Weather Lab: Predict Weather Patterns

Weather Lab App Launches

weather app 1

A screenshot of the Weather Lab app.

A Predictive Weather Modeling App for Students and Teachers

I usually don't mix my professional life with my personal blog, but I wanted to share with you a neat interactive weather app that I helped develop. It is a tool that can be useful for weatherphiles, teachers, and students. It is called the Weather Lab, an online and mobile application from the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) in association with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The Weather Lab helps students visualize how weather is formed though the complex interactions of ocean currents and air masses in North America.

In the app students take on the role of a budding meteorologist asked to model and predict weather outcomes, and how to prepare for them, by choosing a combination of two air masses and an ocean gyre (a system of currents).

There are four main air masses in North America to choose from:

air mass

Air mass choices in the App.

  • mT= Maritime Tropical: A warm and humid air mass year-round that forms over the oceans and warm waters of the equator. (warm/moist)
  • cT= Continental Tropical: A warm, dry air mass that forms over the desert Southwest of the United States and northern Mexico. (warm/dry)
  • mP= Maritime Polar: A cold or cool air mass that always carries moisture. It forms over the cool North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. (cool/moist)
  • cP= Continental Polar: A cold dry air mass that forms over the interior of Canada and Alaska. (cool/dry)

The large number of ocean currents found around North America were simplified to four major gyres:

  • Pacific Ocean Gyre
  • Gulf Loop Gyre
  • North Atlantic Gyre
  • North Atlantic Gyre and Trade Winds

Once the student chooses an ocean gyre and two air masses, then they are asked to make a prediction about how to prepare for the days weather (specifically this is written to be modeling Spring weather). This means that they must first predict how the air masses might interact to form weather, and then decide on how to prepare. Possible answers include taking an umbrella, putting on sunscreen, seeking shelter in a basement, or wearing a sweater.  This is probability modeling, so the answers provided are for one possible scenario, though there could be other outcomes. We try to make this clear to students.


A screen shot of one possible scenario from the Weather Lab.

After a student chooses the correct prediction the air masses and gyre animates,  the student can then visualize the interactions. Where the two air masses meet (in most scenarios) a weather front symbol will appear. A short explanation of each interaction is then provided, along with a link to a real-world scenario video or satellite image. Here is an example of the video of Hurricane Katrina, to which the students are directed.

This app supports middle school teachers by meeting the Next Generation Science Standards, specifically:

Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions. MS-ESS2-5

It was fun working on this app. Hopefully teachers will find it a useful support to their lessons on weather. Click here to visit the app.