Tropical Meteorology

METEO 597 – Tropical Meteorology

Fall 2020 Syllabus 

Classes: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 10:10 – 11:00 am

110 Walker Building** 

Prof. Anthony Didlake
Office: 506 Walker               

Office hours (on Zoom): Tue 2:30-3:30pm, Fri 11am-12pm 

**COVID-19: This course is officially listed as a “COVID Mixed-Mode” class, meaning that some class lectures may be scheduled in person and some on Zoom. Continuous updates on where lectures will be held throughout the semester will be given on Canvas. See more COVID-19-related info in the Attendance section below. 

Course description:  This course builds on the foundations of meteorology you have gained in previous classes to explore atmospheric processes in the tropics. We will examine observations and dynamics of various tropical weather phenomena ranging from small-scale cumulus convection to large-scale circulations. We will spend a significant amount of time covering tropical cyclones with focus on their underlying dynamics. 

Unless otherwise arranged, you are expected to have taken METEO 520, 521 and 531 (or their undergraduate equivalents) prior to this class; you may also find a number of other classes in the department (e.g. METEO 511, 575, 473, 474) and in other departments (e.g. climate system, oceans, programming, statistics) helpful, but none of these classes are assumed or required for successful performance in this course. 

Course objectives

  • Develop a theoretical understanding of the dynamics and thermodynamics of the base state tropical atmosphere
  • Understand and be able to explain the principles underlying the structure, development, and evolution of various tropical phenomena
  • Demonstrate proficiency in the methods for analyzing observations and models of tropical phenomena
  • Develop the ability to review and synthesize scientific literature 

Course outcomes

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the climatology in the tropics and the physical processes underlying the tropical general circulation
  • Demonstrate knowledge of large-scale structures in the tropics and infer likely processes driving smaller-scale phenomena
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the major sources of spatial, seasonal, and interannual tropical variability including tropical waves, ENSO, and MJO.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the dynamics of tropical cyclone maintenance, evolution, and motion 

Course outline (subject to change): 

  1. Introduction to the tropics: Observational overview; Tropical cyclones: Necessary conditions and climatology; Tropical cyclone motion
  1. Tropical convection: Review of moist thermodynamics; Radiative-convective equilibrium; Dynamics of shallow cumulus convection; Dynamics of deep precipitating convection; Mesoscale convective systems
  1. The zonally-averaged tropical circulation: Climatology and energy budget/transport; Governing equations and scaling; Hadley Cell theory
  1. Tropical variability: Monsoon systems; Walker Circulation; 2-Box Model; ENSO; Equatorial waves; Gill Model; Madden-Julien Oscillation; Easterly Waves
  1. Tropical cyclones: Structure; Steady-state physics; Potential Intensity; Observations of TCs; Dynamics of intensity change; Inner core features and asymmetries


  • Introduction to Tropical Meteorology by Laing and Evans. This textbook is available free online at To use this resource, you will have to register with the UCAR/COMET program. Use of all UCAR/COMET modules is free; registration is for tracking purposes only.
  • Additional reading material will be posted on the Canvas class website throughout the semester. 

Grading:  The course grade comprises of: 30% homework, 20% paper discussions, 35% final paper and presentation, 15% class participation. The final grade will be based on a standard grading scale à  A: 93-100%, A-: 90-92%, B+: 87-89%, B: 83-86%, B-: 80-82%, etc. 

Homework – There will be several homework assignments during the semester, each with an equal grade weighting. 

Paper Discussions – Students will lead a 30-45 minute class discussion of at least one journal article that relates to topics covered in class. Papers assignments will be discussed during the second week of class, as well as a list of journal articles we will cover during the semester. 

Final Paper and Presentation – A final paper of no more than 10-12 double-spaced pages is required. Your paper can take the form of either a literature review or a mini-research project. The topics for review or research should be based on any aspect of tropical weather. Topics need to be defined and submitted to me by Week 7 of class. Presentations of your final paper will be done the final week of class and the final paper is due during finals week. 

Academic integrity:  Academic honesty is required and expected in this class. This course adopts the EMS Academic Integrity Policy[1]. Students in this class are expected to write up their homework assignments individually, to work on exams on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations. Class members may work on the homework assignment in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately. Students are not to copy quiz or exam answers from unauthorized source material. Students are also not to copy quiz or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own; students may not plagiarize text from papers written by others. Students who do not abide by these rules will receive at least a 0 on the assignment/quiz/exam and may well receive an F or XF in the course. If in doubt about how the academic integrity policy applies to a specific situation, students are encouraged to consult with the instructor. To learn more, see Penn State’s “Plagiarism Tutorial for Students.”[2] 

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 Office for Disability Services (ODS) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Office for Disability Services 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 based on the documentation guidelines 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. 

Attendance:  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[3] and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35[4]. Please also see Illness Verification Policy[5] and Religious Observance Policy[6]. Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes. 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), 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 and Family Services 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.

Because of classroom size limitations, you will be asked to attend in person only on certain days. Your schedule of attendance will be given to you or available in Canvas. The attendance schedule is designed with the health and safety of everyone in the class in mind, to ensure that we can maintain safe physical distancing during class time. To maintain appropriate social distancing and safety of in-person participants, come only on the day you are scheduled, wearing your mask appropriately (i.e., covering your mouth and nose).

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 on your assigned day, you may be contacted by the instructor or the TA to check up on you and make sure you are okay.

According 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. 

Webcam Requirements:  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. 

Cancellations and 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: 

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 homework or other assignments to any study website constitutes a violation of this policy. 

Course website:  The instructor will use Canvas to communicate with the class electronically. Canvas will also be used to post assignments, handouts, and visuals that are shown in class. 

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:

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 will be posted to the course website on Canvas.

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