METEO 538, Atmospheric Convection

Instructor: Dr. David Stensrud, Class meeting times and locations: MWF 9:05 – 9:55 pm, 103 Walker Building

Course Number and Title:  Meteorology 538, Atmospheric Convection

Instructor:  Dr. David Stensrud, 504 Walker,, Office Hours:  Tuesday 11-12 am, Wednesday 2-3 pm, Friday 10-11 am, or by appointment

Class meeting times and locations:  MWF 9:05 – 9:55 pm, 103 Walker Building

Course designation in curriculum:  Graduate Elective

Brief course description from University Bulletin

This course is designed for graduate students interested in convection.  The properties of shallow and deep atmospheric convection and interactions between convection, the boundary layer, and larger-scale weather systems will be explored.

Prerequisites and concurrent courses: None

Required textbook: Atmospheric Convection by Kerry A. Emanuel and published by Oxford Press.  A copy of the textbook is on reserve in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Library. 

Assistance with Textbooks

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 need related to socioeconomic status please visit

Internet materials and links:  Canvas (

Course expectations:  This course will help the student develop an improved understanding of atmospheric convection. 

Course Objectives:

  • Students understand the basics of convective flows and how the environment influences convective structures.

Course Outcomes:

  • Students can read the literature on convective processes effectively.
  • Students understand how entrainment influences convection within the boundary layer.
  • Students understand how the environment can influence convective structures.

Course contentWeekly Topics to be addressed:

  • 9 January – Introductions, concept of buoyancy force and its mathematical form
  • 16 January – Boussinesq and anelastic approximations, continuity equation, perturbation pressure equation
  • No class on Friday 20 January
    • Homework #1, due Wednesday 1 February. 
  • 22 January – AMS Annual Meeting.  No class this week.
  • 30 January – Convection from local sources and plume models
    • Homework #2, due Friday 10 February
  • 6 February – Rayleigh problem
  • 13 February – Rayleigh problem and convective boundary layers
    • Homework #3, due Wednesday 22 February
  • 20 February – Moist thermodynamic processes review 
    Read Young et al. 2002 Rolls, Streets, Waves and More in Bulletin of the AMS and discuss in class.
  • 27 February – Atmospheric stability and common parameters for deep convection
  • MID-TERM EXAM:  Wednesday 1 March, 6 pm
  • 6 March – SPRING BREAK
  • 13 March – Convection Initiation and Conditional Symmetric Instability
    • Homework #4, due Friday 17 March
  • 20 March – Thunderstorm Types and Environmental Influences
  • 27 March – Supercells
  • 3 April – Microbursts, Downbursts and Derechos
  • 10 April – Mesoscale convective systems and complexes, RKW theory and alternatives, feedbacks to larger scales
  • 17 April – Student project presentations
  • 24 April – Tornadoes and Hurricanes
    • Student project reports due 28 April by 4 pm. 
  • 1 May – FINALS WEEK

Grading:  The grading scheme for this course is: 20% problem sets, 35% mid-term exam, 35% project (combined written and presentation grade), and 10% class participation. Assuming 100 points total, students with 90 and above will get an A, 80 and above will get a B, and 70 and above will get a C. See the instructor at least a week ahead of time if you have a conflict with an exam. 

Grading Policy:  All assignments are due at the end of the class period on the day assigned. No credit will be given for late assignments. Exceptions may be given for emergency situations after consultation with the instructor. 

Problem Sets: There will be a total of 4 problem sets assigned during the semester and each problem set is weighted equally to the others. Each problem set has been developed to expand upon topics covered in class and several of them will require the students to use the CM1 cloud model. 

Project:  Each student will be assigned a project to explore during the semester that uses the CM1 cloud model.  The student will need to run the model for various initial conditions or model configurations and then compare the resulting storm simulations.  The student must run and analyze at least 6 different storm simulations using these different initial conditions or model configurations.  After analyzing the results, the student will write a short 6-page summary of the results (6 pages of text plus up to 6 figures) that places the results in context with the current literature.  The student will also present a summary of the paper to the class.  These presentations will be conference style, so the student will have 12 minutes to summarize the work and 3 minutes for questions.  Presentations should be prepared using Microsoft Powerpoint and either email to Dr. Stensrud ahead of time or brought to class on a memory stick.  Presentations will occur during the week of April 17 and students will turn in the report to Dr. Stensrud no later than Friday 28 April. 

Mid-term examination:  A mid-term examination is scheduled for 29 February and will cover material presented during the lectures, reading assignments, and homework from the beginning of the semester through the material presented on 24 February. 

Final examination: There is no final examination for this class. 

Class participation:  Each student is expected to participate in class by attending lectures on time, asking questions, and answering questions from the instructor.

Academic Integrity: This course follows the guidelines for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting other's work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other student's papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

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.

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 SDR 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:, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35: Please also see Illness Verification Policy:, and Religious Observance Policy: 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.

Weather 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:

Assessment tools: For a summary of General and Final Examination Policies 44-10 and 44-20 and alternative assessment practices, please see Examination Policy Summary: and General and Final Exam Policies:

Deferred Grades:  If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Safety:  In the case of an emergency, we will follow the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Critical Incident Plan (  In the event of an evacuation, we will follow posted evacuation routes and gather at the Designated Meeting Site.  Evacuation routes for all EMS buildings are available at  For more information regarding actions to take during particular emergencies, please see the Penn State Emergency Action Guides.

Penn State E-mail Accounts:   All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

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 Canvas and discussed in class.