METEO 421- Atmospheric Dynamics

Spring 2014Instructor: Prof. Marcelo Chamecki Office: 506 Walker Phone: (814) 863-3920 Email:

Meteo 421 – Atmospheric Dynamics

Spring 2014
Instructor: Prof. Marcelo Chamecki
Office: 506 Walker
Phone: (814) 863-3920

Office hours: M W 4:30PM–5:30PM
Meetings: Lectures: M W F 12:20PM–01:10PM in 105 Walker
Recitation: Th 08:00AM–09:15AM in 105 Walker
Teaching Assistant: Petros Kalogeras
Office: 530 Walker
Office hours: T 11:00AM–12:00PM and Th 12:00PM–13:00PM


Math 230 (or Math 231 & 232) and Meteo 300. Concurrent: Math 251, Phys 212, and Meteo 431. Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period after being informed in writing by the instructor1.If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who re-enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct2 .

Course content

This course builds on the foundation laid in Meteo 300, Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science, by presenting applications of the equations of motion to the description of a variety of atmospheric motions. 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 that 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. (There are differences between this description and that in the blue book. Specifically, the following topics are no longer covered: isallobaric and convective isallobaric winds; barotropic and baroclinic instability; and for the general circulation, longitudinally dependent features, the angular momentum budget, and the Lorenz energy cycle).
See 2

Course objectives

  1. Students can demonstrate skills in applying calculus to the quantitative description of atmospheric phenomena.

  2. Students can 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

  1. Students can demonstrate the ability to apply the equations of motion to the quantitative description of a variety of atmospheric motions including the general circulation.

  2. Students can demonstrate knowledge of balanced and unbalanced flows that form the basis for the depiction of atmospheric motions.

  3. Students can demonstrate knowledge of the rotational aspects of large-scale atmospheric motions as described by vorticity and circulation.

  4. Students can demonstrate the ability to apply wave dynamics and stability concepts to atmospheric problems.

Textbook and course outline:

The required textbook for this course will be An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, 5th edition, by J. R. Holton and G. J. Hakim. The book covers most of the topics that will be presented in the course. The reading assignments and part of the homework problems will be specified from the textbook. It is essential that all text assignments are carefully read. In addition, the assigned sections constitute a minimal portion of what should be read. Students should identify other sections and other reference books (some suggestions listed below) according to their own interests. Additional reading material will be posted on Angel . A rough outline of the course with the corresponding chapters in the textbook to guide your readings is provided below.

  1. Review of METEO300 (Chapters 1–3)
    Equations of motion (spherical coordinates and rotating frame of reference)
    Scale analysis
    Balanced flows
  2. Circulation and vorticity (Chapter 4)
  3. Atmospheric oscillations and instabilities (selected portions of chapters 2, 3, 5, 7)
  4. Atmospheric wave motion (Chapter 5)
  5. The general circulation (we will not use Holton & Hakim for this)

Course evaluation:

Students will be evaluated based on two midterms, a final exam, and several homework sets. While you are encouraged to discuss the homework problems with your colleagues, the work you then hand in under your name is to be summarized and written down by you. Homeworks will be distributed on Friday after the lecture and will be due on the following Friday at the beginning of the recitation period (8:00AM). I do not give full marks for homework sets handed after the due date (late homeworks should be discussed directly with me, the TA is not allowed to accept late homeworks, so do not ask her to do it). Final grade composition:

  1. 20% - Homework
  2. 25% - Midterms
  3. 30% - Final

Tentative schedule:

  • Midterm 1 – Friday February 27th (during recitation or evening)
  • Midterm 2 – Friday April 10th (during recitation or evening)
  • Final – To be determined

Except for illness, make-up exams will be conducted only for students who make arrangements with me prior to the scheduled exam time. 

Recitation periods will be used for in-class problems sets, which constitute an integral part of the course material to be covered in the exams. You are required to attend the recitation and to work on the problem sets. During the recitation I will help students in developing their problem-solving skills, which will be required for homeworks and exams. Problem sets from the recitation will not be graded.


This course abides by the Penn State Class Attendance policy given at Students should attend every class and recitation and should be held responsible for all work covered in the course.

List of recommended references:

This is a list of useful references for our course. I strongly recommend that you choose at least one or two of these books as additional sources of information to our textbook .

  1. Introductory books (similar level as Holton & Hakim):
    • Introduction to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics by B. Cushman-Roisin
    • Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate Dynamics by J. Marshall and R. A. Plumb
    • Introduction to Circulating Atmospheres by I. N. James.
  2. More advanced books (useful as references for more in-depth treatment of the material):
    • The Ceaseless Wind: an Introduction to the Theory of Atmospheric Motion by J. A. Dutton
    • Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics by A. E. Gill
    • Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics by G. K. Vallis

Academic integrity:

Students in this class are expected to write up their problem sets individually, to work the exams on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations. Class members may work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately. 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 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. For information about the Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy, which this course adopts, please see:

Accommodations for students with disabilities:

The Office of Disability Services requests and maintains disability-related documents; certifies eligibility for services; determines academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services; and develops plans for the provision of academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services as mandated under Title II of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A list of these services is provided at

Campus emergencies, including weather delays:

Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State Live ( and communicated to cellphones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUTXT (to sign up, please see