Tropical Meteorology

METEO 597 – Tropical Meteorology

Fall 2018 Syllabus 

Classes: Tue/Thu 12:05 – 1:20 pm, 110 Sackett Building 


Prof. Anthony Didlake
Office: 506 Walker

Office hours: By appointment 

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 
  1. Tropical convection
    Review of moist thermodynamics; radiative-convective equilibrium; dynamics of shallow convection; dynamics of precipitating convection; mesoscale convective systems; interaction between convection and large-scale flow; convection feedbacks 
  1. The zonally-averaged tropical circulation
    Observed climatology; governing equations and scaling at low latitudes; Hadley Cell theory 
  1. Tropical variability
    Monsoon systems; Walker Circulation; El Niño/Southern Oscillation; equatorial waves; easterly waves; Madden-Julien Oscillation 
  1. Tropical cyclones
    Structure and climatology; steady-state dynamics; dynamics of intensity changes; tropical cyclogenesis; tropical cyclone motion; inner core features and asymmetries; ocean interaction; extratropical transition 


  • 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: 25% homework, 20% paper discussions, 35% final paper and presentation, 20% 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 Spring Break. 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, 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 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 and may well receive an F 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:  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. 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 and Family Services for help: Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office: ( at least one week prior to the activity. 

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 Eductional 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 will be posted to the course discussion forum. 

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