Synoptic Meteorology Lab

Meteo 411 – Synoptic Meteorology Lab

Course Syllabus, Spring 2021 Semester 


Dr. Kevin Bowley, 619 Walker Building, 814-863-8253,
Office Hours: Thursdays 2:30-4:00 pm 

Teaching Assistant

Arkayan Samaddar, 413 Walker Building,  
Office Hours: TBA 

Class Meeting Times & Location

  • Lectures: Tuesday and Thursday 12:05-1:20 pm, Zoom and/or 103 Walker
  • Labs: Wednesday and Friday 10:10-11:00am, Zoom and/or 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 every 1.5 weeks.  Labs will be due at 5 pm on the due date unless otherwise indicated. Late labs will be assessed a 25%/day late penalty.  The 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 during our lab periods.  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 professor 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 two quiz grades will be dropped. 

Two midterms and one final exam will be given.  These will be individually-written assessments.  Preliminary exam dates are Thursday, February 25; Thursday, April 1; and TBA (final exam schedules will be released during the semester).    

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
    • Self-development
    • 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 aid 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. 

This course follows the EMS academic integrity procedures ( Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting other's work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other student's papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. 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. 

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know.


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. 


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 in person or remote.  The University recognizes that, on exceptional occasions, students may miss a class meeting to participate in a regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activity (such as field trips, debate trips, choir trips, and athletic contests), or due to unavoidable or other legitimate circumstances such as illness, injury, military service, family emergency, religious observance, participation in local, state, and federal government elections, or post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as elections or employment and graduate school final interviews).  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.  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:  You should be prepared to provide documentation for participation in University-approved activities, as well as for career-related interviews.  You should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form:, at least one week prior to the activity. 

Course Delivery Format: 

This course is being offered in COVID-mixed mode.  For the first three weeks of the semester (until February 15), all course meetings will be online-only.  The instructor will make a decision on the remaining course delivery based on University guidance, public health conditions, class feedback, and instructor comfort (ie. this course may resume mixed-mode meetings but may also remain online all semester).  Any student may take the course remote the entire semester at their preference.  

In the instance of a return to in-person meetings:

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 physical 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 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.

Technical Requirements for web meetings:


For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page (, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk ( - for World Campus students) or the ITS Help Desk ( for students at all other campus locations). 

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot. 

Mixed Content

This site (Canvas) is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our technical requirements page to view the mixed content. 

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements. 

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

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

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: 

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:

Accessible Syllabus

Notes: Any syllabus posted online (e.g. a Word/PDF file or an online syllabus) should make destinations clickable links such as is done throughout this page. Also, in order to comply with Penn State Policy AD69(Accessibility of Penn State Web Pages,, PDF documents cannot be the sole source of presenting online information. Such documents include syllabi, homework assignments, and scanned notes.  

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 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 within policy.  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. 

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

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.