Jim Steenburgh

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

Atmos 5210/6210: Synoptic Meteorology II

Polar Low

Spring Semester 2020


An upper-division/introductory graduate level survey of contemporary topics in midlatitude synoptic meteorology.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course, students should be able to:

1. Describe and identify the three dimensional structure of surface-based and upper-level fronts.

2. Apply the frontogenesis function and frontogenesis diagnostics for for explaining observed or numerically forecast frontogenesis and frontolysis.

3. Characterize and explain the global and regional distributions of precipitation and snowfall, including variations in complex terrain.

4. Diagnose the dynamic, thermodynamic, and microphysical processes affecting cool-season precipitation in a variety of synoptic, mesoscale, and orographic settings.


Two classes per week (10:45-12:05 TH) in 711 WBB. Classes involve a mixture of lectures, real-time weather analysis and discussion, and active-learning exercises.


Grading is based on labs (30%), an exam (25%), an oral presentation (25%), and attendance and participation (20%). Grades on late labs will be reduced 15 points (out of 100) per day past the due date without prior approval. The exam will be given after the lecture on winter storm fundamentals. Oral presentations will be given on 25 February. For the attendance and partcipation grade, students are allowed to miss one class without penalty. Additional absences reduce the attendance grade by 5/20 points per absence. The scoring rubric for class participation, applied to the remainder of the score after any deductions for absences is based on:

0% - Student is rude and disruptive

40% - Student does not ask questions or contribute to discussions

70% - Student infrequently asks questions or contributes to discussions

88% - Student sometimes asks questions and contributes to discussions

100% - Student is attentive, asks questions, and provides comments without dominating the conversation


Each student will give an oral presentation, which allows the class to see a broader range of perspectives on course topics. Each presentation should be 12 minutes in length, plus 3 minutes for questions. The presentation could be a traditional conference-style presentation (e.g., intro, data and methods, results, conclusions), a summary of a case study, a literature review, or a discussion of recent advances in the topic area.

Students will select a presentation topic in consultation with the professor. Some possibilities include:

An overview of the cool-season precipitation climatology (e.g., distribution, seasonality, solid precipitation fraction, key phenomena, extremes) in a selected region such as the Andean states of South America, Japan, European Alps, western Canada, Himalaya and high-mountain Asia, northeast United States, or Antarctica. Snow-to-liquid ratio climatology of Alta, the western U.S., or European Alps

Climatology of freezing rain in the United States.

Challenges of radar in the western U.S.

Influence of cold-air damming on terrain-driven flows and snow levels.

Trends in atmospheric rivers with climate change.

Orographic or lake-effect precipitation in a selected region.


Midlatitude Synoptic Meteorology by Gary Lackmann, plus additional supplemental materials. Students should complete assigned reading before each class.

Required Computer Skills

Basic knowledge of MacOS and IDV. IDV YouTube tutorials are available here and some basic instructions are available here. Learn it and love it!

ADA Accomodations

The University of Utah seeks to provide equal access to its program s, services, and activities for people with disabilities. If you will need accom modations 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 wo rk with you and the instructor to make arrangement for accommodations. All writt en information in this course can be made available in alternative format with p rior notification to the Center for Disability Services.

Counseling Services

The University of Utah Counseling Center provides developmental, preventative, and therapeutic serv ices to promote the intellectual, emotional, cultural, and social development of University of Utah students. This includes services that address personal, car eer, and academic learning issues. They are located in 426 SSB and can be reach ed at 801-581-6826. Their 24/7 crisis line is 801-587-3000.

Campus Safety

The University of Utah values the safety of all campus community me mbers. To report suspicious activity, call campus police at 801-585-COPS (801-58 5-2677). You will receive important emergency alerts and safety messages regardi ng campus safety via text message. For more information regarding safety and to view available training resources, including helpful videos, visit safeu.utah.edu.

Tentative Outline

I. Course overview

II. Fronts (Reading: Lackmann Chapter 6)

A. Basic descriptive dynamics

B. Kinematics

C. Frontogenesis

D. Surface fronts

E. Upper-level fronts

F. Intermountain fronts
Reading: Steenburgh et al. (2009)

III. Precipitation systems and microphysical processes
Reading: Houze (2014) Chapter 1 through section 1.3 and Chapter 3 through section 3.2.8 and Adler et al. (2017)

IV. Global precipitation characteristics
Reading: Trapiador et al. (2012)

V. Winter storm fundamentals
Reading: Stewart et al. (2015), Rauber et al. (2000), and Alcott and Steenburgh (2010)

VI. Exam

VII. Extratropical cyclones
Reading: Houze (2014, Cloud Dynamics) Chapter 11

VIII. Cold-air damming
Reading:Bell and Bosart (1988)

IX. Atmospheric rivers
Reading: Rutz et al. (2014)

X. Orographic precipitation

XI. Lake and sea-effect precipitation
Reading:Steenburgh and Nakai (2020)

XII. Presentations