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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/26/2008

Free/Low-Cost Classes

By Steve Scolnik

Skywarn; climate course; astronomy for non-scientists

If you're interested in learning something about meteorology and also performing a public service, the National Weather Service (NWS) has several Skywarn classes scheduled in the metro region. Skywarn is a program through which trained members of the public can become spotters for weather events such as severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and flooding, and report their observations to the local NWS. The classes, which are free, consist of one three-hour introductory session. Several optional advanced sessions are also offered separately.

The next scheduled Basics I class (prerequisite for all other classes) inside the Beltway is Feb. 9 at the University of Maryland in College Park, sponsored by the meteorology graduate student organization. You can register for the class online and also view the slides and videos from a previous presentation. Other upcoming classes in the Washington/Baltimore region are scheduled for Leesburg and Towson. For graduates of Basic I training, Basics II, Flooding, and Tropical classes are also available.

The Teaching Company, which happens to be based in Chantilly, is again offering its course, Earth's Changing Climate, at a major discount for a limited time: 80% off the regular price until Jan. 31. The course consists of 12 30-minute lectures and is available in several formats: DVD, audio CD, audio download, and audiotape. Sale prices range from $19.95 to $39.95, depending on format. Because the company is based in Chantilly, regular shipping is usually overnight.

It's closer to meteor-ology than meteorology, but astronomy fans should check out the free online version of Yale's Astronomy 160, Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics. Yale has recently followed the lead of MIT, which is putting all of its courses online, in providing free access to some general-interest courses on the web.

ASTR 160 is a course for non-science majors; in fact, science majors are prohibited from enrolling. The only math requirement is high school algebra. It "focuses on three particularly interesting areas of astronomy that are advancing very rapidly: Extra-Solar Planets, Black Holes, and Dark Energy. Particular attention is paid to current projects that promise to improve our understanding significantly over the next few years. The course explores not just what is known, but what is currently not known, and how astronomers are going about trying to find out." Lectures are available as either audio or video podcasts; lecture transcripts and copies of the lecturer's notes are available for download. Based on listening to the first two lectures, I would strongly recommend this course to anyone interested in science, regardless of background.

By Steve Scolnik  | January 26, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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I've always been interested in becoming a weather spotter for the NWS. How old do you have to be to become one?

Posted by: weatherdudeVA | January 26, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

weatherdudeVA: According to the National Weather Service, spotters can be as young as 14.

Posted by: Jason, Capital Weather Gang | January 26, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Cool! Thanks!

Posted by: weatherdudeVA | January 26, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Highly encourage taking these classes, I took Basics I and WINTER STORM CLASS(which they rarely give) and they were both excellent. Two or three of the LWX mets were there, good information and they give you a free Spotter patch and sticker, which I thought was cool. If you take them, try and take your exact location with you (long/lat) as that helps with your location, then you will get your own spotter ID#. I was also contacted later to take part in a Hydrology study by sending in daily co-op readings due to my "under-reported location." Good stuff folks and kudos to the GANG for promoting it!

Posted by: Mike from the Blue Ridge | January 26, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Steve - Thanks for mentioning the UMD class! I'm thinking the number of registrants will go up.

Posted by: Megan | January 26, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

How long are the classes? The one in Leesburg starts at 7 on a Monday night, and I am just wondering if I will be worrying about sleep when I get out of class and have to drive the hour home on a windy 2-lane highway. :-)

Posted by: Kim in Manassas | January 26, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

I was an observer for the NWS for almost fifteen years and was soliciated on another site to become a Skywarn member. They waived the requirement for me to attend classes because of my experience and I have heard nothing since and they apparentely have ignored my emails. Don't bother applying.

Posted by: JT | January 26, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Snowlovers....and the wait guys think we will one big wopper storm. or nothing at all.

Posted by: ChrisfromVA | January 26, 2008 9:11 PM | Report abuse fading on snow belief. Sometimes Jason or Jim or El Bombo say hopeful things about the possibility of cold "outbreaks" coming and the next weeks being unsettled, but its hard to keep my chin up.

Posted by: missy | January 26, 2008 11:05 PM | Report abuse

In reference to JT's comment....I can't totally disagree...sometimes they are horrible at getting back to you and often don't post your reports...which kinda makes you feel useless...

Kim, the classes are 3 hours long, one of the reasons I took it on a saturday afternoon!

Posted by: Mike from the Blue Ridge | January 27, 2008 7:26 AM | Report abuse

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