METEO 411: Synoptic Meteorology Laboratory

Instructor: Dr. Jon Nese TA's: Andrew Thomas and Scott Loeffler Lecture: Tue & Thu, 11:15 AM - 12:30 PM, 101 Walker Lab: Wed & Fri, 10:10 - 11:00 AM, 607 Walker

Meteorology 411: Synoptic Meteorology Laboratory 
Spring Semester 2016 

Course Description. Techniques for understanding and analyzing synoptic-scale weather situations, with an introduction to weather forecasting. 

  • Instructor. , 518 Walker, 863-4076, Twitter: @jmnese
  • Office Hours. Mon 330-430PM, Thu 130-230PM, Fri 800-900AM, and by appointment
  • When/Where.    
    • Lecture: Tue & Thu, 11:15 AM - 12:30 PM, 101 Walker
    • Lab: Wed & Fri, 10:10 - 11:00 AM, 607 Walker 
  • TA's: 
  •  Prerequisites.          
    • Meteo 101 or Meteo 201; Math 230 or Math 231; Prerequisite or concurrent: Meteo 421 and Meteo 431 (Note:  Meteo 411 is required for all Meteorology majors) 

Enrollment policy.  Students who do not meet the prerequisites may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period after being informed in writing by the instructor (see:  If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then consult with the instructor.  Students who re-enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of the Student Code of Conduct ( 

Materials: Required: A set of color pencils. In addition, there are two optional texts on reserve in the EMS library:

  • Mid-latitude Synoptic Meteorology, by Gary Lackmann
  • Mid-latitude Weather Systems, by Toby Carlson 

Course Objectives

  • To demonstrate skills for the analysis of synoptic-scale surface and upper-air observations of the atmosphere.
  • To demonstrate familiarity with the principles underlying the structure, development, and evolution of synoptic-scale weather systems.

Course Outcomes 

  • To demonstrate knowledge of the Norwegian cyclone model and its use as a conceptual framework for the analysis of atmospheric structure at the synoptic scale.
  • To demonstrate knowledge of the methods for determining vertical motion in the atmosphere qualitatively.
  • To demonstrate knowledge of the role of the upper-level flow (e.g., the jet stream) in the development of extratropical cyclones.
  • To demonstrate the ability to apply quasi-geostrophic theory to the development and evolution of fronts and extratropical cyclones 

Class Notes & Web: I usually place lecture materials on ANGEL prior to class. Printing these materials before class will greatly facilitate your note-taking. Lecture notes will be the main resource for this course, along with information gleaned from laboratory exercises and map discussions.  I will frequently use and, of course, the Penn State e-wall 

Assessment Tools.  There will be two exams during the semester, in class on Thursday February 18 and Thursday April 7.  The final exam will be scheduled by the university during finals week. There will be a quiz each Friday except the weeks of the exams and the last week. There will be no make-up quizzes, but I’ll drop your lowest two quiz grades.

Also, there will be numerous laboratory assignments (on the order of one per week).  You will always have at least two days to complete a lab. There will be an immediate 25% penalty for any lab handed in late, a 50% penalty after six hours, and no credit will be given for labs handed in more than 24 hours late.  Neatness, organization, technical soundness, spelling and grammar are important!  You may work together on the labs, but the work you submit must be uniquely your own (see Academic Integrity policy).

Each student will also give two weather briefings during the semester (details provided in class).  The weather briefings will be worth (cumulatively) 10% of your final grade, so THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT AND MUST GIVEN THE PROPER ATTENTION. 

Grading. The weighting of the components of your course grade is as follows:

  • Exam 1 - 13%
  • Exam 2 - 15%
  • Final Exam: 22%
  • Quizzes: 10%
  • Labs: 25%
  • Weather Briefings: 10%
  • Participation / Attendance** 5%

** Attendance, as well as active, thoughtful contributions to class discussions are expected and will be translated into a contribution of between 0 and 5% to your overall course grade. Regarding attendance, this course abides by the Penn State Class Attendance policy given at  Basically, I assume you’re in class unless you have an approved excuse, and you’re responsible for all that you miss. 

A standard grading scale will apply to the course, shown below:

  • A 90-100
  • B 80-90
  • C 70-80
  • D 60-70
  • F <60

However, I will use the ‘-‘ and ‘+’ system as well.  For example, a grade just below 90 may receive a B+.  Also, I may curve the grades, so it is possible that the thresholds will go down (for example, the boundary between and A and a B may be less than 90).

Course Outline

Weeks / Topics / Pages in Lackmann

  • Weeks 1-2
    • Introduction to synoptic scale: 1-3
    • Essentials: gradient, advection, equations, fronts: 4-11
    • Hydrostatic approximation: 4-11
  • Weeks 3-4
    • Cross sections, potential temperature
    • Adiabatic method of obtaining omega
    • Thickness and applications: 11-18
    • Thermal wind balance: 11-18
  • Weeks 5-7
    • Mass continuity, diffluence/confluence
    • Surface pressure tendency equation
    • Satellite and radar imagery
    • Numerical weather prediction: 252-255; 294-300
    • Predictability and ensemble forecasting
  • Weeks 8-9
    • Ageostrophic wind, gradient wind, jet streaks: 37-38
    • Vorticity and vorticity advection: 18-24
  • Weeks 10-12
    • Midlatitude cyclones, conveyor belts: 119-126
    • Self-development
    • Characteristics of fronts, occlusions: 131-134; 148-157
    • Frontogenesis equation: 135-140
  • Weeks 13-14
    • Quasigeostrophic (QG) theory: 35-56
    • QG vorticity, thermodynamic, omega equations: Cyclogenesis in context of QG theory
  • Week 15
    • Potential vorticity & applications: 79-93
    • Blocking, zonal indices, low-frequency variability
    • Synoptic Setup for Severe Weather 

Instructor’s Philosophy.  This course is intended to provide a solid foundation for you to apply to forecasting.  As an outlet for aspiring forecasters, there will be an optional forecasting contest beginning mid-semester.  Top finishers will be awarded points on their final grade (details forthcoming). 

Regardless of your interest in forecasting, we will talk about the day-to-day weather in this class.  Therefore, I recommend you spend a few minutes each day at the electronic map wall, immersing yourself in the weather – past, present, and future.

“The principle task of any meteorological institution of education and research must be to bridge the gap between the mathematician and the practical man, that is, to make the weather man realize the value of a modest theoretical education and induce the theoretical man to take an occasional glance at the weather map.” Carl Gustav Rossby 1934

Academic integrity.  Integrity is fundamental not only to one’s experience at the university, but remains essential throughout one’s career.  For information about the EMS Integrity Policy, which this course adopts, see:

Here’s a brief interpretation of that integrity policy, as it applies specifically to this course:  You may never copy answers from another person and present them as your own.  This applies to quizzes, exams, and problem sets.  You are allowed to discuss the problem sets with other students, but the work you turn in must be your own, in your own words.  Suspicion of copying on problem sets will result in an immediate 50% reduction for the first offense, and an F for the course on the second offense.  Cheating on exams or quizzes will result in an immediate F for the course.  If in doubt about how the academic integrity policy applies to a specific situation, students are encouraged to consult with the instructor. 

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

Cancellations and 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