Can You Pass a Meteorology Exam?

By: Torrance Grey

Can You Pass a Meteorology Exam?
Image: Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty Images

About This Quiz

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." This classic, dry joke is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, but was most likely said by another wit, Charles Dudley Warner. Whoever said it first wasn't entirely correct, though. Humans study the weather, and have done so for ages. Before you say, "How is that any better than just talking about it?" consider this: Meteorological study is the first step to predicting the weather, avoiding its harshest extremes and even harnessing it for human benefit. 

The list of people who have studied the weather is a veritable Who's Who of great minds. A short list of "not technically a meteorologist" folks who've contributed to our understanding of weather includes Aristotle (a philosopher), Sir Christopher Wren (an architect), Benjamin Franklin (a statesman), and Edmund Halley, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler (astronomers all). Maybe the weather fascinated them for the same reason it does us: because it's so awesomely visible and so much a part of our lives. You can't say the same for geology, hidden in the earth, or physics, which is often the interplay of invisible forces (like gravity). 

Are you secretly weather-obsessed? Or not-so-secretly? If so, we've got a quiz that'll let you show off what you know, and shore up the knowledge that's lacking. Come inside, fold up your umbrella and tackle our quiz now!

"Cirrus" and "cumulus" are types of what?
Clouds
If there's one thing humans love to do, it's classify things. For that reason, there's a complex system of cloud classification, depending on a cloud's shape and its altitude in the atmosphere. There are a number of long, Latinate names for each cloud, sometimes a compound name — e.g. "cirrocumulus." It gets complicated fast.
Snowflakes
Raindrops
Winds

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The boundary or leading edge of an air mass is called what?
A shift
A front
Changes in weather occur when masses of air with different densities, temperatures and humidities meet. The leading edge of theses air masses are called "fronts," a term you've undoubtedly heard on many, many weather reports.
A rearguard
A vanguard

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A barometer measures which of these?
Air pressure
Interpreted correctly, barometers can predict changes in weather, or indicate altitude (because atmospheric pressure gets lower the further one travels from sea level). The word has been borrowed by journalists to mean, generally, "indicator" (e.g. "a cultural barometer").
Volume of thunder
Wind direction
Wind speed

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A destructive funnel cloud with high winds is called ...
A wind shear
A monsoon
A land vortex
A tornado
Tornadoes are common in the American plains states and the Midwest. Tornado "chasers" were a subject of fascination in the 1990s, and some even had their own TV shows — but it helps if you remember that basic cable was expanding so fast back then that people would watch just about anything.

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Which of these "body parts" does a hurricane have?
An eye
Yes, we're talking about the "eye of the hurricane," or the center spot in which the wind and rain abate, and things are deceptively calm. (We think a hurricane also appears to have "arms," but nobody asked us).
A leg
A torso
A wrist

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Probably the most familiar meteorological instrument, to most people, is the thermometer. What does it measure?
Air pressure
Rainfall
Temperature
Of course, a thermometer measures temperature. You're probably as used to the medical type as the weather type. The name is derived from the Greek word "therme," which means, "related to heat."
Wind speed

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Which of these is a common location for a large-scale weather station?
An airport
As we've noted elsewhere in this quiz, weather observation is critical to a number of fields ... but few more than aviation. That's why so many airports have weather stations. Data on wind direction and speed, cloud cover and precipitation right at the airfield is key to safe takeoffs and landings.
A bank
A forest
A shopping mall

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Does the science of meteorology have anything to do with actual meteors?
Yes, it does.
No, it really doesn't.
So what's the connection? It has to do with the Greek word "meteoron," which means "something high up in the air." Hence "meteorology," in which things high up in the atmosphere, like air currents, influence the weather close to the earth.

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In meteorology terms, what is a "thermal"?
A spot between clouds that lets the sun through
A warm day
A warm rain
An updraft of warm air
We all learned in physics class that warm air rises. In the study of weather, "thermal" is the specific word for an updraft of heated air, rising from a warm spot on the earth below. A thermal is surrounded by cooler air, descending from the top. So it's part of its own cyclical system.

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Lightning can move in which of the following ways?
Cloud-to-cloud
Cloud-to-ground
Solely within a cloud
All of these
Lightning doesn't strike the ground as often as it stays within a single cloud. But we tend to think of lightning as cloud-to-ground, because it can be so destructive when it does move that way.

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What is the name of a modern, highly accurate form of weather radar?
Doppler
Doppler radar is related to the well-known "Doppler effect" in physics, the one that explains why sirens sound higher-pitched when an emergency vehicle is approaching you and lower when past you. In Doppler radar, waves are bounced off moving objects in the atmosphere to provide information about their path and trajectory.
Pascal
Planck
Van Zandt

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What is an important — maybe the most important — purpose of meteorology?
Forecasting the weather
This is far and away the most common use of meteorology. Humans have sought to predict the weather from time immemorial, with references to forecasting appearing in the writings of Aristotle and the Christian gospels.
Improving our general understanding of the universe
Improving weather-related products (like rain gear)
Providing jobs for TV weathermen/women

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A "supercell" is the strongest form of which weather phenomenon?
Cold front
Warm front
Seaquake
Thunderstorm
Thunderstorms come in four types: single-cell, multi-cell-line, multi-cell-cluster and supercell. The last one is the strongest, and poses a serious threat not only to aviation, but to people and structures on the ground.

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Water falling from the sky, in any form, is called ______.
Vapor
Occultation
Precipitation
The forms of precipitation that you're most likely familiar with are rain and snow, but there are several others. The verb "precipitate" is a flexible one that can mean "to cause suddenly" or "to throw down," with the second one obviously being closer in meaning to the meteorological concept.
Rain

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What is the name for the regular periods of warm water temperature in the western Pacific, which affect rainfall and weather patterns?
El Nino
The story goes that Latino fishermen gave the pattern the name "El Nino" after the Christ child (because the pattern was most noticeable around Christmas). El Nino alternates with "La Nina," a period of cooling water temperatures and milder weather.
Der Mittelschmerz
The Pineapple Express
The Dry Tortugas

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When getting dressed in the morning, in addition to knowing the temperature, it helps to know what?
The air pressure
The wind direction
The wind chill
Thermometers only measure the temperature of the air. But air in motion conducts heat away from exposed skin, making it functionally colder than the temperature would indicate. We love this effect in summertime, but in the winter, it's a drawback. It's important to cover nearly all exposed skin on very cold days when there's a significant wind chill in effect.
The wind shear

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A tornado, when it forms over water, is called a ______.
Downspout
Vortex
Waterspout
People often confuse "downspout" with "waterspout," but the first is a feature of a building — it's the pipe that carries water from a rain gutter to the ground. Not-so-fun fact: A waterspout might have been to blame for the abandonment of the Mary Celeste, the ship found adrift off the Azores in the 19th century.
Oceanado

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True or false: A cloud is always composed of water vapor, never ice crystals.
True
False
All cirrus clouds are, in fact, made of ice crystals. The cold temperatures at their altitude, 20,000 feet or above, necessitates it. This is also why their feathery, spiny structures might remind you of the opaque white formations seen inside ice cubes.

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Which of these cloud types takes its name from the Latin word for "heaped" or "tumbled"?
Cirrus
Cumulus
"Cumulus" is the Latin word in question. It's related to the word "accumulate," a verb that means "pile up or gather." Tall, fluffy clouds tend to look like this sort of accumulation -- think of a laundry pile -- hence the name.
Nimbostratus
Stratus

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Meteorology uses a lot of names and classifications. But which of these are essentially the same thing?
Cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons
A cyclone is a type of storm, a spiral air mass that forms and travels over water, and breaks up once on large land masses. When a cyclone is the Atlantic or Northeast Pacific, it's a hurricane. When it forms in the Northwest Pacific, it's a typhoon.
Hurricanes and waterspouts
Waterspouts and squalls
Warm fronts and thermals

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Weather affects a great many professions. However, which of these would be least likely to need an accurate weather report?
Airline pilot
Chef
Meteorology has a wide range of applications, in military and civil life. So, OK, a very science-minded cook might tell you about how atmospheric pressure and humidity affect sensitive dishes (souffles might be a candidate here). But compared to the other three, we're comfortable saying "chef" here.
Ship's captain
Farmer

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True or false: Because it forms virtually on the ground, mist is not considered a meteorological phenomenon.
True
False
Fog and mist are both weather patterns. Both are fine water particles in the air, and a number of factors cause them to form. So what's the difference between fog and mist? Fog forms over, or right next to a body of water. Mist is land-locked.

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Wind speed is measured by ... ?
An anemometer
Did this word remind you of the simple sea creature, the anemone? It did us, too, so we looked into the relationship between the words. The Greek "anemos" means "wind," and "anemone" means "wind flower," presumably named for its movements in currents of water. Aww!
A disdrometer
A nephelometer
A Stevenson screen

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A simple anemometer (wind speed indicator) is a four-armed vane with what on the ends?
Balls
Cups
You could also describe a "cup anemometer" as a "dish anemometer," because the basic point is that one side is concave, to catch the wind. Therefore, you can easily see how hard the wind is blowing by how fast the vane is turning. Early ones (they go back centuries) were probably just visual indicators. Modern ones translate the movement of the vane into numerical data.
Foil reflectors
Flags

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What does a "ceilometer" measure?
The altitude of the cloud ceiling
As the name suggests, a "ceilometer" measures the height of the cloud cover. Often, it uses a laser beam to do this. That's why a ceilometer is not included in the retail weather stations you can buy at high-end toy stores or home and garden shops.
Drop size of raindrops
Pellet size of hail
Wind direction

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What does a hygrometer measure?
The angle of the sun's rays
Humidity or water content
Don't be confused: A hygrometer measures the water content in the soil, or air, or an enclosed space. But that's not the same thing as rainfall. That's measured by an instrument we usually call a "rain gauge."
Rainfall
Water temperature

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Tall cumulus clouds are formed by what sort of atmosphere?
Exceptionally humid
Exceptionally warm
Still and calm
Unstable and turbulent
In general, cumulus clouds don't form in a calm atmosphere. But the higher and more fluffy the cloud, the more you'll know you're looking at something created by atmospheric turbulence.

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One of these is NOT a meterological measuring instrument. Which is it?
Disdrometer
Lightning rod
You could probably guess this one without knowing what all the other things do. After all, a "meter" is always something that measures. A lightning rod, while weather-related, protects buildings from lightning strikes by directing the current into the ground.
Anemometer
Ceilometer

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Which of these is NOT a form of precipitation?
Graupel
Hail
Sleet
Stroma
Really, "graupel"? Yes, really. Borrowed from the German, it's a term that means "soft hail" or "snow hail," and happens when water droplets freeze on snowflakes. Weather phenomena really are varied and complex!

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The scale for measuring the force of wind is called ...
Beaufort Scale
Before Francis Beaufort, the observation of wind speed and force was fairly subjective. Beaufort created a ratings system based on agreed-upon phenomena that helped navigators and ship's captains communicate more clearly with each other.
Doppler scale
Glasgow scale
Willford scale

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The units that measure atmospheric pressure are called what?
Bars
Nanograms
Pascals
Either bars or Pascals
The official units are "pascals," after Blaise Pascal, who was one of many scientists/philosophers/great thinkers who studied weather phenomenon. One "bar," an unofficial but frequently used measure, is equal to 100,000 pascals.

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Which of these prefixes denotes the highest altitude of cloud?
Cirro-
Surprised? We know that the prefix "alto-" suggests height, but it's misleading here. Cirrus clouds are the highest ones, forming above 20,000 feet. The name "cirrus" doesn't have anything to do with height, but refers to their thin, spiky shapes. In other branches of science, "cirruses" are cilia or slender appendages.
Cumulo-
Nimbo-
Alto-

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When we say that clouds are classified by their height, what does this mean?
Their height from top to bottom
The altitude of their base
Whether a cloud is "cirro-" or "alto-" (or just "low") depends on how high above earth its bottom point, or base, is. This, in turn, is measured from sea level. This basic distinction is known as the cloud's "family": high, medium or low.
The altitude of their highest point
The density of their water vapor

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The formal name for a rain gauge is a what?
Eaumeter
Hydrometer
Pluviometer
"Pluvia" is the Latin word for rain, which is reflected in both the Spanish "lluvia" and the French "pluvie." It's understandable if, when setting up your home weather station in the backyard, you just want to use "rain gauge."
Galilei indicator

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Which of these clouds commonly has the appearance of raked sand dunes, with blue sky showing through at regular intervals?
Altocumulus
Altocumulus, sometimes referred to in reports as "Alpha Charlie" clouds, form in wide fields of alternating clouds and sky. The metaphors that people use for them are things like "sand dunes" or "patchwork quilt."
Altostratus
Nimbostratus
Stratus

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