Extreme Weather

Perry Samson
University of Michigan

Author Profile


This course provides an introduction to the physics of extreme weather events. We examine solar eruptions, ice ages, climate change, monsoons, El Niño, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, thunderstorms, lightning, hail, tornadoes, and other extreme atmospheric events to illustrate the basic physical laws that produce these events.

Institution Type

University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Size

greater than 150



Grade Level
College Lower (13-14):College Introductory

Course Context

Extreme weather is a course with an educational research objective as well as scientific. Students use and provide feedback on how teaching interventions and uses of technology affect their engagement, attentiveness and learning. Students are invited (but not required) to bring a laptop to class and to participate in in-class activities. Homework is assigned on-line from a specially designed textbook that emphasizes student challenges supplemented by the text. Class is broadcast live on the Internet (http://www.lecturetools.com/) and students can participate from wherever they are.

Course Content

The content in extreme weather covers the wide range of extreme weather and climate issues. We start from an examination of extreme weather events (like tornadoes) and then introduce the physics as a means to explain questions the students generate in response to the phenomena observed.

Course Goals

The goal of extreme weather is for participants to both gain the background and the critical thinking skills to enable them to participate in informed discourse about weather and climate related events.


No. Discussion happens during lecture using LectureTools.


60% exams, 15% homework, 15% participation in in-class activities and 10% "Common Good" activities (i.e. participating in tasks that benefit the course).

Teaching Notes

Adaptations have been made that allow this course to be successful in an online environment

LectureTools facilitates the on-line environment as students can pose questions and respond to instructor challenges in real-time.

The most successful elements of this course are:

Questions, questions, questions. Emphasize the creation of questions that challenge student understanding. The interactions following the display of student responses in LectureTools often lead to unplanned discussion and follow-up questions.

Recommendations for faculty who teach a course like this:

Always challenge yourself to answer the question "How do you know that the students understand what is being discussed?" Set up questions/quizzes throughout class that offer the opportunity for students to understand what they don't understand.


Extreme Weather Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 99kB Jun22 10)



http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Weather-Climate-Donald-Ahrens/dp/0495118575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277217385&sr=8-1, Ahrens + Samson

Other References


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