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Weather Map Interpretation

created by Mark Francek, Central Michigan University
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


thumbnail of weather_map

Using the Gallery Walk technique, student groups will synthesize various weather variables, create a weather forecast, and present the material in either in an oral or written assignment.

The question: based on this day's location of fronts, pressure cells, and precipitation, predict dominant clouds types, cloud cover, temperature (F), wind speed (m.p.h.), wind direction, pressure (in.), relative humidity, dew point (F), visibility (mi.), sunset, sun rise, and length of daylight.

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Learning Goals

Give students experience with synthesizing various weather variables, with cooperative learning, and with weather map reading.

Context for Use

The exercise uses Bloom's higher order thinking skill of synthesis requiring that students combine information from several weather parameters (fronts, pressure cells, precipitation) to successfully complete the exercise. As such, it should be used as a capstone exercise after students have completed units on the seasons, atmospheric energy transfer, pressure, wind, moisture, and clouds. The exercise and ensuing group report outs will take most of a two hour class period.

Teaching Materials

Colored markers, four sheets of poster paper, overhead projector or visualizer for students to use for the report out phase of the exercise. Reproduce the maps with a color printer if possible so students can distinguish different forms of precipitation.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  1. Read over the Step by Step Instructions section to become thoroughly familiar with the Gallery Walk technique.
  2. Obtain four different surface weather maps with different posted dates and times. These maps could be from your own archive or from those archived at the sites listed in the "References and Resources" section below.
  3. On each poster board construct a weather matrix upon which groups will write their weather analysis. Be sure to leave plenty of room for responses in each cell of the matrix. For an example, download a sample weather matrix (Microsoft Word 33kB Nov30 04).
  4. Assign a city on each map for which a group will create a forecast. It's best to choose a city location being impacted by well developed warm or cold fronts. Students are challenged by the weather patterns associated with stationary and occluded fronts, so be ready to assist groups deciphering the weather of a city being affected by these frontal types.
  5. Introduce the Gallery Walk technique to students the period before students actually participate in the activity. Actually having students walk through a mock Gallery Walk will save time explaining directions later. It is also appropriate to indicate why you are using Gallery Walk (to foster critical thinking, promote cooperative learning, and improve weather map reading skills).
  6. On the day of the Gallery Walk, post the weather maps in four locations around the room.
  7. Before starting, emphasize that making a correct weather forecast depends on much more than devining patterns associated with a simple surface weather map. In making a real forecast meteorologist consult a variety of other resources, including upper air charts and satellite imagery.
  8. Begin the Gallery Walk. Mention that groups will not only need to fill in weather values for particular cells on the weather matrix but also write a short statement justifying their answer.


Informal assessment will consist of gauging students level of understanding of weather phenomena as the instructor wanders from group to group. Formal assessment can exist in using an oral report grading matrix to judge the quality of report outs given to the class. As an alternative to the oral report format, students can write their weather forecast in the written format and complete it for a group grade. To evaluate the project, see sample assessment rubrics.

References and Resources

  1. Surface Weather Map From Intellicast from Intellicast, see the location of pressure zones, fronts, precipitation, and isobars. Unlike the Weather.com surface map, this site shows pressure readings in mb for isobars.
  2. Animated Surface Weather Map from Unisys, find a surface weather map combined with animated radar images. It`s helpful to be able to see the movement of precipitation in associated with fronts and low pressure cells.
  3. Archived Weather Data from Everything Weather, access daily surface weather maps dating back to 1998. November, 1998 is, for example, archived as `9811` Sept, 2002 as `0209.` Two maps are published for each day, one at 0 UTC the other at 12 UTC. There are also archived data for tornados, hail, damaging winds, hurricanes, upper air charts, and nice color maps of sea surface temperature.
  4. Historic Weather Data (more info) from Weather Underground, check daily historic weather conditions from 1994 through 2004 for most U.S. locations. Go to any city`s forecast page and then click on `Historic Weather` toward the bottom of the page. Find mean temperature, max. temperature, min. temperature, growing degree days, dew point precipitation, snow depth, standard pressure, sea level pressure, visibility, wind speed, max wind speed, gust speed, events.