METEO 421 – Atmospheric Dynamics

Instructor - Prof. Anthony Didlake, Monday, Wednesday & Friday, 12:20-1:10 PM, 101 Walker Building, Thursday, 9:05-10:20 AM, 107 Sackett Building

METEO 421 – Atmospheric Dynamics

Spring 2017 Syllabus 

CLASSES: Monday, Wednesday & Friday, 12:20-1:10 PM, 101 Walker Building, Thursday, 9:05-10:20 AM, 107 Sackett Building 

INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Anthony Didlake, Department of Meteorology

  • Office: 505 Walker Building             
  • Email:
  • Office hours: Mon 4-5pm, Wed 2:30-3:30pm, or by appointment 

TEACHING ASSISTANT: Seth Saslo, Graduate student, Department of Meteorology

  • Office: 614 Walker Building
  • Email: 
  • Office hours: Tue 5-6pm, Thu 3-4pm, or by appointment 

REQUIRED COURSES: Prerequisites: Meteo 300 (Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science) and Math 230 (Calculus and Vector Analysis or Math 231 & 232). Prerequisite or concurrent: Meteo 431 (Atmospheric Thermodynamics), Math 251 (Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations), and Phys 212 (General Physics:  Electricity and Magnetism). Policy: Students who do not meet the prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override[1]. If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then consult with the instructor. Students who add the course after being disenrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct[2]

CLASS STRUCTURE: Lectures will be on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The recitation period will be on Thursday and will be used to work on a detailed exercise that will be graded for completion credit. 

DESCRIPTION: This four-credit course, required of all meteorology majors, builds on the foundation laid in METEO 300, Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science, by applying the equations of motion to a variety of atmospheric phenomena. 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, which 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. 


  • Demonstrate skills in applying calculus to the quantitative description of atmospheric phenomena
  • 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 


  • Demonstrate the ability to apply the equations of motion to the quantitative description of a variety of atmospheric motions including the general circulation
  • Demonstrate knowledge of balanced and unbalanced flows that form the basis for the depiction of atmospheric motions
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the rotational aspects of large-scale atmospheric motions as described by vorticity and circulation
  • Demonstrate the ability to apply wave dynamics and stability concepts to atmospheric problems

REQUIRED TEXTBOOK: Holton, J. R. and G. J. Hakim, 2013. An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, 5th Edition, Elsevier Academic Press, 532 pp., ISBN 978-0-12-384866. Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student and Family Services (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, For additional needs related to socioeconomic status please visit The text is also on reserve in the EMS library. There are a few additional required readings from other sources, which will be made available to you. Readings are assigned for each topic as shown in the detailed syllabus. Taking notes on the readings and working out derivations with a pencil and paper will help you retain the material. 

HOMEWORK:  Homework assignments will be given every Wednesday (except during exam weeks) and due on the following Wednesday at the beginning of class. Late homework (up to 24 hours late) will be accepted with a 25% penalty and must be turned in directly to the instructor. Homework assignments are equally weighted. 

QUIZZES: There will be weekly quizzes posted online (via Canvas) Friday to be completed by Monday before class, except during exam weeks. About 10 multiple-choice questions will be given on the readings and some lecture material. These quizzes are open book but they must be taken alone. You will be given 45 minutes to take each quiz. Your lowest quiz score will be dropped from the final grade.

EXAMS: There will be three exams throughout the semester. The first two exams are tentatively scheduled for 7:15-9:15 PM, February 16 and March 30 (both Thursdays). The third exam is scheduled during finals week and is not cumulative. The weighting of each exam in your final grade depends on your exam score. Your highest scoring exam will be worth 25% of your final grade, your median scoring exam will be worth 20%, and your lowest scoring exam will be worth 15%. 

GRADES: The final grade will be based on a standard grading scale à  A: 93-100%, A-: 90-92%, B+: 87-89%, B: 83-86%, B-: 80-82%, etc. Weighting: 25% homework, 60% exams, 10% quizzes, 5% recitation exercises. The instructor reserves the right to curve the grades to make this grading scale easier. 

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY POLICY: Academic honesty is required and expected in this class. This course adopts the EMS Academic Integrity Policy[3]. Students in this class may discuss homework assignments with others, but you are expected to write up their homework assignments individually. Students are also expected to work on the quizzes and exams on their own. Students are not to copy exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own. 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 in the course. If in doubt about how the academic integrity policy applies to a specific situation, students are encouraged to consult with the instructor. To learn more, see Penn State’s “Plagiarism Tutorial for Students.”[4] 

ATTENDANCE POLICY: Students are expected to attend all lectures and recitation periods. This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11[5] and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35[6]. Please also see Illness Verification Policy[7] and Religious Observance Policy[8]. Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes. Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews).  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student and Family Services for help:  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office: ( at least one week prior to the activity. 

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

Accommodations for students with disabilities: Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website (

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation based on the documentation guidelines ( If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations. 

CLASSROOM CELL PHONE POLICY:  Students should silence their cell phones in the classroom and should not use them during class.

COURSE WEB SITE: The instructor will use Canvas to communicate with the class electronically. Canvas will also be used to post assignments, handouts, quizzes, and visuals that are shown in class.

COURSE COPYRIGHT: All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws. 


  1. Review of dynamics in Meteo 300 (~1 week)
  2. Circulation and vorticity (~4 weeks)
  3. Simple oscillations and instabilities (~2.5 weeks)
  4. Atmospheric wave motion (~3.5 weeks)
  5. General circulation of the atmosphere (~4 weeks) 

A detailed course schedule with specific topics, readings, and homework due dates is given separately on Canvas.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes will be posted to the course discussion forum. 

  1. 1/7/17
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