Assessment of a Weather Forecasting Contest in Multi-Leveled Meteorology Classes

Article excerpt


This study assesses an extra-credit weather forecasting contest offered in three different introductory meteorology courses, each consisting of a different student population: general education (Gen. Ed.) students, geology majors, and graduate students. Five semesters of data were collected, amounting to 15 Gen. Ed. sections (423 students), three majors sections (66 students), and one graduate class (16 students).

Student participation in this optional contest is dependent on class level, ranging from 40% for Gen. Ed. students to 90% at the graduate level. Student responses indicate the primary reason for lack of participation is forgetfulness, with discouragement second.

Scatterplots of final course grade versus final contest ranking indicate - to a statistically significant (> 99.5%) degree - those Gen. Ed. and majors students who do well academically will also do well in the contest. No statistical significance exists between course grade and contest ranking for graduate students.

A quantitative assessment of student learning reveals that student forecasts improve relative to computer model output as the semester progresses. When averaged over all courses and semesters, the improvement is statistically significant at the 95% level. As a result of the increased experience that is acquired through contest participation, student forecasts-which initially have greater error when compared to corresponding model forecasts - have comparatively less error by semester's end.


Meteorology can be divided into two main aspects science and operations. The scientific aspect, for example, answers the question, "How does it rain?" while the operational component answers the question, "Is it going to rain?" Most introductory meteorology courses, including mine, emphasize the scientific aspect.

However, building a bridge to operational meteorology is instructive since it emphasizes application of the science. Students are enriched when they are able to incorporate their classroom studies in explaining the ambient weather conditions or understanding a weather broadcast. These applications motivate me to start each class with a map discussion, where I may show satellite imagery or the jet stream configuration.

I also display computer model output because the use of output from numerical weather prediction models is a significant component of operational meteorology. The inclusion of forecasting in the course reveals to students the tools they are acquiring to construct their own weather predictions - and to justifiably agree or disagree with media forecasts.

Several articles have highlighted fellow instructors' incorporation of forecast activities, modules, and contests in meteorology courses. As examples, Gallus et al. (2000) and Kahl et al. (2005) have developed interactive, Internet-based weather forecast activities now incorporated in classrooms nationwide. Yarger et al. (2000) summarized a forecast activity for large introductory meteorology courses, and showed that student forecast skill typically increased with time, and by extension, experience. Similarly, Kahl (2001) showed that student forecast justification of wind speed also increased during the semester.

To complement these studies, I also offer an extra-credit forecast contest similar to the Weather Challenge, formerly the National Collegiate Weather Forecast Contest (NCWFC) - a competition offered annually to colleges and universities nationwide (Vislocky and Fritsch, 1998). Readers interested in participating or learning more about the Weather Challenge should go to:, or e-mail:

For the student, the forecasting contest encourages friendly competition, breaks up the class week with something fun, and allows extra credit to be earned - all in an effort to increase student motivation (as examined in meteorology classes in Cutrim et al. …