Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather

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

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
 |  30 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Robert G. Fovell

About Your Professor

Robert G. Fovell, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 161.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to understand and relate every day weather I am 3/4th way through and enjoying it very much. It has helped me understand many of the things I hear listening to weather reports and to understand some of the weather we get.
Date published: 2018-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Physics and thermodynamics making the weather Climate, and its fickle day-to-day manifestation weather, might be taught descriptively or dynamically. Fovell emphatically chooses the latter. What you will get in this course is not the descriptive stuff of tomorrow's weather forecast as presented on the six o'clock news. Rather you get the scientific principles underlying that forecast. Fovell presents the atmosphere's air as a moisture-laden fluid whose ceaseless motion is driven by the sun's heat as well as by the earth's rotation. Central to this course are the physics of that motion and the thermodynamics of the water vapor carried along. Out of that emerge the winds, rains, and thunderstorms we associate with weather. Severe weather events like hurricanes are treated as imbalances of energy or mass. Nature seeks prompt resolution of imbalance -- sometimes with catastrophic consequences. The person most appreciating this course is the one who asks, "What makes weather, and how can it be forecast better?" And who also wonders, "Why does Southern California get Santa Ana winds and fires, why does Tampa get lightning, and why is Oklahoma plagued by tornados?" Atmospheric Science -- a better name, I think, for this course -- is inherently mathematical. Moreover, numerical simulation of weather events is Fovell's own research interest. Nonetheless, Fovell does an admirable job teaching with minimal recourse to math. Instead, certain ideas, derived from math but presented without it, reverberate throughout. These include pressure differences drive winds, fluids of different densities avoid mixing, rotating winds cause low pressure, and shear deflects wind from simple straight-line motion creating vorticity. Fovell heavily emphasizes the lower 48 US states in his examples. If you are from Europe, Asia, or Alaska, you may be disappointed. I found it essential to refer frequently to a college Atmospheric Science textbook. Reading the lecture notes supplied with the course is essential but, for me, not sufficient.
Date published: 2018-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Thorough Introduction to Weather This is a difficult course to characterize, but I’ll try. Professor Fovell introduces the study of weather with a simple, idealized example - the sea breeze. His explanation makes perfect sense and is easy to follow. You think, Hey, I am really going to understand this weather stuff. Starting with this, he builds to more complicated situations. Always along the way he explains everything thoroughly, using previously explained situations as a basis for understanding the new. Along the way he introduces new terms and defines them well, though some previous science background is helpful. There are many visuals that are apt illustrations of the current concepts. At the end of each lecture, he summarizes its contents. This is all as it should be. So, why is this course difficult to characterize? Because after all this, when the course is finished, I realize that I don’t understand weather well at all. There are several reasons for this. One is his presentation. Professor Fovell speaks knowledgeably and with confidence. But he speeds ahead like a freight train, and if you get left behind (which I was several times) there’s no going back, unless you are willing to stop at this point and rewatch one or more previous lectures. He assumes that you have understood everything before this moment perfectly, and if you didn’t, what comes next becomes unintelligible. This is made worse by the second reason this course is difficult - an amazing preponderance of terminology. There are dozens and dozens of new and unfamiliar terms, all of which become three or four letter acronyms. After an acronym is defined, you won’t hear him define the phrase again, he just uses the acronym. In a given sentence you may hear an acronym, and as you try to remember what it meant, you find he has fired three or four more at you, and you are totally lost. That brings me to the third reason the course is hard to understand, there is just too much information to digest in the time we have. If you don’t have some previous exposure to meteorology into which you can mentally fit it all, it is overwhelming. The only practical thing that could remediate this is to spread it out over many more lectures, being careful to review all applicable previous concepts before going on to the new. Actually, I did come out knowing more about weather than I did going in, but with only a general understanding. Would I recommend this course? If you have merely a casual interest in weather and are looking to learn a little more about it, I would say no; it’s too much to handle. I still clicked the “recommended” box, but only with the caveat that this is for people dedicated to learning meteorology, perhaps a meteorology major.
Date published: 2018-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course. I think everyone should have a grasp of how our atmosphere works, and the lecturer give a fine overview. The accompanying book is rather sparse.
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meteorology new at Christmas This was a Christmas gift, there are 24 lectures, each approx. 30 minutes. Asking for a review in this time frame is silly.
Date published: 2018-01-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Big Disappointment This was ordered as a Christmas gift for a visiting family member. It arrived well after Christmas. Thank you Grinch at The Great Courses
Date published: 2018-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from professionally pedantic content is well presented but I nstructor is annoying with his childish babying attitude
Date published: 2017-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Weather Is now so much more fascinating Astonishing to learn how interconnected events in our world effect the weather that effects all of us. Fascinating. I bought this curious to learn how winds were predicted and learned so much more. Brought me to even more awe & appreciation of this incredible world we live in. Yet this intricate subject is made both easy to understand as well as pleasurable to watch by a most excellent teacher Professor Robert Fovell. Great teaching - Thanks!
Date published: 2017-11-26
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