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Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather

Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather

Professor Robert G. Fovell Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Course No.  1796
Course No.  1796
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Famed physicist Richard Feynman once said, "Anyone who has been in a thunderstorm has enjoyed it, or has been frightened by it, or at least has had some emotion. And in those places in nature where we get an emotion, we find there is generally a corresponding complexity and mystery about it."

In the world of weather, you don't have to look far for that complexity, that mystery, or that heart-pounding emotion.

Consider, for example, the rushing Santa Ana winds that sweep into the Los Angeles basin with startling force. They descend from the cold heights of the mountains, yet they are dry and hot as any desert, bringing with them the smell of fire and parched summer days. What drives these powerful winds, and what is the source of their searing heat?

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Famed physicist Richard Feynman once said, "Anyone who has been in a thunderstorm has enjoyed it, or has been frightened by it, or at least has had some emotion. And in those places in nature where we get an emotion, we find there is generally a corresponding complexity and mystery about it."

In the world of weather, you don't have to look far for that complexity, that mystery, or that heart-pounding emotion.

Consider, for example, the rushing Santa Ana winds that sweep into the Los Angeles basin with startling force. They descend from the cold heights of the mountains, yet they are dry and hot as any desert, bringing with them the smell of fire and parched summer days. What drives these powerful winds, and what is the source of their searing heat?

Or imagine that symbol of fierce prairie weather, the tornado. How do these intense swirling winds acquire their spin? And why do we find these twisting winds in the flat lands of the Midwest, but in few other places?

Pursuing the answers to questions like these is more than just an interesting intellectual exercise. Weather affects our lives each and every day, often determining where we can go and what we can do. But meteorology—the study of weather—is also a grand puzzle. From the swirling winds to the transformation of water vapor into clouds, each meteorological event is a tremendously complex interaction of forces and factors. To grasp the mystery of these phenomena is to understand a remarkably complex system and, ultimately, to gain a glimpse into the way all complex systems work.

In Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather, you embark on a fascinating foray into this complex and enthralling field of study. In 24 engaging lectures, you explore the often surprising, always intriguing workings of the weather, guided by expert atmospheric scientist and Professor Robert G. Fovell. Bringing together geography, chemistry, physics, and other scientific disciplines, the study of weather offers insights into the world around you while also providing an opportunity to grasp the complex interactions that make up our world's climate.

A Complex Subject Made Accessible

Why is it often cooler by the shore than it is inland? Why are there deserts in some regions and rainforests in others? What makes the sky blue, clouds white, and the setting sun red?

With Professor Fovell's guidance, you'll probe the reasons behind everyday phenomena and gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic relationships and physical laws that shape our planet's climate. Professor Fovell takes a practical approach to weather, providing explanations that draw on common sense and everyday experience to make intricate interactions clear and accessible.

The course opens with a series of lectures that introduce the fundamental concepts of meteorology:

  • the structure of the atmosphere
  • the physics of gases, liquids, and solids
  • the impact of the Earth's shape and movement on weather
  • the factors that drive winds and affect the ability of air to hold moisture
  • the effect of solar radiation on the Earth and its atmosphere
  • the processes that create clouds

In later lectures, you build on these fundamental concepts to develop a full understanding of large-scale weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and global climate patterns.

Along the way, Professor Fovell brings these concepts to life with concrete demonstrations, illustrative examples, and compelling videos and images. With each explanation, Professor Fovell describes these complicated phenomena in down-to-earth, easy-to-understand terms to create an accessible picture of the Earth's weather.

Probing Weather's Mysteries

As you build your knowledge of how weather works, you'll delve into remarkable meteorological phenomena that offer a window into the mysterious force of nature. With Professor Fovell's lucid commentary, you'll grow to appreciate the complex patterns that create the weather around us.

You'll learn, for example, how hurricanes are the result of complex but comprehensible forces that can be mapped, studied, and understood. The extreme weather of El Niño, the towering swirl of the cyclone, the crash of thunder that follows the lightning—each mystery is unveiled as you investigate the science behind these remarkable phenomena.

You'll also encounter a treasure trove of intriguing and often surprising facts and insights, including these fascinating tidbits:

  • To the casual observer, lightning appears to be one quick stroke from cloud to ground, but a typical lightning stroke actually has four parts—two strokes down, two up—and the upward strokes pack the biggest punch.
  • Our perception of "dry" and "moist" does not reflect the actual amount of moisture in the air. There may be more water vapor contained in the air on a hot, dry, early summer day in Death Valley than on a cold, foggy, winter day in Minnesota.
  • Although the build-up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere could have deleterious effects on the world's climate, if the atmosphere contained no greenhouse gases, the Earth's surface would likely be frozen everywhere, including in the tropics.
  • One of the most influential impacts on the weather is that seething reservoir of energy, the ocean. Because of the ocean's movement, waters off the coast of California are much cooler than those at the same latitude off the coast of Asia.

An Intriguing Glimpse into the Meteorologist's Art

With so many forces interacting, how do meteorologists make sense of the weather happening around us? How do they comprehend these patterns on a regional and global level? And how do they use their knowledge to forecast tomorrow's weather?

Professor Fovell sheds light on the art and science of meteorology, describing the tools scientists use to explain and predict the weather. You'll examine weather maps to see how meteorologists create a picture of conditions at any given moment and learn about advanced computer models that allow scientists to forecast how storms may develop over time. As you explore the meteorologist's art, you'll gain a deep appreciation for the fascinating work done to try to explicate the ongoing mystery of the world's weather.

You'll find no better guide than Dr. Fovell. An experienced instructor and noted meteorological researcher, Professor Fovell provides a comprehensive introduction to this fascinating field. Using everyday examples, vivid demonstrations, and visual aids, Professor Fovell conveys his excitement about the intriguing puzzle of the natural world while making this complex topic accessible to all viewers.

Join Professor Fovell as he explicates one of nature's most compelling mysteries. Guided by his expertise, you'll never look at the weather in the same way again.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Nature Abhors Extremes
    From thunderstorms to typhoons to driving winds, the world's weather is often tumultuous, destructive, and surprising. And yet, all these phenomena represent Nature's attempt to mitigate extreme conditions. In this introduction, begin to explore some of these extremes as you examine the great complexity of the world weather system. x
  • 2
    Temperature, Pressure, and Density
    Why do cold and warm fronts exist? Can you dig a well so deep you cannot pump water from it? Find the answer to these and other questions as you explore three key concepts of weather—temperature, pressure, and density—and the equation that sums up their relationship: the ideal gas law. x
  • 3
    Atmosphere—Composition and Origin
    What is air made of? Is it always true that hot air rises and cold air sinks? Learn more about the air that surrounds us and cushions us from the outer reaches of space, and examine the various layers that make up the earth's atmosphere. x
  • 4
    Radiation and the Greenhouse Effect
    Energy radiates all around us, streaming in from sunbeams and emanating from every object on Earth. Investigate the various kinds of radiation represented on the electromagnetic spectrum, and see how these forms of energy—assisted by the greenhouse effect—make life possible on our planet. x
  • 5
    Sphericity, Conduction, and Convection
    If all the Earth receives energy from the sun, why are there such wide temperature differences across the planet? Why do we have seasons? Answer these questions while learning about how heat moves through the atmosphere via two basic processes: conduction and convection. x
  • 6
    Sea Breezes and Santa Anas
    Gain an understanding of how wind works as you explore the way temperature and pressure drive sea breezes during the day and land breezes at night. Then apply these findings to a dramatic wind condition, the famous Santa Ana winds of California. x
  • 7
    An Introduction to Atmospheric Moisture
    Add a new element to your understanding of the atmosphere—water—and learn some basic facts about air's capacity to hold water vapor, including the impact of temperature on atmospheric moisture and the implications for weather. x
  • 8
    Bringing Air to Saturation
    Why does dew form on some mornings? Why does it take longer to cook food at higher elevations? Discover the answer to these questions as you learn about saturation: the point where air holds the highest amount of water vapor that it can contain. x
  • 9
    Clouds, Stability, and Buoyancy, Part 1
    One of the most familiar and beautiful features of weather is the cloud. In this lecture, examine different kinds of clouds, learn how clouds are born, why and how they take their distinctive shapes, and what kinds of conditions are likely to produce clouds. x
  • 10
    Clouds, Stability, and Buoyancy, Part 2
    Continue your discussion of clouds as you take a closer look at the climates and precipitation relating to this weather phenomenon. Discover why some clouds produce rain while others do not and see why deserts are often found on the lee side of mountains. x
  • 11
    Whence and Whither the Wind, Part 1
    Move from clouds to wind as you begin to explore how and why air is transported around the globe. Examine how conditions, including differences in air pressure and temperature as well as the rotation of the Earth, determine where winds arise and the direction in which they blow. x
  • 12
    Whence and Whither the Wind, Part 2
    In addition to pressure differences and the Earth's rotational movement, two other forces help to determine the winds' strength and direction: friction and centripetal force. Learn about these two forces and examine how they shape the winds the world over. x
  • 13
    The Global Atmospheric Circulation
    After mastering the four forces that affect wind, step back to view their patterns of flow across the Earth's hemispheres. Examine the two models of air circulation that help account for large-scale air-circulation patterns and variations in temperature from the poles to the equator. x
  • 14
    Fronts and Extratropical Cyclones
    In this lecture, you encounter some of the most dramatic air-flow patterns found in nature, the swift, turning winds of the cyclone. Trace the lifecycle of the extratropical cyclone, which draws its power from the huge energy generated when different air masses meet. x
  • 15
    Middle Troposphere—Troughs and Ridges
    Shift your eyes to the sky and examine what happens in a higher level of the atmosphere called the middle troposphere. With this examination, you discover two new features in large weather systems—troughs and ridges that occur in areas of very low and very high pressure—and see how these features affect the weather. x
  • 16
    Wind Shear—Horizontal and Vertical
    Expand your understanding of how air moves by taking a three-dimensional view of atmospheric circulation. Discover what happens when winds change direction and what conditions cause these changes in wind shear. x
  • 17
    Mountain Influences on the Atmosphere
    In this lecture, investigate how mountains can disturb the atmosphere into which they intrude from below. Also, learn how these disturbances can be felt far and wide. x
  • 18
    Thunderstorms, Squall Lines, and Radar
    That familiar crash of thunder and the torrential rains that often accompany it are common weather during the warm season. Learn how these noisy storms can form near cold fronts associated with extratropical cyclones and see how scientists use radar to study these storms. x
  • 19
    Supercells, Tornadoes, and Dry Lines
    Delve deeper into tumultuous weather as you learn about the formation of towering supercell storms. You also take a detailed look at how the conditions that produce these storms can lead to deadly tornadoes. x
  • 20
    Ocean Influences on Weather and Climate
    With their massive volume and constantly moving currents, oceans provide a vast reservoir of energy. Explore how the winds help generate movement in the ocean and, in turn, how the oceans affect weather all over the world, creating a huge feedback loop that helps create our climate. x
  • 21
    Tropical Cyclones
    Building on your understanding of how the ocean affects weather, turn your attention to the tropical cyclone, generally known as the hurricane or typhoon. Examine the typical structures of the tropical cyclone, and investigate the conditions needed to unleash these dangerous storms. x
  • 22
    Light and Lightning
    Here, you bring together all you've learned in earlier lectures about the composition of air, the electromagnetic spectrum, the condensation of liquid, and the role of oceans in our climate, and use that information to explore two dazzling phenomena: light and lightning. x
  • 23
    Prediction and Predictability
    Scientists have learned a lot about how weather works and have developed sophisticated tools to predict what may happen in our weather. You learn about the sophisticated numerical models these experts use, as well as the inevitable limitations of those models. x
  • 24
    The Imperfect Forecast
    Despite all their knowledge and tools, scientists cannot make perfect predictions. Find out why, using the example of Hurricane Rita in 2005, and explore the deep complexity of weather and climate that makes the subject of meteorology one that continues to fascinate. x

Lecture Titles

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Robert G. Fovell
Ph.D. Robert G. Fovell
University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Robert G. Fovell is Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he serves as cofounder and cochair of the Interdepartmental Program in Mathematics/Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A committed classroom teacher, Professor Fovell teaches courses on topics including atmospheric dynamics, thermodynamics, weather prediction and forecasting, and cloud dynamics. In 2005, he was awarded a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award (the Harvey L. Eby Award for the Art of Teaching). He has also taken his insights to a broader audience while serving as a commentator for programs on the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel. Outside the classroom, Professor Fovell is an active researcher. He is affiliated with UCLA's Institute of the Environment and the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering and is a member of the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Meteorological Society, and the American Geophysical Union. He has published extensively, particularly on the subjects of squall lines and storm dynamics, and has served as an associate editor of the Monthly Weather Review.

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Reviews

Rated 4.2 out of 5 by 99 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Let It Rain on My Parade The only fault I find with this course will not cost a star. I want more! I wish this was a 36 lecture course. No, I do not believe that too much is crammed into the course. The pace is great though a novice may have to watch some of the lectures more than once. I was just sorry it had to end. I took this course thinking I would learn a little about the weather in general. How do clouds form? Why do they form where they do? How do weather processes like the formation of thunderstorms really work? Those were some questions I hoped would be answered. They were. It is especially pleasing to me that this course is rich in detail and not too scaled back for the uninitiated. That means you have to pay attention, perhaps look up a few terms, maybe read a book to support the lectures. That's not a flaw. In fact, that's the mark of great teaching. If the instructor can give a lot of information, enough to challenge the student and not have the student feel defeated, it's great teaching. If the instructor motivates the student to read beyond the course material, that even better. The course is really a wonderful journey through a very interesting topic with someone I would just bet is a very nice guy. Well here's the outcome for me. I've ordered and read a few books on the subject. I bought some instruments to measure humidity, dew point, wet bulb, and temperature. I have some outdoor instruments and some indoor instruments and I even bought a very accurate portable device to make measurements at various locations around my home base ranch. Why? It's fun! And I love buying new toys to go with my other physics toys. I've made some very cool time lapse movies of cloud formation and storm formation. Why? The course stimulated me to not only learn the material but to get in and experience the weather myself. That's great teaching. I highly recommend the course. And I recommend using the material and doing some experiments of your own. Take cloud pictures, make movies, take readings and look up weather data and actually study the weather maps. I had better stop writing. Get the course, it's excellent. Let me know if you like it and if you too get hooked on clouds. I'll show you how to make a time lapse movie too. Go for it! Chris Reich, BizPhyZ July 15, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by An Excellent Introduction to the Weather On a daily basis, this course gives me more to think about than any other course I have taken through TTC. I don't think a day goes by when I don't think about the clouds or general direction of the wind in my area or why the air is so dry indoors in the winter or some other question that was answered in this course. I know this sounds like typical reviewer hyperbole -- but, in this case, it's true -- I don't think a day goes by that I don't think about something I learned in this course. After all, the weather is always present. I found the lecturer to be well organized and clear. I enjoyed his quirky sense of humor. He provided an excellent bibliography. I find it somewhat ironic that, of the two previous reviews (at the time I am writing this one), one reviewer found this course too scientific and one reviewer found it not scientific enough. I guess that means that the course is right about where it should be. I can only hope for additional more specific (perhaps 12-lecture) courses on additional meteorologic topics by this instructor. Thank you for another Great Course April 9, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Recommended Course on the Basics of the Weather One thing that all of us have is weather. This is a very good course on the explanation of weather and what causes it. I now know what the lines, semi-circles, triangles and other shapes mean on the weather maps. The presentation was very good with plenty of visual aids to assist the reader. However, what I enjoyed the most from this course is that I have the answer to two questions that have puzzled me for years. First, I have flown more than 1.3 million miles through various weather conditions in various parts of the world. However, the worst flight turbulence that I ever experienced was in a flight in good weather over the Alps from Germany to southern France. I expect turbulence in stormy conditions or when crossing fronts but was totally puzzled why I had such a rough life on a clear day. Professor Fovell provides an excellent explanation of turbulence and its causes in lecture 17. Second, when living in the Midwest, my family experienced the proverbial “bolt out of the blue”. While sitting down for dinner, our neighbor’s home across the street was struck by lightning. The skies were clear above us and the nearest thunderstorm clouds were over 7 miles away to the north. In lecture 22, Professor Fovell explains the formation of lightning and explains how the “bolt out of the blue” can occur. Another mystery solved. June 17, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Clever but Uncompromising Presentation My husband looks at the weather report every day and tells me it’s going to rain on Sunday or it will get down to 23 degrees next week. I don’t believe any of that; I rarely even trust the forecast for tomorrow. But my husband does, so I bought him this course. He watched a few lectures and set it aside, with remarks about the boring Dr. Dweeb. I discount reviews that criticize a professor’s presentation style. I expected to like the course, as I like all the Great Courses I’ve tried. And I did like it, I made it all the way through, but I quickly discovered that Dr. Fovell is not boring at all, that his deadpan delivery goes quite well with his whimsical humor. You can’t tell me the story about his son and the soda can is boring! And I especially enjoyed the graphic where Stickman has an extra biscuit and kicks the parcel to the stratosphere - well, maybe not that high, but past its LFC What’s the LFC, you ask? It’s the Level of Free Convection, at which a rising air parcel becomes warmer than its surrounding environment and thus becomes positively buoyant. But don’t ask me about the Dry or Moist Adiabatic Lapse Rates, or Convective Available Potential Energy. The problem with the course, the real reason my husband didn’t like it, has nothing to do with the professor’s demeanor. It’s just really hard to understand what he’s talking about, to conceptualize a picture we can relate to from the diagrams and the technical terminology he presents. Yes, I learned a lot, and yes, I enjoyed the course, but did I get all the details? No. Lectures 7-19 are the hard ones. When I finished watching a lecture and tried to answer the Questions to Consider from the Guidebook, I would go crazy trying to figure out the right answer. These were absolutely the best questions in all the Great Courses I’ve taken, requiring you to apply the principles in the lecture to common situations, but I kept turning to the end of the book, looking for the answer section, and there wasn’t one. An example from lecture 9: you’re driving your car, and suddenly the windows start fogging up from the inside. Is it better to turn on the defrost heater or the air conditioner? What does each device do to the car interior’s air? OK, I know the air conditioner is the right answer, that’s what works, but why? Vapor capacity decreases with cooling, so why does cooling the air make it suck the moisture back up? Better go watch that lecture one more time. Would I recommend this course to a friend? Since I don’t have any friends who are serious science students, it would have to be one who enjoys conceptual challenges, or one who just loves the weather enough to relish the less technical explanations, of which there are many, who won’t get frustrated trying to follow all the science. Come to think of it, maybe I can get my husband to give it another shot. April 30, 2014
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