Thursday, January 29, 2009


PURPOSE: Gather information on the Groundhog Day Storm as it develops to create a case study lesson plan that can be used by teachers to explain the factors that influence a significant weather system. This lesson will be posted regardless of the storm's outcome, whether it is rain or snow, or even if it tracks off the coast. The rationale is that an anomalous system such as this one can serve as a backdrop to ignite student interest in unique weather phenomena, and the study of it can be used as a culminating project, formative or summative assessment.

REFERENCES: Links to pertinent surface and upper air charts referred to in the objective will be posted as time and data permits. Sources will include NOAA's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC), the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), and the National Weather Service (NWS).

OBJECTIVE: (The What, How, Why)
Analyze climate and weather data of North American air masses by accessing surface and upper air charts, so you can accurately forecast the track and intensity of a mid-latitude cyclone.

ALIGNMENT: GOAL 2: Concepts of Earth/Space Science

Expectation 2.1
The student will identify and describe techniques used to investigate the universe and Earth.
Indicator 2.1.2
The student will describe the purpose and advantage of current tools, delivery systems and techniques used to study the atmosphere, land and water on Earth.
Assessment limits:
Delivery systems (satellite-based, ground-based)
Techniques (imaging, Geographic Information System, Global Positioning System, Doppler)/

Expectation 2.3
The student will explain how the transfer of energy and matter affect Earth systems.
Indicator 2.3.1

The student will describe how energy and matter transfer affect Earth systems.
Assessment limits:
Atmospheric circulation (heat transfer systems – conduction/convection/radiation, phase change, latent heat, pressure gradients, general global circulation, Coriolis effect)
Oceanic circulation (density differences, daily and seasonal land/sea breezes, Coriolis effect)

Indicator 2.3.2
The student will explain how global conditions are affected when natural and human-induced change alter the transfer of energy and matter.
Assessment limits:
Atmospheric composition and structure,
Ocean-atmosphere-land interactions
(current changes, continental movement, El Niño, La Niña)
Cloud cover (amount, type, albedo)
Climate type and distribution (temperature and precipitation)

LESSON BACKGROUND: If you are interesting in attempting my second ever storm tracking lesson (the first one was done for the Feb 2003 blizzard), then here are some suggestions. Please forgive the scattered presentation, these are general ideas, will try to clean up this evening and embed links you can use in class. If you are serious about doing this, you will need to break students into 3 groups. Each person will have a key role.

Materials: Colored pencils: a set of red, blue, green for each group of 3 students. Each group also needs: a calculator, a clear plastic metric ruler. You the teacher will need perhaps 2 transparencies, and of course a projection system that is tied to the internet.

The point of the lesson is for students to use verifiable pre-existing data, and then plug that into their own personal computer model (their brain), follow some basic math and extrapolation (such as speed of a shortwave through the flow, distance traveled, estimated time of arrival), to arrive at a prediction on when precipitation associated with the mid-latitude cyclone should arrive. If done right, you can nail it down to the hour. But be forewarned, this is not for the impatient, “what’s-the-answer?” type student. The answer they are looking for is what THEY determine to be the track, location and intensity of the storm.

After the past data is plugged in, they track the shortwaves and make a “future-past” projection on WHERE precip should be occurring NOW on the radar. (Ahhh, without LOOKING at the radar mind you.) If they did it right, where the student pegs the current location of the short-wave based on previous data is where you should be seeing precip on the radar. It’s a beautiful thing. I guarantee at least ONE of your students, upon comparing their projected map with the radar, will say WOW.

Opening Drill: Have students write a 2 sentence to 1 paragraph synopsis of their recollections about the Feb 03 blizzard. What do they remember about the storm, specifically in terms of how much snow was going to fall? Some questions to activate their thinking: Ask them… was the amount surprising? When did you realize this was going to be a big event?

No doubt, students will be abuzz about whether or not that could repeat with this storm, but try to calm them by saying that decision will have to be made by them through analyzing the data. Have a random sampling of different types of students provide their story. Don’t just call on the overzealous weather types like me in your class. Then, someone will ask… is that going to happen this week?

Here’s the secret trick-them-into-finding-out-learning-is-fun segway: “Well, I’m glad you asked, because that’s the whole purpose of today’s lesson! In fact, I’d like you to read the objective for us to find out where we are going with this today..

While they are writing the opener, you should pre-load on your projection screen the GOES water vapor loop. This is a current and past loop of moisture moving through the atmosphere at all levels. You can easily pick out all the features..but the fun is have them identify what's moving where, whether it is clock-wise/counter-clockwise and what that means.

(English teachers.. great way of even using this as a mystery. Like Mr. Russ said, it’s more a case of “where art thou going” than a “whodunit.”)

Some background learning: It is assumed student will already know and understand...

1. How to label and understand a map of N America showing all the governing air masses.
2. The difference between El Nino/La Nina.
3. What are the NAO and they impact this storm.
4. Where is the jet stream, both on the map and in the sky? (that’s the 300 mb chart)

All this can then be combined on the 500 mb polar projection and show in excellent interrelationship… where the air masses are coming from, going to… and how their movement is influencing the jet stream flow. Once the student are done with their N American air mass map, you should do a brief overview of NAO/PNA, and show how these indices are influencing WHERE the air masses go, in turn influencing the wind flow that either enables any storm to develop, or prevents it, or kicks it out to sea.

After that, we get into the nitty gritty of tracking shortwaves. Instructions on that part I'll post tonight, I promise. Once they are finished identifying and tracking, students must project where the sw's will go based on their analysis of the embedded speed in the flow. From there, they can pinpoint the arrival of precip down to the hour, just like I did with the Ice Storm.

Teachers, feel free to post questions in this section about the lesson idea or it's development. I will continue to add material this weekend in thinking that your students will have questions about the storm come Monday. Depending on the timing of your instructional schedule, some of this information could be used in class to help you further student understand of the storm and factors behind it.

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