Finding the front: Two Approaches to Teaching with Weather Maps

Friday 1:50pm-2:10pm Ritchie Hall: 366


Sarah Glancy, University of Hawaii-West Oahu
Robert Glancy, Metropolitan State University of Denver


We will demonstrate how the same data can be used in the two different classes. For the first part of the demonstration, we will show how the data would be analyzed in an introductory meteorology and climate class. This exercise is given early in the semester and serves as an introduction to the atmospheric ingredients that produce weather. Successive classes go into more detail on temperature, pressure, humidity and precipitation, but seeing the data in a snowstorm helps with later lessons. In the second part of the presentation, we will show how the same exercise and data can be adapted for use in in a more general way by an introductory earth science course.

Participants will be given the data that we use and will learn how to lead students through two versions of the activity.


The authors present how they use the same surface weather map from the National Weather Service to teach about weather for two different courses (introductory meteorology and climate and introductory earth science) and at different levels of detail. The weather map shows weather symbols for each weather station as a strong cold front moves through Texas. The presence of the strong cold front provides weather contrasts that are easy for students to observe. For an introductory weather and climate class, this activity was used as an introduction to some of the techniques used by weather forecasters to interpret surface weather maps. For an introductory earth science class, the goal of this activity was for students to demonstrate that they could read temperature, precipitation type, and wind direction from weather symbols on a surface weather map and to use this information to identify a weather front.


The first class was an introductory meteorology and climate class with a small (approximately 30 students) class size. Some students are meteorology or science majors; many students are taking the class for a core science requirement. Each table was assigned to analyze a different element (precipitation, temperature, wind, dewpoint, weather type). The activity demonstrated the detailed information available during a rapidly changing weather situation, and how the various elements each separately could be used to approximate the location of the cold front. When the information from each table was shared and combined, the clarity increased dramatically.

The second class was an introductory earth science class with a small (approximately 24 students) class size. Almost all of the students in the class are non-science majors, taking the class for a core requirement. Students are taught to read surface weather symbols and have learned about fronts before doing this lesson. In this case, the goal is for the students to demonstrate that they can read the symbols and interpret the map, but not to the detail necessary for the meteorology class.

Why It Works

In both classes, students are given the opportunity to work with real data that National Weather Service forecasters use to forecast the weather. Students enjoy working with real data from a real storm system. This activity motivates the students and helps them see how their learning applies outside of class. The activity is adaptable to a variety of levels.

Presentation Media

Weather Maps Presentation (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 4.5MB Jul18 18)