METEO 004 (GN)

Weather and Risk, Spring 2014 Instructor: Christopher Melhauser 601 Walker Building

Meteorology 004 (GN)


A non-technical introduction to the science and historical development of meteorology, and to the role of weather forecasting as a tool of risk management used by individuals, organizations, and societies.

When/Where:  Mon/Wed/Fri, 9:05 to 9:55am, 112 Walker
Office hours:  Tue 10-11am, Wed 2:30-3:30pm, Fri 10-11am, or by appointment.
Exams :

  • Midterm #1: Mon, Feb 17: 6:30-7:45pm; 173 Willard
  • Midterm #2: Mon, Apr 7: 6:30-7:45pm; 173 Willard

Final: TBD by University


There are no course prerequisites for Meteorology 004.  However, I assume that you can use standard programs such as MS Word or Google Docs and spreadsheet software such as MS Excel or Google Spreadsheet. I also assume that you can write clearly in English, use a library, conduct research, and cite research sources appropriately.


This course will heavily utilize the ANGEL course management system for distribution of assignments, data, notes, etc.  You should get in the habit of checking ANGEL before each class to see if lecture materials have been posted.

From time to time, I will do a 5-10 minute weather discussion at the start of class.  In these discussions, I will introduce some of the weather-related products on the web, and you should consider the information conveyed in these discussions as part of the course.  I will use the following websites frequently as a starting point for weather discussions:


A reading packet is required.  It is available at the Penn State Bookstore.  There is also online reading material available on ANGEL. A detailed calendar of reading assignments is attached to this syllabus.  In addition, I will reference the following books during the semester. They are on reserve in the Earth and Mineral Sciences library in Deike Building.

  • Dray, Philip (2005). Stealing God's Thunder:  Benjamin Franklin's Lightning Rod and the Invention of America. New York, NY: Random House.
  • Galilei, Galileo (1989). Sidereus Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger), translated by Albert Van Helden. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
  • National Research Council (U.S.) (2003). Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services.  Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[1] Note: Please indicate any schedule conflicts pertaining to the evening midterm exams (both #1 and #2) by: Fri. Jan. 31, end of class. Otherwise, attendance is mandatory unless evidence of extreme circumstances is presented to the instructor.


Your final course grade will be determined by your performance on four projects, three exams, and numerous quizzes, with contributions weighted as follows:


Project #1: 12%  Weather Derivatives (Due: Fri, Feb 7)
Project #2: 10%  Meteorological Data Analysis (Due: Fri, Mar 7)             
Project #3: 15%  Trading Journal / Weather Market (Due: Fri, Apr 18)
Project #4:   8%  Catastrophe Modeling (Due: Fri, May 2)


Weekly      10%   Online


Exam 1      15%
Exam 2      15%
Exam 3      15%  (non-comprehensive)
TOTAL     100%

The four projects, while differing in format, all address the relationship between forecasting, data analysis, and decision-making. All assignments are to be completed individually; collaboration is encouraged, but everyone must turn in their own assignment in their own words.

There will be two evening exams with the third exam taking place during finals week (non-comprehensive, scheduled by the University). In weeks when there is not an exam, there will be an online quiz conducted via the ANGEL course management system, thus, there will be 13 online quizzes, the top 10 quiz scores will be used to calculate the final quiz grade.  The quiz during week 1 will be a “dry run” and will not count toward your grade.  A particular week’s quiz-taking window will run from 10:00am on Monday of that week (right after class ends) to 11:55 pm that Wednesday.  Once you start a quiz you must finish it and you may take each quiz only once.  A given week’s quiz will include material covered in class from the previous week’s classes and reading material. The quizzes will be multiple choice. Because of the online nature of the quizzes and the flexibility of dropping two quizzes, there will be no make-up quizzes unless evidence of extreme circumstances is presented to the instructor.

Though attendance is not formally part of the course grade, I will occasionally pass around a sign-in sheet.  In cases of grades that are borderline, I will use your attendance (or lack thereof) as the deciding factor.


Meteorology 004 covers a range of topics involving the historical development of meteorology and weather forecasting, both as scientific disciplines and as tools for decision-making.  Topics to be discussed include: the distinction between pre-modern and folklore-based foretelling techniques and forecast methods derived from general scientific principles; the complementary roles of instrumentation, theory and computation in creating forecasts; the uses of weather forecasts for risk management in transportation, agriculture, energy, and other sectors; and risk mitigation efforts including transferring and diversifying risks. These topics will be organized around several major themes that provide a structure to the course.

  • The first theme is perhaps the most fundamental – human beings have throughout history held universally an urge to foretell the future – and thus, perhaps, to make plans advantageously.  What differs profoundly across cultures, however, are the styles and methods of the forecasting techniques. A society’s foretelling techniques tell us a great deal about their view of how the universe is organized.

  • This connection between foretelling techniques and worldview is the second theme of the course. In particular, in order to aspire to develop broadly applicable rules of forecasting, one must believe that nature has an underlying regularity.  Only one who believes in a fundamentally orderly universe will conceive that it might be possible to develop a stable theory that describes this order, and to use this theory repeatedly and reliably as the basis for prediction and decision-making. One must further believe that this regularity can, through research, be investigated, examined, and revealed. Someone who believes that we are buffeted incomprehensibly by chance, chaos, or the “whims of the gods” would likely never think of undertaking such a project.

  • A third theme of the course is the power of using fundamental laws of physics as the basis for a theory of meteorology. From a remarkable handful of basic principles, one can derive – deduce – explanations for a vast range of observed weather phenomena. Even more striking, these same principles can be used as the foundation of a system to predict future weather events. Modern weather forecasting systems can offer credible predictions across the entire globe, under a wide range of conditions. While not perfect, these systems have a remarkable track record of success, and are consistently improving.

  • A fourth theme is the critical role of instrumentation in providing the quantitative basis for weather forecasting. Without measurement, there can be lively discussion, but there can be no real quantitative science. Nor can there be any successful quantitative prediction. The advance of instrumentation parallels, and makes possible, the advance of fundamental understanding in atmospheric science, and the improvement of weather forecasting systems.

  • A fifth theme of the course is verification – analysis in which predictions are compared against observations of what actually came to pass.  Real science involves a constant back-and-forth between induction and deduction: from observations we draw general principles, or theories; the implications of these theories are checked against observations. This back-and-forth conversation between data and theory is the essence of the scientific method.

  • The sixth theme concerns the social context of meteorology. Developments in weather forecasting have not proceeded solely from improvements in scientific knowledge. Society’s demand for managing risk has acted as a constant and equally important spur on efforts to improve forecasts. There is a two-way conversation that connects forecast producers with forecast consumers and decision-makers.

  • The final theme concerns risk management efforts of weather related risks by both the private and public sectors. Many strategies are employed to manage risk including transferring the risk to another party (e.g. weather derivatives, insurance and reinsurance, catastrophe bonds), avoiding the risk (i.e. identifying and eliminating risks, projecting future risks), reducing the negative effect of the risk (i.e. accumulation management, diversification), or taking on a portion or all of the risk.

These themes, and all the concepts associated with them, may seem a bit obscure or overwhelming at the outset of the course. It is nonetheless useful to lay them out all at once at the beginning. We will return to them throughout the course.


This course adheres to the College of EMS academic integrity policy (, a portion of which is reproduced below.

“Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. Consistent with this expectation, all students should act with personal integrity, respect other students' dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception.  A first cheating infraction will lead to a score of zero on the examination or assignment in which the violation occurred, and a second incident will result in an F grade (failure) in the course.”


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


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