What's up with the Weather?

by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom

On November 22, my fellow Chicagoans and I were digging out from a record-breaking November snowstorm. More than a foot of snow had accumulated in some parts of the metropolitan area. Just a few weeks later, we’re anticipating a balmy December weekend with expected temperatures in the 60s. What’s going on? In order to answer that, one needs to understand the weather.

What is weather? 

Weather is the combination of wind, moisture, and temperature within a relatively short period of time, weeks or less.  We observe the weather; we feel it in real-time. Some people even claim they can predict weather patterns based on bodily changes like headaches or stiffness in their bones.

We watch the TV weatherperson read off of a screen to report outdoor conditions, interpret colorful radar patterns, or attempt to predict the conditions that will soon head out way. But a meteorologist’s job is more involved than that.
Meteorology is more than just reading off of a script or interpreting cloud patterns. Meteorologists don’t study meteors, the rock and metal that flies through space into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, this profession stays true to the root meaning of the word meteor, which has to do with atmospheric conditions.

Not that there’s anything wrong with studying clouds to understand weather. In fact, observing and classifying clouds is an accessible entry point into meteorology. This guide to the ten basic types of clouds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will help your students build their understanding of the afternoon sky in no time. It will build their vocabularies, too. They’ll sound precocious as they point up and exclaim, “Look at those altocumulus clouds!”   

Resources for Aspiring Meteorologists and Their Teachers

The National Weather Service, the government agency that collects, interprets and sends weather information to the public, has many resources for aspiring meteorologists and their teachers. Their Weather School provides a comprehensive overview of more than a dozen weather-related topics. 

And these brief podcasts, each roughly five minutes long, provide insights from college students pursuing meteorology degrees and the career options open to them after graduation. The American Meteorological Society provides information on careers in the field, too. Even better, they offer educator resources as well as an all-expense paid professional development workshop during the summer

Students with an affinity for the extreme may take interest in the National Sever Storms Lab. This video provides an overview of the Lab’s work. In fact, the NOAA Weather Partners  channel on YouTube hosts many videos that clock in at about five minutes- perfect for when you just have a few minutes to fill before class ends.