Meteorology 101

At one time I taught an annual unit on Meteorology. We tracked hurricanes and snow storms. We learned to analyze satellite and real-time data. We identified cloud types and atmospheric stratum. My students could tell you how to categorize and rate tornadoes. The headmaster would come down to my classroom to ask the students if they thought we would need to call a snow day in 24 hours. But, at the end of the semester, there was really only one thing I wanted them to remember. After the jump see if you guessed correctly.

My main goal for the course was to make sure the students enjoyed learning about the weather and also learned how to find information they might need. I never really expected them to retain all the details of the course, as long as they remembered where they could go to find the information in the future.

HOWEVER, I did require one thing to be memorized so that if awakened at 3 a.m. in the morning out of a dead sleep they could state this fact: If you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. For most people the most dangerous weather event they will personally experience is a thunderstorm, so this is the most practical piece of information to be gleaned from my meteorology course. For more info on your chances of being struck by lightning, read this.

Interested in learning more about lightning? The National Lightning Safety Institute has an excellent website which includes a reference page. USA Today also has a nice collection of links here. Think you can tell what is fact and what is fiction in lightning lore? Check here. If you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. Period.

So, if you are on a soccer field and you hear thunder, and your coach says to stay and play because it isn’t raining yet and they don’t see anything… leave the field anyway. Because, if you can hear thunder you can be struck by lightning. Of course if you see lightning, you can be struck too…

Most people know to stay away from tornadoes and hurricanes, but too many people put themselves in needless danger when they do not heed the warning sign of hearing thunder.

Bottom line:
Lightning moves fast, moves far, and strikes in strange ways.
Where there’s thunder, there’s lightning.
So, if you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. Get to a safe location.

Application for pedagogy:
Be sure to remember that your students will NOT remember everything that you teach to them (I know, this is a blow to your professional pride). So, be proactive and emphasize exactly what you think is the most important thing for them to focus on and memorize. And, no, everything is not important.

At the end of the year, on the final exam, the only question that every student answered correctly was: “What is the most important thing to remember from the unit on meteorology?”

2 thoughts on “Meteorology 101

  1. Hannah

    Haha.. after the first few sentences, I knew it was going to be a post about thunder/lightening! Let’s just say you’ve drilled it into your own family as well 🙂

  2. Mark Traphagen

    This is Mark, Karyn’s husband. I can testify that Karyn really does preach this message everywhere and to everyone. Sometimes when I start ranting around the house, she says, “If you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning.” She usually then closes her office door until my storm passes 😉

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