unable to comply or have any questions or concerns.

University's language on masks: We know from existing scientific data that wearing a mask in public can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community (Lyu and Wehby, 2020; CDC, 2020; Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020). Just as you’re expected to wear a shirt and shoes to class every day, everyone -- including the instructor and TAs -- are required to wear a face mask in University buildings, including classrooms and labs. You MUST wear a mask appropriately (i.e., covering both your mouth and nose) in the building if you are attending class in person. Masks have been provided for students, faculty, and staff, and everyone is expected to wear one while on campus or out in the community.

All students, faculty and staff are expected to maintain social distancing (i.e., maintain at least six feet of space between individuals) when possible. Seating patterns and attendance patterns, including assigned seating and closed-off desks/chairs/room sections, have been established to help allow for this distance for your safety. It is also important to follow related guidance communicated by the University and via public postings/signage related to directional traffic flow and maximum occupancy of spaces.

You are not permitted to consume food or drink in classrooms, except for water. If you must drink water, please be especially conscious of maintaining social distancing and minimizing the time your mask is moved aside. Or, better yet, use a water bottle with a built-in straw. Cooperation from EVERYONE will help control the spread of the virus and help us get back to the previous version of campus life as quickly as possible.

Students with conditions that make it difficult to wear a mask or who choose not to wear a mask [may participate in class remotely but]* may not attend class in person. This is to protect your health and safety as well as the health and safety of your classmates, instructor and the University community. Anyone attending class in person without a mask will be asked to put one on or leave. Refusal to comply with University policies is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. Students who refuse to wear masks appropriately may face disciplinary action for Code of Conduct violations. See details here:

Literature Cited:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 3) Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2020, June 17) Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs.

Lyu, W. and Wehby, G.L. (2020, June 16) Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US. Health Affairs. 2003& 

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. 


Students who do not meet the prerequisites after being informed in writing by the instructor may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period ( If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who re-enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct ( 

Academic Integrity:

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner, and is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity in the College. As such, all are expected to act with personal integrity, respect for other students’ dignity, rights, and property, and to help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the EMS community and compromise the worth of work completed by others. The full college policy on academic integrity can be found here.

Simply put, don’t cheat. This includes but is not limited to copying, plagiarism, self- plagiarism, etc., all of which can result in a 0 on the assignment and/or an F or XF grade in the course. Ultimately, it negatively affects you: imagine the future disappointment of employers, family, and friends when you turn out to have severe inadequacies as a meteorologist. If you struggle with material, come see me or others for help

Campus Emergencies and Inclement Weather:

Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News ( and communicated to mobile devices, email, the Penn State Face- book page, and Twitter via the PSU Alert System (to sign up, please see https://psualert. 

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. 

Accommodation 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. 

Assistance with Textbooks:

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student Care and Advocacy (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, For additional need related to socioeconomic status please visit


Regular attendance is critical for building on the skills and knowledge developed throughout the class. Students who participate have a more complete understanding of the material presented and are more likely to succeed in the class. This is true whether your attendance is face-to-face or remote. This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35. Please also see the 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. In all cases, you should inform me in advance, when possible. Missing class, even for a legitimate purpose, may mean there is work that cannot be made up, hurting your grade in this class.  In addition to illness (covered below), 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 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.

COVID STUFF: Use the symptom checker of the Penn State GO app every day to see if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.  If you have COVID-19 symptoms or are otherwise not feeling well, DO NOT COME TO CLASS, and seek the advice of a medical professional as appropriate.  If you have been notified or know yourself that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, DO NOT COME TO CLASS and please make sure you have been reported as a close contact. I cannot stress this strongly enough. We are counting on you to help contain the spread of the virus (and other illnesses) on campus.  If you need to isolate (because you are infected or have symptoms and are awaiting a test result) or quarantine (because you were a close contact to an infected person), the Student Support Services Office will let both of us know when you are allowed to attend class again.  If you attend class before the approved date, it will be a student conduct violation, because you are endangering the health of your classmates and me.  While you are in isolation or quarantine, I will work with you to help you maintain progress in the course as you are able.  [This may include participating remotely, watching the recorded class, and/or completing asynchronous course content.]  If you are not in class, you may be contacted by the instructor to check up on you and make sure you are okay.

Note: the University requires this languageAccording to University guidelines, and because of the distancing procedures in place for in-person classes, if someone in the class tests positive, we will continue with our regularly scheduled classes. 

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 

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.

Additionally, I am "Safer People/Safer Places" trained and welcome students who need a safe space to contact me at any time.

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. 

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.