Atmospheric Dynamics

METEO 421 – Atmospheric Dynamics

Spring 2021 Syllabus 

MWF 12:20 – 1:10 pm, Zoom**
Thu 3:05 – 4:20 pm, Zoom** 

Prof. Anthony Didlake
Office hours: Mon 4-5pm, Wed 4:30-5:30pm, or by appointment, Zoom** 

Teaching Assistant:
Fan Wu
Office hours: Tue 4:30-5:30pm, Thu 4:30-5:30pm, or by appointment, Zoom** 

**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. The semester will begin with classes and recitations on Zoom only. Classes/recitations may be held in-person later in the semester, with a synchronous option also 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. 

Required Courses:  Prerequisites: Meteo 300 (Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science), Math 230 (Calculus and Vector Analysis or Math 231 & 232), and Phys 212 (General Physics:  Electricity and Magnetism). Prerequisite or concurrent: Meteo 431 (Atmospheric Thermodynamics), and Math 251 (Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations). Enrollment Policy – 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. If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then consult with the instructor. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct

Class Structure:  Lectures will be on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The recitation period will be on Thursday and will be used to work on a detailed exercise that will be graded for completion credit. 

Course Description:  This four-credit course, required of all meteorology majors, builds on the foundation laid in METEO 300, Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science, by applying the equations of motion to a variety of atmospheric phenomena. The intrinsically rotational aspects of large-scale atmospheric motions are presented through a discussion of vorticity dynamics (including both relative and planetary vorticity) and the related circulation theorems of Kelvin and Bjerknes, which culminate in potential vorticity thinking. The contrast between oscillating and unstable atmospheric systems is highlighted using the examples of gravitational, inertial, and shear instability, and the parcel and perturbation methods are introduced for studying these systems. An introduction to wave dynamics presents the concepts of phase and group velocity with applications to gravity, inertial, and Rossby waves, and to geostrophic adjustment. Finally, the general circulation, including the major zonal wind systems (e.g., the mid-latitude westerlies) and the major overturning cells (Hadley and Ferrel cells) is discussed quantitatively to provide a description of planetary-scale motions. 

Course Objectives

  • Demonstrate skills in applying calculus to the quantitative description of atmospheric phenomena
  • Demonstrate familiarity with how basic physical laws are applied to provide knowledge of the development and evolution of weather phenomena primarily at the planetary and synoptic scales 

Course Outcomes

  • Demonstrate the ability to apply the equations of motion to the quantitative description of a variety of atmospheric motions including the general circulation
  • Demonstrate knowledge of balanced and unbalanced flows that form the basis for the depiction of atmospheric motions
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the rotational aspects of large-scale atmospheric motions as described by vorticity and circulation
  • Demonstrate the ability to apply wave dynamics and stability concepts to atmospheric problems 

Course outline:

  1. Fundamental equations and balances (~3 weeks)
  2. Circulation and vorticity (~4 weeks)
  3. Simple oscillations and instabilities (~2.5 weeks)
  4. Atmospheric wave motion (~3.5 weeks)
  5. General circulation of the atmosphere (~2 weeks) 

A detailed course schedule with specific topics, readings, and homework due dates is given separately on Canvas

Required course materials:  Holton, J. R. and G. J. Hakim, 2013. An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, 5th Edition, Elsevier Academic Press, 532 pp., ISBN 978-0-12-384866. An online version is available for Penn State students for free ( There are a few additional required readings from other sources, which will be made available to you. Readings are assigned for each topic as shown in the detailed syllabus. Taking notes on the readings and working out derivations with a pencil and paper will help you retain the material. 

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

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

Homework:  Homework assignments will be given every Wednesday (except during exam weeks) and due on the following Wednesday at the beginning of class. Homework should be submitted on Canvas. Late homework (up to 48 hours late) will be accepted with a 10% penalty for each day. Homework assignments are equally weighted. You will get a point bonus for typing your homework. 

Exams:  There will be two exams given throughout the semester. The first exam is tentatively scheduled for 6:00-7:15pm Thu March 11. The second exam is scheduled during finals week. The exams are not cumulative. The weighting of the two exams in your final grade depends on each exam score. Your higher scoring exam will be worth 35% of your final grade, and your lower scoring exam will be worth 25%.   

Grades:  The weighting of the components of your course grade is as follows: 30% homework, 60% exams, 10% recitation exercises. 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. The instructor reserves the right to curve the grades to make this grading scale easier. 

Academic integrity:  Academic honesty is required and expected in this class. This course adopts the EMS academic integrity procedures[1]. Students in this class are expected to write up their homework assignments individually, to work on their 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 exam answers from unauthorized source material. Students are also not to copy 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." 

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 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.

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.  

Change in Normal Campus Operations: Campus emergencies, including weather delays and closures, 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 labs, homework, or other assignments to any study website constitutes a violation of this policy. 

Reporting Educational Equity Concern:  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 

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.

[1] See