Who says that you need to drown in math, debt, and tears to get an education? If you're in the mood for some book learnin', there is an awesome resource that allows you to access hundreds of lessons about weather and climatology, and it's all completely free.
The courses are offered through the COMET Program, which is operated by UCAR, or the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. UCAR is "a consortium of more than 100 member colleges and universities" that offer programs to study the atmosphere and other related fields.
Quite a few of the courses are heavy on inside baseball, such as the upper-level "frontogenetical circulations and stability," but many of them are designed for beginners and meteorology students. When I took meteorology a few years back, we were regularly assigned "COMET modules," as they're called, as homework to correspond with that week's lesson.
Here's the link to the list of lessons and courses offered by UCAR. You can sort through the modules by topic, skill level, and alphabetically if you're into that sort of thing. If you see something that interests you, you'll need to sign up for a new account (remember, it's free) using the link up at the top-right, or just click here.
SKYWARN Storm Spotter Training
One of the most popular (and useful) modules to both the general public and diehard weather buffs alike is the SKYWARN storm spotter training offered by the program. You can become a storm spotter from the comfort of your own home, without having to go to your local high school or government building and sit through a lecture.
Storm spotters are a network of almost 300,000 people trained by the NWS to spot and report severe weather in a timely manner to help forecasters issue warnings and get a better understanding of what storms are doing at ground level.
If you check the "I would like to register as a SKYWARN spotter with my local NWS office" box before starting the lessons, the information you give them will be sent to your local NWS office if you successfully complete the two modules.
Climate and Climate Change
There are quite a few COMET modules related to climate change to help you learn more about the dangers we face as climate change continues to take hold. Some of the lessons include:
Modules for the Casual Weather Geek
If you're a little more of a weather buff than most, you might enjoy some of the more detailed modules that COMET offers. Even if you're not that into the weather, learning more about how the atmosphere around you works is a great way to expand your knowledge and also to shut someone up when they try to make boring small talk.
If you're interested in severe weather, for example, they have primers on buoyancy and CAPE, how to read and understand hodographs, and "radar signatures for severe convective weather," which is an advanced lesson in methods of spotting severe weather on Doppler weather radar.
There are also modules on general topics such as radiation fog, jet streams, and even how forecasters use data from numerical weather models to help create a forecast.
It's a pretty great way to get a quick refresher on the weather and climate or gain a deeper understanding of how the atmosphere works, and nothing beats the cost of free.
[Images via UCAR/MetEd]