The Elements of Weather
This unit examines some of the elements of weather that are quantities or properties that can be measured regularly in the atmosphere such as air temperature, humidity, air pressure and wind speed & direction. For additional content on winds, see the unit on Atmospheric Circulation. This unit in Earth Science is an excellent opportunity to teach or review physical science concepts such as temperature, heat, chemical reactions, adiabatic processes, and latent heat.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (21.5 MBytes).

PDF Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (1.9 MBytes).

HTML Click to view the presentation in html

Online Lecture Part 1. Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing heat, energy and temperature. You can navigate from forward and backward in the slides by using the arrow keys on your keyboard.

Online Lecture Part 2. Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing humidity, air pressure and winds.

Classroom Activities

Adiabatic Processes in the Atmosphere: Canned Air. PDF The adiabatic cooling of an ascending parcel of air is a difficult concept for students to grasp. An ascending air parcel cools due to the lowering of the air pressure in the parcel as it rises higher in the atmsophere and the expansion of the volume. The cooling of a can of compressed air that is discharged is an easy way to experience this phenomenon to introduce students to adiabatic cooling.

Latent Heat and the Atmosphere. PDF Processes such as evaporation and condensation in the atmosphere are important processes for the cooling and heating of air in the atmosphere and for the transfer of environmental energy in the atmosphere. When water changes from one phase to another (vapor, liquid, solid ice) heat is either released or absorbed. This document contains three phenomena that illustrate the release (crystallization) or absorption (evaporation) of heat.

Making Clouds. PDF This simple activity illustrates how condensation to form a cloud or fog can occur in air when it is decompressed. This acivity is from the WOW Project at the Ohio State University.

Make a Thermometer. PDF In this simple activity, students construct a thermometer and learn how a bulb thermometer measures temperature.

It's a Matter of Degrees. PDF Word Document In this activity, students examine the temperatures for four cities in the San Francisco Bay area. From these data, they examine the marine influence where temperature increases as a function of distance from the coastline.

Humidity in the Air. In this two part activity, students examine what may cause condensation of water in the atmosphere and create a model to describe the concept of relative humidity.

How to Make a Barometer. PDF In this simple activity, from the Southeast Regional Climate Center, students construct a barometer that can monitor changes in barometric pressure.

How to Make a Weather Vane. PDF In this simple activity, students construct a wind vane to determine the wind direction. The original document was produced by PBS.

How to Make an Anemometer. PDF In this simple activity, from the Southeast Regional Climate Center, students construct an anemometer to determine wind speed.

Online Video and Media Resources

Misconceptions about Temperature This short video explains why the perceived temperatures of two objects may seem different (due to thermal conductivity) even though they are at the same temperature. Veritasium.

What the Fahrenheit?! This short video describes the history and development of the fahrenheit scale for temperature. Veritasium

Celsius Didn't Invent Celsius This video discusses the history of the Celsius scale. Veritasium.

Misconceptions about Heat This short video examines why different objects with the same temperature may feel like they have different temperatures. Veritasium.

States of Matter This video discusses the different states of matter (vapor, liquid and solid) including the differences in the motions of molecules and the distances between them.

NASA Eartth Observatory This website contains great articles, imagery, and animations. The links below are to animated global maps illustrating weather phenomena.

Useful Websites

National Oceanograpic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) This federal agency is focused on the conditions of the atmosphere and oceans. NOAA conducts reseearch and provides data on oceans, weather, climate, fisheries, and aviation.

National Weather Service The NWS provides weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings.The site provides current conditions and information on current weather hazards and floods.

Unisys Weather This site provides graphical weather information. Much of it is highly technical, but the archive contains great information on hurricanes and satellite imagery.

Weather Underground The Weather Underground is a network that provides weather data. Of particular interest is the data on historical weather where you can look up the weather data for locations around the globe.

Wind History The Wind History site has historic wind data for the locations around the world (most are in North America). It includes an interactive map with animations of wind roses for many locations.

AirNow This interactive site gives real time air quality data for any location in the U.S.

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer. Sunlight warms Earth's surface. (K-PS3-1), (K-PS3-2).
ESS2.D: Weather and Climate. Weather is the combination of sunlight, wind, snow or rain, and temperature in a particular region at a particular time. People measure these conditions to describe and record the weather and to notice patterns over time. (K-ESS2-1).

Grade 2
PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter. Different kinds of matter exist and many of them can be either solid or liquid, depending on temperature. Matter can be described and classified by its observable properties. (2-PS1-1)
PS1.B: Chemical Reactions. Heating or cooling a substance may cause changes that can be observed. Sometimes these changes are reversible, and sometimes they are not. (2-PS1-4)

Grade 3
ESS2.D: Weather and Climate.
Scientists record patterns of the weather across different times and areas so that they can make predictions about what kind of weather might happen next. (3-ESS2-1)
Climate describes a range of an area's typical weather conditions and the extent to which those conditions vary over years. (3-ESS2-2)

Middle School
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes. The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns. (MS-ESS2-5).
ESS2.D: Weather and Climate Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. (MS-ESS2-6) Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted probabilistically. (MS-ESS2-5).
PS3.A: Definitions of Energy. The term "heat" as used in everyday language refers both to thermal energy (the motion of atoms or molecules within a substance) and the transfer of that thermal energy from one object to another. In science, heat is used only for this second meaning; it refers to the energy transferred due to the temperature difference between two objects. (secondary to MS-PS1-4).
PS3.A: Definitions of Energy. Temperature is not a measure of energy; the relationship between the temperature and the total energy of a system depends on the types, states, and amounts of matter present. (MS-PS3-3), (MS-PS3-4)

Common Scientific Misconceptions (from Henriques, 2000 and references therein)

Rain falls out of the sky when the clouds evaporate.

Rain comes from holes in clouds (like salt from a salt shaker).

Rain comes from clouds sweating.

Rain comes from clouds melting.

Clouds are water vapor.

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