Weather and Climate Prediction

ATMS 380

 Time 12:30-1:20 MWF (3 credit), ATG 610

Instructors: Cecilia Bitz

This web site is preliminary. Eventually the course home page will move here (when the admin sets it up)

Course Description

The atmosphere is part of a complex system that is often best investigated with models. Atmospheric models offer the opportunity to probe real phenomena, and models can be used as a learning tool to explore ideas though "what if" experimentation. This course will provide an overview of what weather and climate models entail, and how these models are used in the atmospheric sciences. Students will learn to run state-of-the-art models used for research in the atmospheric sciences. The course will cover techniques to visualize and analyze atmospheric phenomena. Students will be introduced to numerical methods and high-performance computing. Prerequisite: MATH 124-126, PHYS 121-122, and ONE of the following ATMS 101,111,211,301; ASTR 150,321; or ESS 201.

Learning Goals/Objectives

The objective for this course are to teach how weather and climate models are applied to solving problems in atmospheric sciences.  To teach modeling and visualization of model output as resources for professional careers in the environmental sciences. To teach the basics in numerical methods and high-performance computing. To provide a phenomenological approach to understanding complex problems.To empower undergraduates with research skills for independent learning and to assist with university research projects.

Text book

Unfortunately there is no perfect text book for this course for all the topics. The required text is "A Climate Modeling Primer" by McGuffie and Henderson Sellers. There will be supplementary reading material from a course pack available at the bookstore.


Weekly exercises will involve running, analyzing, and interpreting models. When running a model for the first time in the course, designing a reasonable experiment, successfully setting it up and running the model will be the main goal of an exercise. In subsequent weeks, students will be judged on their interpretation of the results.Thus homework will be evaluated for a combination of following instructions, application of scientific method, and analysis of results. Exams will test students' understanding of reading and lecture materials. The course grade will be weighted 50% from homework and 50% from the midterm and final exam.

Draft Schedule of Topics






What is a numerical model?
Basics of turning equations of motion, thermodynamics, etc. into numerical schemes. Boundary value problems versus initial value problems. Basics of using matlab and writing a simple script.

Coding a simple equation in matlab

McG&HS Ch 1,
Course Pack wx forecasting basics, unix basics.


Introduction to CAM. The value of idealized studies. Introduction to first case study: Baroclinic wave. Analyzing model output from the case study, model validation.

Making maps and animations with model output

Course Pack on thermal wind and baroclinic waves


What is a parameterization? What is resolved in a model? What is uncertainty? Introduction to sensitivity studies. Hypothesis testing to investigate the case study.

Baroclinic Wave case study 1. Phase 1.Running the model to test hypothesis.

Course Pack on appropriate use of models


Examples of research using models for mesoscale and synoptic scale applications. Ensemble forecasts. Analysis of an ensemble.

Case study 1, Phase 2. Analyzing the output.

Course Pack on high-performance Computing


Energy and water balance in the real world and what it means in a model

Case study 1, Phase 3. Sensitivity to initial conditions.

McG&HS Ch 5, p165-175


Examples of research in atmospheric dynamics at the planetary scale. Introduction to second case study: The jet stream.

Jet Stream case study 2. Phase 1. Running the case study.

McG&HS Ch 5, p176-185
McG&HS Ch 6, p213-219


Moving mountains. How does topography and land/sea distribution affect the jet stream? How do seasons affect the jet stream?

Case study 2, Phase 2. Analyzing the output.

Course pack on topographic forcing


How do we model things we don't understand well like clouds compared to things we do understand like fluid dynamics?

Case study 2, Phase 3. Perturbing the model to alter the jet stream

McG&HS Ch 4, p213-219, Course pack on moist processes


Climate sensitivity and feedbacks. Transient versus equilibrium response.

Perturbing CAM with anthropogenic forcing

McG&HS Ch 1, p22-38
McG&HS Ch 2, p66-72


Examples of climate research using CAM. Class summary.


Final exam

Useful books

Goosse H., P.Y. Barriat, W. Lefebvre, M.F. Loutre and V. Zunz. Introduction to Climate Dynamics and Climate Modeling Free Web Book.

Hartmann, D., Global Physical Climatology, Elsevier Academic Press, 1994

McGuffie, K., and A. Henderson-Sellers, A climate modeling primer, 2nd ed., John Wiley and Sons, 2005.

Robinson, W., Modeling dynamic climate systems, Springer, 2001.

Wallace, J. M. and Hobbs, Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey. 2nd ed. 2006.

Washington, W., and C. Parkinson, An introduction to three-dimensional climate modeling, 2nd ed., University Science Books, 2004. A web site with useful information about weather prediction.