Online course in Nature & Environment

Come Rain or Shine: Understanding the Weather

Understand and explore the physical processes behind the weather

Come Rain or Shine: Understanding the Weather

  • Duration 3 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours

Why join the course?

Weather affects our lives almost every day through what we wear, what we eat and what we do. But why is it rainy, windy or sometimes even sunny? Explore some of the physical processes driving UK weather systems and get hands on in the world of weather with practical activities and fieldwork. Try your hand at forecasting and have a go at interpreting weather maps and compare your results to our educator Dr Sylvia Knight’s. You’ll also watch our educators carrying out simple but effective experiments including creating clouds or simulating hot air rising and demonstrating the Coriolis effect.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsThe weather is all around us. It affects what we eat. It affects what we wear. It affects just about every industry and every leisure activity.

Skip to 0 minutes and 16 secondsThe weather is constantly in the news. So when there's a major weather event, particularly an extreme weather event, people want to hear about it, because it affects their lives. Today, here at the University of Reading's atmospheric observatory, we're lucky enough to have a pretty nice day. The sun's shining. It's quite cold, but the weather's good. But what affects the weather? What makes it rain? What makes it windy? Or sometimes even, what makes it sunny? These are the sorts of things that we're going to explore in this course.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsOver the next three weeks, we're going to learn something about the processes that underlie the weather that we see every day. We're going to do that through a combination of written material, online searches, and practical demonstrations.

What topics will you cover?

Week 1:

  • Introduction to high and low pressure systems
  • Weather and climate differences
  • Depressions and anticyclones

Week 2:

  • Where does weather come from and why does it rain?
  • Air masses and types of rain
  • Measuring the weather

Week 3:

  • Global controls on weather
  • Global atmospheric circulation
  • Other weather systems: Monsoons, Tropical cyclones and El Niño/La Niña.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now
    This course started 7 Oct 2019

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Describe the weather features associated with depressions, anticyclones and the four main air masses which affect the UK
  • Interpret a synoptic or weather chart to provide details about wind speed and direction, precipitation and cloud cover
  • Describe some of the physical processes which give rise to weather, such as convection, condensation, pressure gradients and the Coriolis force
  • Investigate local weather conditions using readily available instruments
  • Explain some of the processes which transfer energy through the Earth system, including the transient effects of volcanoes and changes in the Earth’s orbit, and how these processes relate to the Earth’s climate
  • Apply an understanding of mid-latitude weather systems to the analysis of weather data and images

Who is the course for?

You don’t need any existing knowledge of meteorology, just an interest in learning about the weather. This might appeal to you if you’re a member of theWeather Club or signed up to Weather Watchers. There should be something for everyone – whether you are coming to the course with a fair amount of previous knowledge, or none at all. If this is the first time you’ve taken a meteorology course you may find some of the content challenging, but don’t worry there will be plenty of help available.

It also might appeal to you if you’re a geography teacher. For example, the amount of time devoted to weather within the English National Curriculum and GCSE and A level specifications has hugely increased; this course will help improve your confidence to teach the topics and may also be directly relevant to your students, some of whom may consider a career in meteorology.

Course image used with permission of NEODAAS/University of Dundee.

Who will you learn with?

Peter Inness

Peter Inness

I am a lecturer in the Meteorology Department at Reading University.
Prior to joining the University I worked for the Met Office in several different roles.

Sylvia Knight

Sylvia Knight

Head of Education for the Royal Meteorological Society - which involves supporting weather and climate teaching throughout the UK. I've got a physical Natural Sciences degree and PhD in meteorology.

Who developed the course?

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

The Royal Meteorological Society is the professional and learned society for weather and climate.