AOS 401: Meteorological Measurements (Spring)


This course centers on a week-long field trip to the Storm Peak Laboratory in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Students will live and work in the laboratory at 10,560 ft. elevation and undertake individual and/or team research projects using some of the instruments and facilities available at the lab as well as any additional required materials brought from Madison.

Examples of science projects completed by Prof. Desai’s students in 2011 and 2013 can be found here and here, respectively.

Transportation to and from the lab is normally via skis and ski lift (any student with a disability may be able to arrange transportation up and down the mountain via snowmobile).  It is not uncommon for students going on this trip to have little or no prior experience skiing; most students master skiing well enough within a few days to get around without too much difficulty.

Fun fact: last time Prof. Petty taught the course, he started off with considerably more skiing experience than most of the students, but by the end of the week he was getting left behind!

Here are Prof. Petty’s photos from Spring 2009.


You will need permission from the instructor in order to enroll (see email announcement for details).  Only eight student spots are available on the field trip, because there are only nine bunks at SPL. As a 400-level course, it is intended primarily for our  AOS seniors, but graduate students may enroll on a space-available basis.



There will be class meetings as needed to develop the plan for the Storm Peak Lab field trip.  Among other things, we will develop and refine research objectives that are compatible with both the mountaintop environment and the available instrumentation.

Spring Break field trip

On the Friday afternoon at the beginning of Spring Break, we will take two university vans to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  We will arrive mid-day Saturday, rent skis in town (for those who need them), and then spend one week living and working in the Storm Peak Laboratory.  The staff at the lab will facilitate our living and working at the lab.

In addition to your projects and the basic tasks of eating, sleeping, and cleaning (see more about these things below),  part of the routine includes evening weather briefings conducted by students on a rotating basis.

We will depart for Madison the following Saturday morning, most likely arriving early Sunday morning.


You will write up your results as a research paper, and you will give a 15-minute oral presentation of the type you would see at a research conference.


Grading will be based on the quality of the proposal (if applicable), participation and cooperation during the field trip, and the subsequent writeup and oral presentation.  Detailed breakdown will be given in the syllabus at the beginning of the course.


The Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department gets billed a substantial amount of money for the use of the SPL lab and the university vans. Because of rising costs and shrinking budgets, we are now asking students to contribute $200 toward the total cost of the field trip.  This amount includes food and lodging at SPL.  (In future years, we will reevaluate this fee based on revised expenses and availability of departmental funds.) There will also be other incidental expenses on the way to and from Steamboat Springs as well as ski rentals, etc.; these are the responsibility of the student.

Additional notes

Although living, working, and skiing in the mountains is a lot of fun, this is a serious course with serious expectations of the student. Please only enroll if you are prepared to be at least as diligent and resourceful in the pursuit of your research project as you are in pursuit of moguls.

Projects that depend on particular weather conditions may prove impossible if those conditions don’t materialize. Every student will have to have a “Plan B” project that can be conducted under any weather conditions.

The altitude at SPL is high enough that some students get headaches and/or feel a bit ill on the first day or two after arrival. Insomnia is also not uncommon at first.  Drinking lots of water is very important to keep some of these symptoms away.  Most visitors quickly acclimate to the elevation. But if you have a medical condition that makes you particularly susceptible to the effects of altitude or that requires you have ready access to medical care if needed, please consult with your doctor before enrolling in this course.

The SPL living space is quite small.   In addition to the day room/kitchen area pictured at left, there are two very small bunk rooms, one with six bunks; the other with three bunks.  It may or may not be possible to segregate completely by gender. Privacy when dressing, etc., requires flexibility and mutual consideration.  And if you’re sensitive to snoring by others, bring earplugs!

Incinerator toilets must be tended, and water for washing, etc., is harvested from snow.  Meals will be cooked in the SPL kitchen. These chores and others are divided among all participants (including the instructor) on a rotating basis.  Toilet duty isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds — if you’re really curious, you can read this user’s humorous review of a similar model.  (NOTE:  Apparently the toilets have been upgraded since our last visit!)

This field experience is fun and interesting in its own right, and the opportunity to ski for a week at a world-class ski resort is just icing on the cake!  To ensure maximum enjoyment for all,  students who participate are expected to be extremely considerate of others at all times and attentive to their delegated responsibilities.