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The Science of Extreme Weather

Tour the world's wildest weather with a storm-chasing, prize-winning meteorologist in these 24 thrilling lectures on tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and other wild weather events.
The Science of Extreme Weather is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 78.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science takes the Magic out... Science takes the Magic out, then puts it back in in the form of Wonder. It's amazing how the concept of convection can be seen on your stovetop, in the clouds, or in the movement of the tectonic plates. It's all about Prigogine and the Earth as a dissipative system.
Date published: 2023-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Which Weather Course? Having recently reviewed TGC's "Meteorology" by Fovell, it is fairly safe to say that these two courses take remarkably different approaches to the same subject. Fovell constantly challenges us with counterintuitive brilliance while Snodgrass works overtime to make sure everyone understands the principles. Both courses are invaluable. With Snodgrass weaknesses begin the course and strengths end the course. With Fovell, the opposite occurs. SNODGRASS APPROACH: is primarily a "descriptive review" of weather science. His initial approach is rather melodramatic. The first few lectures are full of disconnected dramatic factoids/videos on a variety of disconnected tangents, related only as the being the most fabulous weather events. This might be part of an attempt to garner interest, though I wanted to fast forward. The point at which I almost gave up was in Lecture 2 (=L2), when he emotively began a sentence: “I was having lunch w my parents, …” narrated in a tone that seemed to be leading to a murder mystery style climax. So why rate it a 5? After this beginning, his course became brilliant. He, and I'm sure TGC, spent a stupendous amount of time organizing and brilliantly illustrating the course. His lab demonstrations are well conceived. FOVELL APPROACH: is a deeper, more rigorous scientific (vs analogy) approach. For example, L4 on the importance of greenhouse gasses (especially water) is effectively done with a series of atmospheric absorption diagrams by wavelength. I titled Fovell's review "PAY ATTENTION" because each sentence builds upon the next. There are some weather pictures, but most illustrations are diagrams or weather terms, with an emphasis on Coriolis effects. He summarizes each lecture at its end and re-summarizes (using a different approach) before starting the next lecture. You will need those reviews. FOVELL EXAMPLES 1.) Snodgrass L6's "centrifugal force" is not scientifically a force (L11, Fovell); 2.) In Snodgrass L3 winds go over mountains (descriptively) due to “rapidly changing pressure when going around the peak” rather than the specifics of the Froude horizontal velocity # (L17, Fovell); 3.) Why do ship Captains gasp at the moment barometric pressure dramatically drops? The simplistic "cold dense air flows to warm less dense air" is a confusion. Fovell (L6) shows (via a counterintuitive diagram) that given an initial EQUAL surface pressure in both cold and warm cells NO air moves on the surface…the ship Captain would agree. But that doesn’t mean the pressures are equal far above the ship. At altitude, warm air is moving into the cold air column because at 500mb the warm air pressure is HIGHER than that of the cold air. Thus the warm (at altitude) starts pushing away part of the cold air column. The barometer at sea level (under the warm air) rapidly FALLS as the 500mb warm air column sends some weight towards the LOWER pressure cold column at its altitude. NOW and only now nearby cold surface air starts moving its gale towards the ship’s newly lowered warm air pressure because a nearby surface cold air column measured AT THE SURFACE weighs more than the warm air did minutes ago. The gale starts as the cold surface air hurtles towards the ship. SNODGRASS EXAMPLES: 1) Why waste time discussing "centrifugal force" scientifically when Fovell ends up using the same shortcut? 2.) Though less rigorous, the Snodgrass avoidance of Froude # (etc.) is workable because his videos and force arrows are quite clear; 3.) Snodgrass' coverage of the Jet Stream, the Great Lakes, and lightning is much more extensive than Fovell's. BOTTOM LINE: Fovell shows me why I can accept a concept. Snodgrass shows me how to plug it in. Both will open your eyes to the greatest show on earth.
Date published: 2023-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My 14-year-old just completed this course & Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather. He loved both of them. They were a fantastic part of his meteorology course.
Date published: 2023-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling education I bought this course to build on my learning from 2 previous Great Courses Meteorology and How the Earth works. Very successful. Clear delivery and seems so important as we face climate change. I live in Scotland but found the extreme weather of the States fascinating and relevant
Date published: 2022-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Great Course! This is a very solid explanation of weather, starting with the physical, thermodynamic and electrical properties of air and water as they combine to create severe storms, drought and flood. Air pressure, humidity, electric charge accumulation, lightning discharge, wind, condensation, freezing, super-cooling –it’s all there. The organization and graphics are excellent. As a speaker, Prof. Snodgrass is engrossing. My wife and I thought this to be one of the best of The Great Courses. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ.
Date published: 2022-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from We enjoyed this class we have enjoyed the Science of Extreme Weather very much, it is one of our favorites. The teacher is intense and excited about his work and explains things well. i now realize how complicated predicting weather can be. I liked hearing historic examples of extreme weather too.
Date published: 2022-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good lecturer, good visuals The lecturer was engaging and knowledgeable. He kept the class moving at a good pace for the first 2/3 or so. The final classes dealt with types of severe weather that are less interesting and introduced fewer new concepts. He supplemented his lectures with plenty of visuals that were interesting, informative, and well done.
Date published: 2022-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of...well Extreme Weather Disclaimer - My personal background is academically from Physics and Music Engineering (unrelated fields) and professionally from Metrology (measurement and calibration), Quality, Data, and Environmental Health/ Safety. I am merely an extreme-weather fan as a hobbyist. The Review: Overview: As the name suggests, this course series is an introduction to many examples of extreme weather (EW), as well as the corresponding current theories, data, and snapshot of technology used to observe the EW phenomena through the 20th and (first quarter) 21st centuries. Supplemented with related "lab examples", Prof. Snodgrass explains the physical science behind the "madness" of extreme weather. Delivery: Professor Snodgrass is clearly excited about the subject matter, which is conveyed to the audience/student. Many lectures are also supplemented with personal anecdotes from experience in these weather events. Being a Midwesterner (I'm one as well), we see very diverse weather in this region, which when observed well, can easily become a life-long study, which not only is exciting, but saves lives (e.g. Tornadic outbreak, blizzard, flash flood, etc.). With this experience, it is clear that the instructor's life passion is related to Extreme Weather, to which he successfully passes on to the students.
Date published: 2021-12-28
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No place on Earth is safe from severe storms. Tour the world's wildest weather-and learn how to protect yourself-with a storm-chasing, prize-winning meteorologist. By delving into The Science of Extreme Weather that underlies blizzards, flash floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, and more, you'll come away with newfound appreciation and respect for the atmosphere's most awe-inspiring phenomena.


Eric R Snodgrass

The science of extreme weather is one of the great triumphs of our time. And I would like everyone to understand how we got here and how to benefit from these advances in case of emergencies.


University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Eric R. Snodgrass is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he also received his master's degree. Previously, he earned his bachelor's degree in Geography from Western Illinois University. Each year, Professor Snodgrass guides more than 1,500 University of Illinois students through the wild side of weather in his popular course Severe and Hazardous Weather. He also teaches General Physical Meteorology, Meteorological Instrumentation, and Economics of Weather, and he advises all undergraduate majors and minors in the department, widely recognized as one of the best meteorology programs in the nation. Professor Snodgrass's research initiatives focus on K-12 science education as well as weather forecasting applications in financial markets. He is a cofounder of Global Weather and Climate Logistics, a private company that advises weather-sensitive financial institutions. His company merged with Agrible, a precision farm management and predictive analytics company, where he is also a cofounder and principal atmospheric scientist. At the University of Illinois, Professor Snodgrass has received the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. In addition, his online version of Severe and Hazardous Weather was named the best online course of 2012 by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association. His current research deals with weather risk involving landfalling tropical cyclones and global agricultural yield projections.

By This Professor

The Science of Extreme Weather
The Science of Extreme Weather


Extreme Weather Is Everywhere

01: Extreme Weather Is Everywhere

Survey the remarkable range of extreme weather around the planet. Then consider: Why does Earth have weather at all? Professor Snodgrass introduces basic features of the atmosphere that naturally lead to severe weather. He concludes by outlining the goals of the course-among them, preparedness.

36 min
Temperature Extremes and Cold-Air Outbreaks

02: Temperature Extremes and Cold-Air Outbreaks

Discover the origin of Earth's great variability in air temperature, and learn how it also explains the seasons. Search for the highest and lowest temperatures on the planet, and the locations with the greatest difference between highs and lows. Along the way, encounter the deadliest weather on Earth.

33 min
Low Pressure and Earth's High Winds

03: Low Pressure and Earth's High Winds

Witness a demonstration of the power of air pressure and the ability of changing pressure to produce clouds. Learn how fluctuations in air pressure play a role in all weather, propelling everything from the ferocious winds of a tornado to the incredible speeds of the jet stream.

32 min
Extreme Humidity, Rain, and Fog

04: Extreme Humidity, Rain, and Fog

Severe weather is driven by water's ability to change phase-with energy being released during the transition from vapor to liquid, and from liquid to ice. Calculate the stupendous amount of energy brewing in a typical thunderstorm, and study cases of extreme humidity, rain, and fog.

33 min
How Radar Reveals Storms

05: How Radar Reveals Storms

In this and the next lecture, study the advanced technology that has revolutionized extreme weather forecasting. Here, look at how radar has vastly improved the prediction of tornadic thunderstorms. You've seen Doppler radar images in forecasts. Now learn how this all-important tracking tool works....

32 min
How Satellites Track Severe Weather

06: How Satellites Track Severe Weather

Venture into space to see how different types of weather satellites chart large-scale extreme weather systems in both daylight and darkness. Compare two nearly identical hurricanes-one in 1900, the other in 2008-to highlight the life-saving capability of orbiting weather stations.

34 min
Anatomy of a Lightning Strike

07: Anatomy of a Lightning Strike

Moment for moment, the one billion volts discharged in a typical lightning strike may be the most extreme of all weather phenomena. Watch lightning unfold in super-slow motion, and gain an appreciation for the exquisite complexity of this electrifying event.

30 min
Lightning Extremes and Survival

08: Lightning Extremes and Survival

Investigate positive polarity lighting-a bolt up to ten times more powerful than normal lightning-which accounts for five percent of cloud-to-ground strikes. Then hear life-saving tips on how to recognize when you are about to be hit by lightning and what you should instantly do.

29 min
Thunderstorm Formation and Weather Balloons

09: Thunderstorm Formation and Weather Balloons

Begin a series of lectures on thunderstorms, which are the key to understanding many types of extreme weather. Learn how thunderstorms are forecast, and explore their formation by following a weather balloon on its data-gathering mission through the atmosphere.

33 min
Wind Shear and Severe Thunderstorms

10: Wind Shear and Severe Thunderstorms

Wind shear is the ingredient that turns an ordinary thunderstorm into a monster. Study the mechanisms that underlie this transformation. Then evaluate the crucial difference between a severe weather watch versus a warning, and put yourself in the shoes of a forecaster calling the shots.

33 min
Squall Line Thunderstorms and Microbursts

11: Squall Line Thunderstorms and Microbursts

Heralded by an ominous-looking formation called a shelf cloud, a squall line is a group of thunderstorms that produces intense, destructive winds. Analyze the anatomy of a squall line, so that you know what to expect next time a shelf cloud approaches. Also investigate microbursts, another dangerous product of thunderstorms.

33 min
Supercell Thunderstorms and Hail

12: Supercell Thunderstorms and Hail

Pound for pound, the supercell is the most powerful thunderstorm on Earth. Explore the mechanics of this system, which produces the strongest straight-line winds, the most violent tornadoes, and the largest hail. Close by looking at the formation of a record-breaking hailstone weighing almost two pounds!

31 min
Tornadoes and Their Amazing Winds

13: Tornadoes and Their Amazing Winds

Tornadoes hit all 50 states of the U.S. and most inhabited regions of the world. Blowing as fast as 200 to 300 mph, they are the most awe-inspiring of extreme weather. But what exactly are they? And why are they more prevalent in some areas than others? Probe tornado facts and myths, and survey some of the deadliest tornadoes of our times.

32 min
Tornadogenesis and Storm Chasing

14: Tornadogenesis and Storm Chasing

The genesis of tornadoes takes place under complex conditions that are still being deciphered by meteorologists who make detailed measurements from up close. Go inside a supercell thunderstorm to see a tornado being spawned. Then learn tornado safety tips and the precautions that professional storm chasers take.

31 min
Mountain Windstorms and Avalanches

15: Mountain Windstorms and Avalanches

Study the impact of mountains on weather by investigating the Chinook winds, which can race down the east face of the Rocky Mountains with tornadic force. Also look at the Santa Ana winds of southern California, notorious for fanning the region's wildfires. Then explore another aspect of extreme mountain weather: avalanches.

32 min
Ice Storms: Freezing Rain Takes Over

16: Ice Storms: Freezing Rain Takes Over

Begin the first of three lectures on winter weather by pinning down the cause of ice storms, which are beautiful but also dangerous and destructive. Professor Snodgrass demonstrates how supercooled water is the source of the freezing rain behind these perilous storms.

31 min
Epic Snowfall and the Lake Effect

17: Epic Snowfall and the Lake Effect

The region downwind from the Great Lakes is famous for its lake effect snowstorms, which can total more than 200 inches of snow per year for some locations. Examine the factors behind this phenomenon as well as the mortal danger posed by blizzards, as shown by the tragic Children's Blizzard of 1888.

30 min
Blizzards and Winter Cyclones

18: Blizzards and Winter Cyclones

Look back at historical blizzards that paralyzed major U.S. cities. Then probe the official definition of a blizzard, the cold-weather cyclone systems that create them, and the revolution in forecasting blizzards since 1993. Focus on the role of the jet stream, and dispel a common misunderstanding of the polar vortex.

32 min
Flash Floods and Deadly Moving Water

19: Flash Floods and Deadly Moving Water

Consider the deadly power of moving water. Explore scenarios for extreme flooding in flood-prone regions of the U.S. and consider past cases of extreme coastal floods, river floods, and flash floods. Study the meteorology behind these events, and hear flood safety tips.

31 min
Drought, Heat Waves, and Dust Storms

20: Drought, Heat Waves, and Dust Storms

From the American dust bowl of the 1930s to the relentless expansion of the Sahara in Africa, drought represents severe weather that can stretch out for years. Explore what's going on in the atmosphere to create extreme drought, which is associated with heat waves and dust storms.

33 min
Where Hurricanes Hit

21: Where Hurricanes Hit

Begin the first of three lectures on tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones depending on where they occur. Plot the historical tracks of these gigantic storms, sharpen your understanding of how they are named, and focus on tropical cyclones that were so notorious that their names have been retired.

32 min
The Enormous Structure of a Hurricane

22: The Enormous Structure of a Hurricane

How do hurricanes get so big? Start off the coast of West Africa to see how this region is the perfect breeding ground for low-pressure disturbances. Chart the role of the Coriolis force, water temperature, and other factors that must coincide for these systems to grow into hurricanes threatening the U.S.

32 min
Storm Surge and Hurricane Intensification

23: Storm Surge and Hurricane Intensification

Hurricanes destroy life and property in four ways: through storm surge, inland flooding, high winds, and embedded tornadoes. Consider examples of each. Then focus on high water as the deadliest factor, responsible for 80% of all hurricane fatalities.

33 min
El Nino and Cycles of Extreme Weather

24: El Nino and Cycles of Extreme Weather

Close by investigating one of the most eventful weather triggers of all: the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which starts as a warming trend in the eastern Pacific and can lead to extreme weather throughout the world. Our detailed understanding of this once-mysterious phenomenon, as well as other extreme weather cycles, shows how far the science of meteorology has come.

41 min