ATSC 201 · Meteorology of Storms

Characteristics and physical processes of thunderstorms, tornadoes, lightning, hail, hurricanes, blizzards, cyclones and other storms. [3-0-0] Prerequisite: Completion of first-year science.

Course Availability & Schedule

Course Webpage

 Non-specialist course

Learning Goals


  • This is a course on practical meteorology.
  • It is designed for students and professionals in science and engineering who want to understand and use basic concepts, but who don't need to derive the equations.
  • These concepts are demonstrated in the context of storms.
  • This course serves both as a terminal meteorology course for science & engineering students, and as an entry course for atmospheric-science (ATSC) majors.



By the end of this course, you should be able to: 

  • Enjoy the beauty and power of storms without fear.(Affective)
  • Describe the characteristics and evolution of:(Cognitive)
    • thunderstorms (lightning, thunder, tornadoes, hail, rain, downbursts, gust fronts)
    • mid-latitude cyclones (lows, fronts, air masses)
    • hurricanes
    • general circulation (global climate, jet streams, Rossby waves)
  • Use the following meteorological tools skillfully to diagnose the atmospheric condition:  (Psychomotor)
    • radar images
    • satellite images
    • weather maps
    • thermo diagrams (for temperature soundings & stability)
    • hodographs (for wind soundings)
    • METARs (weather reports)
    • Excel (for calculations and graphs)
  • Forecast your local weather by looking at the sky, identifying the clouds, and using the meteorological tools.  (Psychomotor)
  • Explain the role of dynamics (forces and winds) and thermodynamics (heat and moisture) in atmospheric processes and phenomena.(Cognitive)
  • Relate atmospheric phenomena to the equations that describe them.(Cognitive)
  • Reliably compute numerical answers in the face of missing data and mismatched units, and to qualitatively interpret the result.(Psychomotor & Cognitive)
  • Defend and criticize meteorological issues (such as why perfect forecast skill is impossible for a chaotic fluid like the atmosphere).(Cognitive)



  • There will be lots of interaction with your classmates during the class meetings -- an approach called "peer instruction."
  • Also, based on a couple warm-up exercises that you do online the day before each class, I will learn which topics you are having difficulty with, and will focus my lectures on those topics -- an approach called "just-in-time teaching."

This course is part of EOS-SEI, the EOS Science Education Initiative.


Roland Stull


Required are 1 textbook  and 1 i-clicker:

  • Textbook:  Stull, 2014: "Practical Meteorology: An Algebra-based Survey of Atmospheric Science".  See course home page below for details.
  • i-clicker: The "i-clicker" brand of personal response system has been adopted UBC-wide. We will use it extensively during each lecture. 

The on-line textbook is available for free - - see details in the link for Course Content.   The iClicker can either be purchased as a hardware device (from Discount Textbooks off campus, or from the UBC Bookstore on campus), or you can use software on your laptop or handheld device.  We will discuss the options during the first lecture.

Lecture Topics

Week Topics
1 Introduction; meteorological conventions & fundamentals; tools such as Excel
2 Thunderstorms; weather radar
3 Interpreting radar images; atmospheric radiation; forces acting on the air
4 Hodograph; winds; continuity; vorticity
5 Tornadoes; helicity; lightning & thunder
6 More lightning & thunder; Lagrangian & Eulerian heat budgets
7 Moisture: saturation & variables; moisture budets: Lagrangian & Eulerian; hail
8 Thermo diagrams: components, types, thermodynamic state, applications; soundings; static stability, CAPE
9 Downbursts & gust fronts; weather satellites.
10 Cloud identification; global circulation - characteristics and forcings; jet stream; Rossby waves
11 Airmasses, synoptic weather maps, fronts, extratropical cyclone evolution
12 More midlatitude cyclones - case studies; cyclone: spin-up, upward motion, and pressure decrease; West-coast weather
13 Hurricanes: characteristics, evolution, thermodynamics, dynamics. Review.