Synoptic Meteorology Lab

Meteo 411 – Synoptic Meteorology Lab 

Course Syllabus, Spring 2020 Semester 

Dr. Kevin Bowley, 619 Walker Building, 814-863-8253,
Office Hours: Wednesdays 11-12, Thursdays 9-9:45 

Teaching Assistant
Seth Saslo, 614 Walker Building,  
Office Hours: Tuesdays 3-4 pm (606b Walker), Fridays 11-12 (607 Walker) 

Class Meeting Times & Location
Lectures: Tuesday and Thursday 12:05-1:20 pm, 218A Hosler
Labs: Wednesday and Friday 10:10-11:00am, 607 Walker 

Course Description: 
“The principle task of any meteorological institution of education and research must be to bridge the gap between the mathematician and the practical man, that is, to make the weather man realize the value of a modest theoretical education and induce the theoretical man to take an occasional glance at the weather map.”

~Carl Gustav Rossby 1934 

Synoptic meteorology is the essential link between dynamical meteorology and weather forecasting, theory and applications, mathematics and weather maps.  It is foundational for interpreting weather observations and numerical weather prediction model output. It provides the fundamental conceptual insights to the structure and evolution of mid-latitude weather systems, which are linked to nearly all other aspects of atmospheric science at all scales.  This course seeks to develop techniques for understanding and analyzing synoptic-scale weather situations, with an introduction to weather forecasting. 

Students should expect to immerse themselves in following the day-to-day weather.  A great resource for this is the Penn State E-Wall (  Aspiring forecasters may wish to participate in WxChallenge, the National Forecasting Contest.  Students are also encouraged to attend the weekly Ken Reeves Memorial Weather Briefing. 

Course Goals and Objectives:

  1. To demonstrate skills for the analysis of synoptic-scale surface and upper-air observations of the atmosphere.
  2. To demonstrate familiarity with the principles underlying the structure, development, and evolution of synoptic-scale weather systems.
  3. To demonstrate knowledge of the Norwegian cyclone model and its use as a conceptual framework for the analysis of atmospheric structure at the synoptic scale.
  4. To demonstrate knowledge of the methods for determining vertical motion in the atmosphere qualitatively.
  5. To demonstrate knowledge of the role of the upper-level flow (e.g., the jet stream) in the development of extratropical cyclones.
  6. To demonstrate the ability to apply quasi-geostrophic theory to the development and evolution of fronts and extratropical cyclones 

Course Prerequisites: 

  • Meteorology Prerequisite: Meteo 101 or Meteo 201 or Meteo 200A/B
  • Mathematics Prerequisite: Math 230 or Math 231 (Vector Calculus)
  • Prerequisite or Concurrent: Meteo 421 (Dynamics), Meteo 431 (Thermodynamics) 

Note: Meteo 411 is a required course for all undergraduate Meteorology majors. 

Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct:  If you are not in compliance with the listed prerequisites and have not already contacted me, please do so immediately. 

Required and Optional Materials:

  • Required Materials: A set of colored pencils
  • Required textbooks: None
  • Recommended textbooks (on reserve in the EMS library):
    • Midlatitude Synoptic Meteorology: Dynamics, Analysis, and Forecasting, by Gary Lackmann (American Meteorological Society, 2011)
    • Mid-Latitude Atmospheric Dynamics: A First Course, by Jonathan E. Martin (John Wiley and Sons, 2006)
    • Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in the Midlatitudes, Volume 1: Principles of Kinematics and Dynamics, Oxford University Press: New York, 1992
    • Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in the Midlatitudes, Volume 2: Observations and Theory of Weather Systems, Oxford University Press: New York, 1993
  • Internet materials and links: CANVAS 

Content, Assignments and Grading

The final grade for each student will calculated as follows:

  • Exam 1 17/23%*
  • Exam 2 17/23%*
  • Final Exam 25%
  • Quizzes 10%
  • Labs 15%
  • Weather Briefing 5%
  • Attendance / Participation 5% 

Grades will be assigned as: A (93-100%), A- (90-92%), B+ (87-89%), B (83-86%), B- (80-83%), C+ (75-79%), C (70-74%), D (60-69%), F (0-59%).

*Higher of your two midterms will count for 23% of the final mark, and lower of your two midterms will count for 17% of your final mark. 

Required written/oral assignments 

There will be numerous synoptic laboratory assignments, which will typically be given out during the first half of the week, and will be due by the beginning of the laboratory session on Wednesday (10:10 am) the following week.  You will always have at least three days to complete a lab. There will be an immediate 25% penalty for any lab handed in late, a 50% penalty after one day, and no credit will be given for labs handed in after the start of the next lab (Friday 10:10 am).  Professor maintains the right to decline acceptance of a late assignment beyond a certain time.  Neatness, organization, technical soundness, spelling and grammar are important.  While students may consult with their classmates on these assignments, the final product should represent the student’s own work. 

Each student (either individually, or as a team) will be required to orally present a weather briefing / forecast discussion to the class.  These are around 10-15 minutes in length, and will describe recent weather events and forecasts through the context of the concepts learned in class.  The faculty will provide examples of these during the early part of the semester. 

Examination Policy 

Weekly quizzes will be given each Friday (except during exam weeks) during the lab session. These will cover topics recently covered in class lectures or the laboratory exercises, and are good practice for the exams.  There will be no make-up quizzes, although the lowest quiz grade will be dropped. 

Two midterms and one final exam will be given.  These will be closed-book, individual written assessments.  Tentative exam dates are February 18/20 (week 6) and March 30/April 2 (week 11).  The final exam date will be scheduled by the University. 

Attendance and Participation: Students are required to attend class (both lectures and labs) and participate in all exercises.  Active, thoughtful contributions to class discussions are encouraged. 

Tentative schedule: 

The course content, topics, and timeline listed here is intended as a guideline, and is subject to modification by the instructors. 

Course content: 

Weeks |Topics | Pages in Lackmann 

  • 1-2                 
    Introduction to synoptic scale 1-3
    Essentials: gradient, advection, equations 4-11
    Hydrostatic approximation 4-11
  • 3-4                 
    Cross sections, potential temperature 
    Thickness and applications 11-18
    Thermal wind balance 11-18
    Mass continuity, diffluence/confluence
    Surface pressure tendency equation
  • 5-6                 
    Satellite and radar imagery
    Numerical Weather Prediction 252-255; 294-300
    Predictability and Ensemble Forecasting
  • 7-8                 
    Ageostrophic wind, gradient wind, jet streaks 37-38
    Vorticity and vorticity advection 18-24
  • 8-9                 
    Midlatitude cyclones, conveyor belts 119-126
    Characteristics of fronts, occlusions 131-134; 148-157
  • 10-11             
    Quasigeostrophic (QG) theory 35-56
    QG vorticity, thermodynamic, omega equations
  • 12-13             
    Cyclogenesis in context of QG theory
    Frontogenesis equation 135-140
  • 14-15             
    Potential vorticity & applications 79-93
    Blocking, zonal indices, low-frequency variability
    Synoptic Setup for Severe Weather 

Lecture notes will often be placed on CANVAS (, although students are ultimately responsible for their own note-taking.  It is reasonable that material covered during lectures, through laboratory exercises, and in forecast discussions may appear on quizzes and tests.  Reading the corresponding sections in the optional Lackmann textbook may and understanding of the course material. 

Academic Integrity

Students in this class are expected to write up their problem sets, quiz, and term paper on their own.  Class members may, however, work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately.  Labs will be submitted as a group assignment.  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." 

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: 

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.


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

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.