Jim Steenburgh

jim.steenburgh at utah.edu
Office hours: Drop in or by appointment
Twitter: @ProfessorPowder

Atmos 6250: Mountain Meteorology


Fall 2017 Course Description

A graduate survey of synoptic, mesoscale, and microscale meteorology in complex terrain including orographically modified cyclone evolution, front-mountain interactions, dynamically and thermally driven flows, and orographic precipitation. During the latter half of the class, students will deploy and operate a mobile Doppler on Wheels polarimetric radar to study precipitation processes in complex terrain as part of the Outreach and Radar Education in Orography (OREO) field campaign.

Overview and Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, students should (1) possess foundational knowledge of the influence of complex terrain on atmospheric phenomena spanning from the boundary layer to the synoptic scale, (2) be able to utilize and critically evaluate scientific literature applicable to research in mountain meteorology and related environmental fields, (3) recognize the capabilities and limitations of scanning precipitation radars in complex terrain, and (4) demonstrate the ability to site and design scanning strategies for mobile radar research in complex terrain.


Two classes per week (1:25-2:45 MW). Class will meet irregularly during November when the Doppler on Wheels Mobile Radar is being used for OREO-related field actvities. Students should plan on participating in those field activities outside of classroom hours as their schedules permit.


Mountain Weather Research and Forecasting, F. Chow et al. (eds.), which is available electronically and freely accessible campus-wide or off campus through the Marriott Library. Additional readings as assigned, typically from the peer-reviewed literature.


This is a course for self-motivated, fully engaged graduate students. I expect students to miss no more than 2 classes, to read assigned materials prior to class, to drink from the fountain of knowledge during class activities, to contribute strongly to group learning through active participation, and to give high quality presentations.

Grades are based 20% on in-class participation, 20% on the student presentation, 20% on the written and oral field-program proposal, 20% on contributions to the field program, and 20% on the post-OREO finding presentation. Information on the grading of presentations is available here.

Student Presentations

Students will give oral presentations on contemporary topics in mountain meteorology during two classes. Depending on enrollment, class may be extended on these days. Each presentation should be 15 minutes in length and can be a traditional conference-style presentation (e.g., intro, data and methods, results, conclusions), a summary of case studies or literature reviews, or a discussion of recent advances or unsolved problems or paradoxes in the topic area. Students will select topic areas in consultation with Jim early in the semester.


During the month of November, a Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile radar from the Center For Severe Weather Research will be in Salt Lake City for the Outreach and Radar Education in Orography (OREO) field campaign. Prior to OREO, lectures will examine orographic precipitation and radar fundamentals in complex terrain. Students will work in groups of 3-4 and prepare written and oral proposals for using the DOW to investigate a topic of interest. Possibilities include but are not limited to:

  • Interaction of lake-effect systems with complex terrain
  • Ridge-canyon effects on precipitation (e.g., Cottonwoods)
  • Basin-and-range effects on precipitation (e.g., Stansbury/Oquirrh Mountains)
  • Lee-side spillover (Snowbasin, Park City, Heber)
  • Windward enhancement (Northern Wasatch, Cottonwoods, Timpanogos)
  • Front-mountain interactions
  • Bird migration
  • Great Salt Lake wind systems and land-breeze front
  • Stability and ground clutter

Written proposals should be brief (2-3 pages single spaced including figures) and cover: (1) background and motivation for the research topic, (2) objectives, and (3) the deployment plan (e.g., DOW siting and scanning strategy). The oral proposal should similarly be brief (5 min) and will be followed by a 5-10 min discussion period.

During OREO, students will plan for operations and execute intensive observing periods (IOPs) as dictated by the weather. Class will meet irregularly and on on an as needed basis. Students should plan on participating in field activities as their schedules permit. Students should not skip class or RA/TA work assignments to be in the field. Take advantage of times when you can freely participate.

OREO Requirements

All faculty and students enrolled in or attending this class must complete and sign a Liability and Indemnification Agreement and provide the form to Nola Lucke in 484 INSCC. All faculty and students must also complete and pass a University of Utah Driver Training Video and Test. If you have done this since December 2015, provide a copy of your certificate to Nola Lucke in 484 INSCC. If you have not done this since December 2015, go to The University of Utah Risk & Insurance Services Web Site, login with your unid and password, click on vehicles and then Driver Training Programs and complete the driver trining video and test. You can either have e-mail of your completion sent to nola.lucke@utah.edu or provide her a copy of the certificate upon completion.

ADA Accomodations

The University of Utah seeks to provide equal access to its programs, services, and activities for people with disabilities. If you will need accommodations in the class, reasonable prior notice needs to be given to the Center for Disability services, 162 Olpin Union Building, 581-5020 (V/TDD). CDS will work with you and the instructor to make arrangement for accommodations. All written information in this course can be made available in alternative format with prior notification to the Center for Disability Services.

Tentative Schedule and Readings

I. Introduction

Mon Aug 21: Eclipse Musings

Wed Aug 23: Course Overview and Intro to Mountain Weather and Climate
  Meyers and Steenburgh 2013
  Beniston 2003

II. Large Scale Topics

Mon Aug 28: Orographic Cyclogenesis
  Bannon 1992
  McTaggart-Cowan et al. 2010a
  McTaggart-Cowan et al. 2010b

Wed Aug 30: Front-Mountain Interactions
  Egger and Hoinka 1992
  Hoinka and Volkert 1992

Mon Sep 4: Labor Day (No Class)

Wed Sep 6: Atmospheric Rivers
  Rutz et al. 2014
  Rutz et al. 2015

Mon Sep 11: Climate Change in Mountainous Regions
  Beniston 2003
  Chapter 9 of Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth

Wed Sep 13: Student Presentations: Large-Scale Topics

III. Cold Pools and Terrain-Forced Flows

Mon Sep 18: Winter Inversions in the Salt Lake Valley and Bigham Copper Mine (Dave Whiteman)
  Whiteman et al. (2014)

Wed Sep 20: Rime Mushrooms (Dave Whiteman)
  Whiteman and Garibotti (2013)

Mon Sep 25: Thermally Driven Flows
  Zardi and Whiteman (2013)

Wed Sep 27: Dynamically Driven Flows I
  Jackson et al. (2013)

Mon Oct 2: Dynamically Driven Flows II

Wed Oct 4: Student Presentations: Cold Pools and Terrain-Forced Flows

Mon Oct 9: Fall Break

Wed Oct 11: Fall Break

IV. Orographic and Lake-Effect Precipitation

Mon Oct 16: Radar in Complex Terrain (Dave Kingsmill)
  Weather Radar Fundamentals
  Precipitation Estimates, Part I: Measurement
  Optional Warning Decision Training Division modules: Introduction, Correlation Coefficient, Differential Reflectivity, Specific Differential Phase, Hydrometeor Classification, Melting Layer, and Quantitative Precipitation Estimation.

Wed Oct 18: Orographic Precipitation I (notes)
  Colle et al. 2013
  Stoelinga et al. 2013
  Houze 2012

Mon Oct 23: Orographic Precipitation II/Cold-Air Damming (notes)
  Bell and Bosart 1988

Wed Oct 25: Lake Effect in Complex Terrain I (notes)
  Alcott et al. 2012
  Alcott and Steenburgh 2013

Mon Oct 30: Student Presentations: OREO Proposals

November: OREO

Dec 4: Student Presentations: OREO Findings

Dec 6: Student Presentations: OREO Findings