Atmospheric Dynamics

METEO 421 – Atmospheric Dynamics

Fall 2019 Syllabus 

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 2:30 – 3:20 pm, 103 Walker Building
Thursday, 1:35 – 2:50 pm, 105 Walker Building

Prof. Colin Zarzycki
Office:  524 Walker Building            
Office hours: Mon, Wed 3:30 – 4:30 pm, or by appointment

Teaching Assistant:
Nick Barron
Office hours: TBD during the first week of class 

Required Courses:
METEO 300 (Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science), MATH 230 (Calculus and Vector Analysis) or MATH 231 and 232, and PHYS 212 (General Physics:  Electricity and Magnetism).

Prerequisite or concurrent: METEO 431 (Atmospheric Thermodynamics) and MATH 251 (Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations).

Enrollment Policy – Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5 if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. 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

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. 

Course 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. 

Course Objectives

  • 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

Course Outcomes

  • 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 

Course outline:

  1. Review and fundamentals (~3 weeks)
  2. Circulation and vorticity (~3 weeks)
  3. Simple oscillations and instabilities (~2 weeks)
  4. Atmospheric wave motion (~4 weeks)
  5. General circulation of the atmosphere (~3 weeks) 

A detailed course schedule with specific topics, readings, and homework due dates is given separately on Canvas. This schedule will be updated accordingly throughout the semester. 

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.
(An online version is available for Penn State students for free at 

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 (not the teaching assistant). Homework assignments are equally weighted, with the lowest assignment score being dropped. 

Exams:  There will be three exams throughout the semester. The first two exams are tentatively scheduled for October 3rd and October 31st. These exams will take place during the weekly recitation period. The third exam is scheduled during finals week. The exams are 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 other two exams will be worth 20% each.   

Grades:  The weighting of the components of your course grade is as follows: 30% homework, 65% exams, 5% recitation exercises. The final grade will be based on a standard grading scale: 

A: 93-100% A-: 90-92% B+: 87-89% B: 83-86% B-: 80-82% C+: 77-79% C: 70-76% D: 60-69% F: 0-59%

There will be no grade curving, however, the instructor reserves the right to adjust the grading scale. In the event this is required, grades will only be adjusted upwards

Academic integrity:  Academic honesty is required and expected in this class. This course adopts the EMS Academic Integrity Policy[1]. Students in this class are expected to write up their homework assignments individually, to work on their exams/quizzes on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations. Class members may work on the homework assignment in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately. Students are not to copy quiz or exam answers from unauthorized source material. Students are also not to copy quiz or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own. Students may not plagiarize text from papers written by others. Students who do not abide by these rules will receive at least a 0 on the assignment/quiz/exam and may well receive an F or XF 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." 

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 Office for Disability Services (ODS) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Office for Disability Services 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. 

Attendance:  This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11[2] and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35[3]. Please also see Illness Verification Policy[4] and Religious Observance Policy[5]. 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 ( at least one week prior to the activity. 

Cancellations and delays:  Campus emergencies, including weather delays, are announced on Penn State News and communicated to cell phones, email, the Penn State Facebook page, and Twitter via PSUAlert (Sign up at: 

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. For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy. 

Course website:  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. 

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents:  Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated ( and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage

Counseling and Psychological Services:  Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741 

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect: Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility. 

Disclaimer statement:  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 to the syllabus will be posted to the course website on Canvas

  1. 8/25/19

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