Topics in Synoptic Meteorology

Meteo 512 – Topics in Synoptic Meteorology

Course Syllabus, Spring 2021 Semester 

Dr. Kevin Bowley, 619 Walker Building, 814-863-8253,
Office Hours: Fridays 1:30-2:30 pm or by appointment 

Class Meeting Times & Location
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 12:20-1:10 pm, Zoom and/or 101 Walker 

Course Description: 

The goal of this course is to help students gain an understanding of how the large-scale atmosphere works, and basic relationships among geopotential, geopotential tendency, and vertical motion—in other words, develop intuition about what drives the weather.  At its core, synoptic meteorology is applied dynamics – thus the course blends dynamics with practical applications.  Graduates of the class will be able to explain the weather in terms of rigorous dynamical principles.  The course also will teach pupils much about the early history of our field (e.g., the pioneering contributions of Bjerknes, Petterssen, Sutcliffe, Charney, Sawyer, and Eliassen).  

Topics to be Covered (may change based on class interests and time)

Sutcliffe's development equation; Quasi-geostrophic (QG) theory, including the role of diabatic heating and static stability; Alternative formulations of the QG omega and height-tendency equations (Trenberth formulation, Q vectors, P vectors, C vectors); Potential Vorticity and its applications to a variety of tropospheric settings; Surface and middle-upper tropospheric fronts; Frontogenesis, including the vector form of the frontogenesis function, The geostrophic momentum approximation, semigeostrophic equations, and Sawyer–Eliassen equation.

Textbooks You Might Enjoy (not required)

  • Midlatitude Synoptic Meteorologyby G. Lackmann 
  • Mid-Latitude Atmospheric Dynamicsby J.E. Martin 
  • Mid-Latitude Weather Systemsby T.N. Carlson 
  • Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology and Weather Analysis and Forecasting, edited by L. Bosart and H. Bluestein (Available on Canvas)
  • Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in Midlatitudes, Volume I, Principles of Kinematics and Dynamicsby H. Bluestein 
  • Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology in Midlatitudes, Volume II, Observations and Theory of Weather Systemsby H. Bluestein. 
  • The Life Cycles of Extratropical Cyclonesedited by M. Shapiro and S. Gronas (available from the AMS and on Canvas)

Grading Policy

The final grade for each student will calculated as follows:

  • Assignments 40%
  • Term Project (20% final paper; 10% final presentation) 30%
  • Journal article discussions (leading of, and participation in) 15%
  • Weather discussions (leading of, and participation in) 15% 

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


There will be numerous synoptic laboratory assignments, which will typically be given out every 1.5-2 weeks.  Labs will be due at 5 pm on the due date unless otherwise indicated. Late labs will be assessed a 20% per day late penalty unless otherwise noted.  While students may consult with their classmates on these assignments, the final product should represent the student’s own work. 

Term Project

You’ll be asked to complete a term project that applies knowledge gained in class to a research topic of your choice.  The goal is to do some original research – this could range from a case study of an event to applying synoptic methods toward understanding a phenomena or something else of your choosing.  The final project will consist of a paper (10 pages maximum – 1.5 linespacing (not including references, figures, or tables)) due during final week along with a conference-style presentation (12 minutes + 3 minutes for questions) to be given in the final week of class.  

Journal Article Discussion

We will have a series of journal article discussions throughout the semester.  Some articles will be suggested by the professor, while some will also be provided by you.  For each discussion, one member of the class will be identified to lead the discussion, but all students are expected to contribute to the discussion and to showcase that they have read and thought about the article at hand.  Each student will also be asked to lead 1-2 two discussions where they introduce the class to an article of their own choosing that relates course materials to their professional interests or research.   

Weather Discussions

Though many of you may not be pursuing graduate work in synoptic meteorology, many of you will likely find yourselves in a scenario where you are expected to diagnose the vertical and horizontal motions of the atmosphere, as well as what the ensuing impacts will be (in other words, a diagnostic weather briefing).  Discussions are expected to be ~10 minutes in length and can focus on a current, or past, weather event.  Students are expected to introduce topics from class into their discussions (in other words, I’m looking for you to lead us through a discussion of what we’re seeing, why it’s occurring, and what the implications are).  The instructor will provide the discussions early in the semester to establish a framework for what discussions should involve before transitioning to student-led discussions.  All students are expected to routinely contribute to the discussion beyond just the days they are leading the discussion. 

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: 

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 

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.