• University of Reading
  • Royal Meteorological Society

Come Rain or Shine: Understanding the Weather

Understand and explore the physical processes behind the weather

44,292 enrolled on this course

Weather: a satellite image of clouds above the earth

Come Rain or Shine: Understanding the Weather

44,292 enrolled on this course

  • 3 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this 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 with our educator, Dr Sylvia Knight’s. You’ll also watch our educators carrying out simple but effective experiments including creating clouds, simulating hot air rising and demonstrating the Coriolis effect.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds The 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 seconds The 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 seconds Over 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.


  • Week 1

    Low pressure systems

    • Welcome to the course

      Find out about what you will be learning, who will be guiding you and how the course is taught.

    • Depressions

      Learn about low pressure systems, what depression are and how they form in mid-latitudes.

    • Depressions: part 2

      Learn more about the physical processes which give rise to weather, such as pressure gradients and the Coriolis force and then try our activity to test how much you've learnt.

    • Case studies

      Read these case studies on the weather behind significant mid-latitude depressions during the UK winter of 2013/14.

    • Review and Reflect

      Check your understanding with an end of week quiz and take a look at online teaching resources related to the topics covered in Week 1.

  • Week 2

    High pressure, rain and air masses

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Take a look at what will be covered this week on high pressure, rain and air masses.

    • Jets, conveyors and faster cold fronts

      Look in more detail at the movement of air within and around a depression, and consider some more case studies.

    • Air masses

      Learn about the the four main air masses which affect the UK, before checking your knowledge with a short quiz.

    • Types of rain

      Find out more about the three categories of rainfall: frontal, orographic and convective.

    • Anticyclones

      Discover the weather features associated with anticyclones.

    • Fieldwork

      Watch our experts show you how to measure the weather using household instruments and take inspiration for some field work experiments you can try at home.

    • Review and Reflect

      Check your understanding with an end of week quiz and take a look at online teaching resources related to the topics covered in Week 2.

  • Week 3

    Global controls on weather and weather around the world

    • Welcome to Week 3

      Find out what will be covered in Week 3 of Come Rain or Shine.

    • The Earth's energy budget

      Understand the basics of the climate system and discover how the Earth’s climate, at the global scale, is determined by the balance between energy absorbed and energy emitted.

    • Global atmospheric circulation

      Read more about global atmospheric circulation, before learning how to interpret a weather chart, to provide details about wind speed and direction, precipitation and cloud cover.

    • Tropical weather systems: El Niño, monsoons and tropical cyclones

      Take a look at the physical processes behind some other weather events across the world.

    • Other weather systems

      Watch this video on rotating fluid dynamics and then discuss with each other your experiences of global weather events across the world.

    • Review and Reflect

      Check what you've learnt with an end of week quiz. We'll then think about next steps and provide some resources so that you can continue your online learning.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

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

  • Interpret synoptic charts and use them to describe weather details such as wind speed and direction, precipitation and cloud cover.
  • Explore depressions and discover why they are so significant in mid-latitude locations such as the UK.
  • Investigate the physical processes behind weather, such as warm air rising, cloud formation and the Coriolis effect with experiments you can do at home.
  • Record your local weather conditions and share your findings.
  • Reflect on the processes that affect the Earth’s atmosphere and therefore climate, both natural (volcanoes, orbit) and man-made (greenhouse gases).
  • Apply your understanding of mid-latitude weather systems to analyse 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 signed up to Met Matters or 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?

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.

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?

University of Reading

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

The Royal Meteorological Society

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

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Thames Water logo

supported by

European Meteorological Society

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Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$109/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 12 Jul 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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