MeteoXchange 

Supporting International Collaboration for Early Career Researchers 

James Fallon – j.fallon@pgr.reading.ac.uk 
 

What is it? 

Due to lockdowns and travel restrictions since 2020, networking opportunities in science have been transformed. We can expect to see a mix of virtual and hybrid elements persist into the future, offering both cost-saving and carbon-saving benefits. 

The MeteoXchange project aims to become a new platform for young atmospheric scientists from all over the world, providing networking opportunities and platforms for collaboration. The project is an initiative of German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and research society Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft. Events are conducted in English, and open to young scientists anywhere. 

ECS Conference 

This year marked the first ever MeteoXchange conference, which took place online in March 2022. The ECS (early career scientists) conference took place over two days, on gather.town. An optional pre-conference event gave the opportunity for new presenters to work on presentation skills and receive feedback at the end of the main conference. 

Figure 1: Conference Schedule, including a keynote on Machine Learning and Earth System Modelling, movie night, and presenter sessions. 

Five presenter sessions were split over two days, with young scientists sharing their research to a conference hall on the virtual platform gather.town. Topics ranged from lidar sensing and reanalysis datasets, to cloud micro-physics and UV radiation health impacts. I really enjoyed talks on the attribution of ‘fire weather’ to climate change, and machine learning techniques for thunderstorm forecasting! The first evening concluded with a screening of documentary Picture a Scientist

During the poster session on the second day, I presented my research poster to different scientists walking by my virtual poster board. Posters were designed to mimic the large A2 printouts seen at in-person events. Two posters that really stood out were a quantification of SO2 emissions from Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, and an evaluation of air quality in Cuba’s Mariel Bay using meteorological diagnostic models combined with air dispersion modelling. 

Anticipating that it might be hard to communicate on the day, I added a lot of text to my poster. However, I needn’t have worried as the virtual platform worked flawlessly for conducting poster Q&A – the next time I present on a similar platform I will try to avoid using as much text and instead focus on a more traditional layout! 

Figure 2: During the poster session, I presented my research on Reserve-Power systems – energy-volume requirements and surplus capacity set by weather events. 

By the conference end, I got the impression that everyone had really enjoyed the event! Awards were given for the winners of the best posters and talks. The ECS conference was fantastically well organised by Carola Detring (DWD) and Philipp Joppe (JGU Mainz), and a wonderful opportunity to meet researchers from around the world. 

MeteoMeets 

Since July 2021, MeteoXchange have held monthly meetups, predominantly featuring lecturers and professors who introduce research at their institute for early career scientists in search of opportunities! 

The opportunities shared at MeteoMeets are complemented by joblists and by the MeteoMap: https://www.meteoxchange.de/meteomap. The MeteoMap lists PhD and postdoc positions across Germany, neatly displayed with different markers depending on the type of institute. This resource is currently still under construction. 

Figure 3: The MeteoMap features research opportunities in Germany, available for early career researchers from across the world. 

Travel Grants 

One of the most exciting aspects of the MeteoXchange project is the opportunity for international collaboration with travel grants! 

The travel funds offered by MeteoXchange are for two or more early career scientists in the field of atmospheric sciences. Students must propose a collaborative project, which aims to spark future work and networking between their own institutions. If the application is successful, students have the opportunity to access 2,500€ for travel funds.  

Over the last two weeks of April, I will be collaborating with KIT student Fabian Mockert  on “Dunkelflauten” (periods of low-renewable energy production, or “dark wind lulls”). Dunkelflauten, especially cold ones, result in high electricity load on national transmission networks, leading to high costs and potentially cause a failure of a fully renewable power system doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3338. We are collaborating to use power system modelling to better understand how this stress manifests itself. Fabian will spend two weeks visiting the University of Reading campus, meeting with students and researchers from across the department. 

Get Involved 

The 2022 travel grant deadline has already closed; however, it is hoped that MeteoXchange will receive funding to continue this project into future years, supporting young researchers in collaboration and idea-exchange. 

To get involved with the MeteoMeets, and stay up to date on MeteoXchange related opportunities, signup to the mailing list

Thirty Years of Quo Vadis 

Brian Lo – brian.lo@pgr.reading.ac.uk  

“Quo Vadis”, Latin for “Where are you marching?”, is an annual event held in the Department of Meteorology in which mostly 2nd year PhD students showcase their work to other members in the department. The event provides the opportunity for students to present research in a professional yet friendly environment. Quo Vadis talks usually focus on a broad overview of the project and the questions they are trying to address, the work done so far to address those questions and especially an emphasis on where ongoing research is heading (as the name of the event suggests).  Over the years, presenters have been given constructive feedback from their peers and fellow academics on presentation style and their scientific work. 

This year’s Quo Vadis was held on 1st March 2022 as a hybrid event. Eleven excellent in-person talks covering a wide range of topics were delivered in the one-day event. The two sessions in the morning saw talks that ranged from synoptic meteorology such as atmospheric blocking to space weather-related topics on the atmosphere of Venus, whereas the afternoon session had talks that varied from storms, turbulence, convection to energy storage!  

Every year, anonymous staff judges attend the event and special recognition is given to the best talk. The winning talk is selected based on criteria including knowledge of the subject matter, methods and innovativeness, results, presentation style and ability to answer questions after the presentation. This year, the judges were faced with a difficult decision due to the high standard of cutting-edge research presented in which presenters “demonstrated excellent knowledge of their subject matter, reached conclusions that were strongly supported by their results, produced well-structured presentations, and answered their questions well.” 

This year’s Quo Vadis winner is Natalie Ratcliffe. She gave an impressive presentation titled “Using Aircraft Observations and modelling to improve understanding of mineral dust transport and deposition processes”. The judging panel appreciated the combination of observations and modelling in her work and were impressed by her ability to motivate and communicate her findings in an engaging way. In addition to the winner, three honourable mentions were made this year. These went to Hannah Croad, Brian Lo and James Fallon whose talks were on arctic cyclones, using radar observations in the early identification of severe convection and weather impacts on energy storage respectively. 

Being the first in-person event for a long time, Quo Vadis 2022 was a huge success thanks to our organisers Lauren James and Elliott Sainsbury. Having run for 30 years, Quo Vadis remains a highlight and an important rite of passage for PhD students in the meteorology department. Having presented at this year’s event, I found that summarising a year’s worth of research work in 12 minutes and making it engaging for a general audience is always a challenge. The audience at any level attending the event would at the very least appreciate the diversity of the PhD work within an already specialised field of meteorology. Who knows how Quo Vadis will evolve in the coming 30 years? Long may it continue! 

Panto 2021: Hybrid edition – Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody! 

Charlie Suitters – c.c.suitters@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Hannah Croad – h.croad@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Isabel Smith – i.h.smith@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Natalie Ratcliffe – n.ratcliffe@pgr.reading.ac.uk

The pantomime has been one of the highlights of the year for the last 3 decades in the Met department. This is put on by the PhD students, and usually performed in person at the end of the Autumn term. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the panto is going from strength to strength, with a virtual instalment in 2020, and adapting to the hybrid format this year. It’s amazing to see the department tradition continue.  

This year the four of us (Charlie Suitters, Hannah Croad, Isabel Smith and Natalie Ratcliffe) agreed to organise the panto. It was clear that the panto this year would need to cater for both people joining in person and virtually, and with the lingering uncertainty of the covid situation in the UK, we came to a group decision to pre-record the performance in advance. This would provide the best viewing experience for everyone, and provided a contingency if the covid situation worsened. In hindsight, this was a good decision. 

This year’s panto was called Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody, an idea based on the story of the band Queen. On Thursday 9th December 2021 we screened our pre-recorded pantomime in a hybrid format, with people watching both in the Madejski lecture theatre on campus and at home via Teams (probably in their pyjamas). Our story begins with our research group, Helen Dacre, Keith Shine, and Hilary Weller, on the lookout for a fourth member. In an episode of Mets Factor, the group sit through terrible auditions from Katrina and the Rossby Waves, Wet Wet Wet, the Weather Girls and Jedward (comprised of John Methven and Ed Hawkins), before finally stumbling upon Thorwald Stein (aka Eddy Mercury). The research group QUEEN (Quasi-Useful atmosphEric Electricity Nowcasting) is formed. Inspired by an impromptu radiosonde launch on the MSc field trip and skew-Ts (Chris knows!), QUEEN develop a Semi-Lagrangian convection scheme for lightning. Our narrator, SCENARIO administrator Wendy Neale, tells the story of the ups and downs of QUEENs journey, culminating in a presentation of their Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody to the world at the AMS conference.  

Natalie suggested the idea for the panto, and we all agreed that it was a great idea – especially with the potential for lots of Queen songs! Once we had our storyline, next came the script writing. This was a daunting task, but working as a team we managed to produce a decent first draft in one intensive script-writing week, full of amazing terrible meteorology puns. Whilst writing the script we decided on the best Queen songs for the plot (and for reasons that we cannot explain/remember, a Rebecca Black song too). Now it was time to alter the lyrics, which was a lot of fun! Only once we had written the songs did we actually consider the complexity of Freddie Mercury’s voice and how we, a bunch of non-musically talented PhD students, were going to attempt to do these songs any justice. It was too late to go back though, and we had to break the news to the band. Thankfully they were up to the challenge! 

From week 6 onwards, we were able to start recording scenes; we were lucky that we were able to film in-person in and around the Met Department. We were still able to include students who weren’t in Reading at the time by writing in virtual parts into the panto. This worked perfectly well given the very hybrid nature of life currently anyway. 

Like last year, we wanted to start earlier as we knew that we needed to be finished at least a week – preferably more – before the big night to give time to edit everything in time (there were still a couple of late nights just before the big night). The final late night session did lead to the incredible slow-mo shot of Nicki Robinson (Charlie) turning around in Bohemian Rhapsody, so there is something that can be said about late-night-induced-insanity!  

Come week 10, we had nearly finished all of our filming and only had the songs left to record. We arrived at the London Road music rooms not yet having heard any of the band’s rehearsals. They sounded amazing. Many thanks to James and Gabriel who had been organising the band throughout the term. Then we started singing and immediately reduced the quality! But with a bit of practice around the piano, we started to improve, though the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody was still a little questionable… With lots of pizza, we managed to record all of the songs in two nights! The band did an amazing job to put up with our musical incompetence (we are so very sorry). 

Over the next week, our three video editors worked hard to put the whole panto together and I hope you agree that they did a good job. This all led up to the big night where we were able to offer a small pre-panto reception in the Met coffee room before the panto started (somewhat attempting to mirror the normal pre-panto buffet). Apart from one slip up in scene 4 (my apologies hehe – Natalie), the screening went nearly perfectly with very few hybrid IT complications. Additionally, we had the return of an in-person performance of Mr Mets by our own Jon Shonk, and a heartwarming singing performance from the staff, organised by Chris Holloway and Keith Shine. Not only were we gifted this, but we were able to enjoy an in-person after-party in the coffee room with DJ Shonk. Of course there were a few Queen songs scattered in the mix, though we realised we struggled to remember the original lyrics and were only able to sing the panto versions! Following the story of Queen may have been a good idea, but have we forever ruined their songs for ourselves forever now? Quite possibly… 

And on that bombshell, we’d like to thank everyone who was involved in this panto, whether that be those who we convinced to act, sing, play in the band, help organise the event or even just come along to the screening. The whole process of creating this panto was exhausting, but so incredibly fun. I (Natalie) am so glad I did it and had a great time, but I now understand the ‘I’ve done my time’ sentiment of the previous organisers. (Hannah) Organising the panto was a lot of work, but so much fun (see bloopers). This has been a really rewarding experience, to see it all come together on the night, and to contribute to a fantastic department tradition. 

This year we sold tickets for the in-person showing and asked for donations to the David Grimes Trust from those viewing from home. Thank you to everyone who has already donated. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. We have managed to raise £170 for the David Grimes Trust. If you would like to donate still, please find our email with details on how to do so from Hannah Croad. 

Thank you to everyone who watched Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody on Thursday, we hope you had a fun evening whether you watched at home or in-person! 

2021 Academic Visiting Scientist – Tim Woolings 

Isabel Smith – i.h.smith@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Every year, the Met PhD students at the University of Reading invite a scientist from a different university to learn from and talk to about their own project. This year we had the renowned Professor Tim Woolings, who currently researches and teaches at the University of Oxford. Tim’s interests generally revolve around large scale atmospheric dynamics and understanding the impacts of climate change on such features. We, as Met PhD students, were very excited and extremely thankful that Tim donated a week of his time (4th-8th of October) and travelled from Oxford for hybrid events within the Met. building. Tim told us of his own excitement to be back visiting Reading, after completing his PhD here, on isentropic modelling of the atmosphere, and staying on as a researcher and part of the department until 2013.  

The week started with Tim presenting “Jet Stream Trends” at the Dynamical Research Group, known as Hoskin’s Half Hour. A large number of PhD students, post-doctorates and supervisors attended, which was to be expected considering Tim has a book dedicated on Jet streams. After a quick turnaround, he spoke at the departmental lunch time seminar on “The role of Rossby waves in polar weather and climate”. Here, Tim did an initial review on Rossby wave theory and then talked about his current fascinating research on the relevance of them within the polar atmosphere. The rest of Tim’s Monday consisted of lunch at park house with Robert Lee and the organising committee, Charlie Suitters, Hannah Croad and Isabel Smith (within picture). Later that evening Tim visited the Three Tuns pub with other staff members, for an important staff meeting! The PhD networking social with Tim on Thursday was a great evening where 15 to20 students were able to discuss Tim’s research in a less formal setting within Park House pub.  

Tim Woolings (2nd left) and the visiting scientist organising committee

Tim’s Tuesday, Wednesday (morning) and Thursday consisted of virtual and in-person one on one 15-minute meetings with PhD students. Here students explained their research projects and Tim gave them a refreshing outsider perceptive. On Wednesday afternoon, after Tim attended the High-Resolution Climate Modelling research group, he talked about his career in PhD group (A research group for PhD students only, where PhD students present to each other.). Tim explained how his PhD did not work as well as he had initially hoped, and the entire room felt a great weight of relief. His advice on keeping calm and looking for the bigger picture was heard by us all.  

On Friday the 8th, a mini conference was put on and six students got to the “virtual” and literal stage and presented their current findings. Topics ranged from changes to Arctic cyclones, blocking, radar and Atmospheric dust. The conference and the week itself were both great successes, with PhD students leaving with inspiring questions to help aid their current studies. All at the University of Reading Department of Meteorology were extremely grateful and we thoroughly enjoyed having Tim here. We wish him all the best in his future endeavours and hope he comes back soon! 

Fluid Dynamics Summer School 

Charlie Suitters – c.c.suitters@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

Every year, Cambridge and École Polytechnique in Paris alternate hosting duties of the Fluid Dynamics of Sustainability and the Environment (FDSE) summer school. This ran for two weeks earlier in September, and like many other things took place online. After talking to previous attendees of the summer school, I went into the fortnight with excitement but also trepidation, as I had heard that it has an intense programme! Here is my experience of a thoroughly enjoyable couple of weeks. 

Structure 

The summer school brought together around 50 PhD students and a few postdocs from all over the world, from Japan to Europe to Arizona, and I have to admire the determination of those students who attended the school at unsociable times of the day! We all came from different backgrounds – some had a meteorological background like myself, but there were also oceanographers, fluid dynamicists, engineers and geographers to name but a few. It was great to hear from so many students who are passionate about their work in two brief ice-breaker sessions where we introduced ourselves to the group and I got to appreciate how wide-reaching the FDSE community is. 

Each day consisted of four 1-hour lectures – normally three ‘core’ subjects (fluid dynamics basics, atmospheric dynamics, climate, oceanography, etc.) and one guest lecturer per day (including our very own Sue Gray who gave us a whistle-stop tour of the mesoscale and extratropical cyclones). After this, there was the opportunity to split into breakout groups and speak to the day’s lecturers to ask them questions and spark discussions in small groups. On the final day, we also had a virtual tour of the various fluid dynamics labs that Cambridge has (there are a lot!) and a few of the students in the labs spoke about their work. 

Core Lectures 

Figure 1. Demonstration of a density current (blue) of salty water in a tank of less dense tap water. Taken from Jean-Marc Chomaz’s lecture

These lectures were given by very engaging specialists including Colm-Cille Caulfield, John Taylor, Alison Ming, Jerome Neufeld and Jean-Marc Chomaz; and provided the perfect opportunity to see lots of pretty videos about fluid flows (Fig. 1). Having done an undergraduate course in Meteorology, a lot of these gave me a refresher of things I should already know, but it was refreshing to see how other lecturers approach the same material. 

The most interesting core lectures to me were those regarding renewable energy, given by Riwal Plougonuen and Alex Stegner. Plougonuen lectured us on wind turbines, telling us how they worked and why they are designed like they are – did you know that actually the most efficient wind turbines have 2 blades, but the vast majority have three for better structural stability? On the other hand, Stegner spoke to us about hydroelectricity, and I learned that Norway produces nearly all of its electricity through hydropower. Other highlights from these core lectures include watching a video of a research hut being swamped by an avalanche (Nathalie Vriend, see video at the link here), and seeing Jerome Neufeld demonstrate ice flows using golden syrup (he likes his food!) 

Guest Lectures 

Figure 2. Flow patterns around a sash window with both slots open – the blue arrows showing incoming cold air and the red arrows showing warm flow to the outside. Taken from Megan Davies Wykes’ lecture.

For me, the guest lectures were the highlights of my time at the summer school. These lectures often explored things beyond my area of expertise, and demonstrated just how the fluid mechanics we had learned are highly applicable to many different areas of life. We had a lecture about building ventilation from Megan Davies Wykes, which made me realise that adequately ventilating a room is more than simply cracking open a window – you have to consider everything from the size of the room, outside wind speed, how many windows there are, and even the body heat from people inside the room. Davies Wykes’s passion about people using their sash windows correctly will always stick with me – turns out you need to open both the top and the bottom panes for the best ventilation (something she emphasised more than once!), see Fig. 2.  

Figure 3. Demonstration of how droplets and plumes of air from the mouth are kept closer to the body when wearing a mask (Bhagat et al. 2020).

Fittingly, we also had a lecture from Paul Linden about the transmission of Covid, and he demonstrated how effective masks are at preventing transmission using a great visualisation (Fig. 3). It was great to have topics such as these that are relevant in today’s world, and provided yet another real-world application of the fluid dynamics we had learned. 

Breakout Discussion Sessions 

Every afternoon, the day’s lecturers returned and invited us to ask them questions about their lectures, or just have an intelligent discussion about their area of expertise. Admittedly these sessions could get a little awkward when everyone was too tired to ask anything towards the end of the long two weeks, but these sessions were still incredibly useful. They provided us the means to speak to a professional in their field about their research, and allowed us time to network and ask them some challenging questions. 

Concluding Remarks 

Of course, over the course of the two weeks we learned so much more than what I described above, and yet again demonstrates the versatility of the field! The summer school as a whole was organised really well and the lecturers were engaging and genuinely interested in hearing about us and our projects. I would highly recommend attending this summer school next year to any PhD student – the scope of the school was so broad that I am sure there will be something for everyone in the programme, and fingers crossed it goes ahead in Paris next year! 

References 

Bhagat, R., Davies Wykes, M., Dalziel, S., & Linden, P. (2020). Effects of ventilation on the indoor spread of COVID-19. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 903, F1. doi:10.1017/jfm.2020.720 

The EGU Experience 2021: a PhD student perspective

Max Coleman – m.r.coleman@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Chloe Brimicombe – c.r.brimicombe@pgr.reading.ac.uk

The European Geoscience Union General Assembly is one of the big annual conferences for atmospheric science (and Earth sciences more generally). The two of us were fortunate to have the opportunity to attend and present our research at this year’s vEGU21 conference. As has been done in previous years like in 2019 we’re here to give you an account of our EGU experience 😀 (so you can compare our virtual experience with the previous posts if you like 😉) 

Entrance hall to virtual EGU (Source: Linda Speight) 

What was vEGU21? 

EGUv21 was the general assembly for 2021 online. It took place from the 19th to the 30th April EGU. Through an impressive virtual conference center and mostly Zoom. 

What was your presentation on? 

Chloe –  I presented borderless heat stress in the extreme heat events session, which is based on a paper currently under review at Earth’s Future, where we show that heat stress is growing in the area during the month of August. The invited speaker to the session was Laura Suarez-Gutierrez and it was a great presentation on the dynamics of increasing heat extremes with climate change across Europe. I really enjoyed learning about the latest research in the extreme heat area. 

Max – I presented on my work using model nudging to study aerosol radiative adjustments. I presented in the session ‘Chemistry, Aerosols and Radiative Forcing in CMIP6-era models’, which was convened and hosted by Reading’s very own Bill Collins. There were many interesting presentations in this session, including presentations on the balance between climate and air quality benefits by Robert Allen and Steve Turnock; a summary of the Aerosol Chemistry Model Intercomparison Project (AerChemMIP) findings by UoR’s Gill Thornhill; and a personal favourite concerned the impacts of different emissions pathways in Africa on local and global climate, and local air pollution effects on mortality, presented by Chris Wells. 

Chloe presenting: would win an award for most interesting screenshot. (Source: Maureen Wanzala) 

What were your favourite aspects of the conference? 

Chloe – Apart from my session one of my favorite’s was on climate services. This focused on the application of meteorological and hydrology data to services for example health heat impacts and growing grapes and olives. I also enjoyed the panel on the climate and ecological emergency in light of COVID-19 including Katherine Hayhoe and the session on equality, diversity and inclusion; it was interesting how ‘listening’ to those impacted was an overlapping theme in these. The weirdest, loveliest experience was my main supervisor sending me a colouring page of her face

Max – As with any conference it was a great opportunity to learn about the latest research in my specific field, as well as learning about exciting developments in other fields, from machine learning applications in earth science to observational studies of methane emissions. Particularly, it’s a nice change from just reading about them in papers.Having conversations with presenters gives you the opportunity to really dive in and find out what motivated their research initially and discuss future applications. For example, one conversation I had went from discussing their application of unsupervised machine learning in classifying profiles of earth system model output, to learning about it’s potential for use in model intercomparisons.  

Katherine Hayhoe in the session Climate and Ecological Emergency: can a pandemic help save us? (Source: Chloe Brimicombe) 

What was your least favourite aspect? 

Chloe – I did manage to do a little networking. But I’d love to experience an in person conference where I present. I have never presented my research in real life at a conference or research group/department seminar 😱. We also miss out on a lot of free food and pens not going to any in life conferences, which is what research is about 😉. Also, I find it difficult to stay focused on the conference when it’s online.  

Max – For me the structure of two minute summaries followed by breakout Zoom rooms for each speaker had some definite drawbacks. For topics outside one’s own field, I found it difficult to really learn much from many of the summaries – it’s not easy to fit something interesting for experts and non-experts into two minutes! In theory you can go speak to presenters in their breakout rooms, but there’s something awkward about entering a zoom breakout room with just you and the presenter, particularly when you aren’t sure exactly how well you understood their two minute summary.  

In light of your vEGU21 experience, what are your thoughts on remote vs traditional conferencing? 

Max – Overall I think virtual conferencing has a way to go before it can match up to the in person experience. There were the classic technical issues of anything hosted remotely: the ‘I think you’re on mute’ experience, other microphone issues, and even the conference website crashing on the first day of scientific sessions (though the organisers did a swift job getting the conference back up and running). But there’s also the less obvious, such as it feeling actually quite a lonely experience. I’ve only been to a couple of in-person conferences, but there were always some people I knew and could meet up with. But it’s challenging to recreate this online, especially for early career researchers who don’t have as many established connections, and particularly at a big conference like the EGU general assembly. Perhaps a big social media presence can somewhat replace this, but not everyone (including myself!) is a big social media user. .  

On the other hand, it’s great that we can still have conferences during a global pandemic, and no doubt is better than an absence of them entirely. Above all else, it’s also much greener and more accessible to those with less available funding for conference travel (though new challenges of accessibility, such as internet quality and access, undoubtedly arise). Plus, the facility to upload various display materials and people to look back at them whenever they like, regardless of time zones, is handy.  

Chloe – I’d just add, as great as Twitter is and can be for promoting your research, it’s not the same as going for a good old cup of tea (or cocktail) with someone. Also, you can have the biggest brightest social media, but actually be terrible at conveying your research in person. 

Summary 

Overall it was interesting to take part in vEGU21, and we were both glad we went. It didn’t quite live up to the in person experience – and there is definitely room for improvements for virtual conferencing – but it’s great we can still have these experiences, albeit online.  

Coding lessons for the newly initiated

Better coding skills and tooling enable faster, more useful results. 

Daniel Ayers – d.ayers@pgr.reading.ac.uk

This post presents a collection of resources and tips that have been most useful to me in the first 18 months I’ve been coding – when I arrived at Reading, my coding ability amounted to using excel formulas. These days, I spend a lot of time coding experiments that test how well machine learning algorithms can provide information on error growth in low-dimensional dynamical systems. This requires fairly heavy use of Scikit-learn, Tensorflow and Pandas. This post would have been optimally useful at the start of the year, but perhaps even the coding veterans will find something of use – or better, they can tell me about something I am yet to discover!  

First Steps: a few useful references 

  • A byte of python. A useful and concise reference for the fundamentals. 
  • Python Crash Course, Eric Matthes (2019). Detailed, lots of examples, and covers a wider range of topics (including, for example, using git). There are many intro to Python books around; this one has certainly been useful to me.1 There are many good online resources for python, but it can be helpful initially to have a coherent guide in one place. 

How did I do that last time? 

Tip: save snippets. 

There are often small bits of code that contain key tricks that we use only occasionally. Sometimes it takes a bit of time reading forums or documentation to figure out these tricks. It’s a pain to have to do the legwork again to find the trick a second or third time. There were numerous occasions when I knew I’d worked out how to do something previously, and then spent precious minutes trawling through various bits of code and coursework to find the line where I’d done it. Then I found a better solution: I started saving snippets with an online note taking tool called Supernotes. Here’s an example:  

I often find myself searching through my code snippets to remind myself of things. 

Text editors, IDEs and plugins. 

If you haven’t already, it might be worth trying some different options when it comes to your text editor or IDE. I’ve met many people who swear by PyCharm. Personally, I’ve been getting on well with Visual Studio Code (VS Code) for a year now. 

Either way, I also recommend spending some time installing useful plugins as these can make your life easier. My recommendations for VS Code plugins are: Hungry Delete, Rainbow CSV, LaTeX Workshop, Bracket Pair Colorizer 2, Rewrap and Todo Tree

Linters & formatters 

Linters and formatters check your code for syntax errors or style errors. I use the Black formatter, and have it set to run every time I save my file. This seems to save a lot of time, and not only with formatting: it becomes more obvious when I have used incorrect syntax or made a typo. It also makes my code easier to read and look nicer. Here’s an example of Black in anger:  

Some other options for linters and formatters include autopep, yapf and pylint. 

Metadata for results 

Data needs metadata in order to be understood. Does your workflow enable you to understand your data? I tend to work with toy models, so my current approach is to make a new directory for each version of my experiment code. This way I can make notes for each version of the experiment (usually in a markdown file). In other words, what not to do, is to run the code to generate results and then edit the code (excepting, of course, if your code has a bug). At a later stage you may want to understand how your results were calculated, and this cannot be done if you’ve changed the code file since the data was generated (unless you are a git wizard). 

A bigger toolbox makes you a more powerful coder 

Knowing about the right tool for the job can make life much easier.2 There are many excellent Python packages, and the more you explore, the more likely you’ll know of something that can help you. A good resource for the modules of the Python 3 standard library is Python Module of The Week. Some favourite packages of mine are Pandas (for processing data) and Seaborn (a wrapper on Matplotlib that enables quick and fancy plotting of data). Both are well worth the time spent learning to use them. 

Some thoughts on Matplotlib 

Frankly some of the most frustrating experiences in my early days with python was trying to plot things with Matplotlib. At times it seemed inanely tedious, and bizarrely difficult to achieve what I wanted given how capable a tool others made it seem. My tips for the uninitiated would be: 

  • Be a minimalist, never a perfectionist. I often managed to spend 80% of my time plotting trying to achieve one obscure change. Ask: Do I really need this bit of the plot to get my point across? 
  • Can you hack it, i.e. can you fix up the plot using something other than Matplotlib? For example, you might spend ages trying to tell Matplotlib to get some spacing right, when for your current purpose you could get the same result by editing the plot in word/pages in a few clicks. 
  • Be patient. I promise, it gets easier with time. 

Object oriented programming 

I’m curious to know how many of us in the meteorology department code with classes. In simple projects, it is possible to do without classes. That said, there’s a reason classes are a fundamental of modern programming: they enable more elegant and effective problem solving, code structure and testing. As Hans Petter Langtangen states in A Primer on Scientific Programming with Python, “classes often provide better solutions to programming problems.”  

What’s more, if you understand classes and object- oriented programming concepts then understanding others’ code is much easier. For example, it can make Matplotlib’s documentation easier to understand and, in the worse caseworst case scenario, if you had to read the Matplotlib source code to understand what was going on under the hood, it will make much more sense if you know how classes work. As with Pandas, classes are worth the time buy in! 

Have any suggestions or other useful resources for wannabe pythonistas? Please comment below or email me at d.ayers@pgr.reading.ac.uk. 

The Greatest Storm – A Virtual Pantomime

Devon Francis d.francis@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Max Coleman m.r.coleman@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Every year the Met-PhDs put on a Christmas pantomime and perform it to the rest of the department. The autumn term always seems to drag: the mornings are dark; the evenings are darker; and no matter how hard you try, the term just feels so busy! So what better way to finish off the term than with department jokes, terrible singing and unnecessary Benny Hill chase scenes?

Met Panto 2020 virtual group photo

And despite of a global pandemic that is in full swing, this year would be no different – the show must go on! On 10th December we premiered the very first virtual Met panto: The Greatest Storm! – A spin-off of the 2017 film ‘The Greatest Showman’. The Greatest Storm follows Professor Sue Gray Barnum (or PG Barnum for short) on her journey to find the greatest storm. On her way she meets her “misfit” team: Helen Dacre, Pete Inness, Tom Frame and Javier Amezcua, and recruits her right-hand man: Philip-Craig Carlyle. Together they develop a new instrument: DOROTHY, the Data recORding unit fOr in-siTu sting jet measurements High in the skY. But with COVID lurking around every corner, will they ever be able to measure the Greatest Storm? (…although it will actually just be the greatest storm on record…)

Panto 2020 poster – designed and created by Meg Stretton

This year, Max and I were persuaded volunteered for the role of panto organisers, with the promise that running the panto would be ‘much easier’ than previous years as everything would be online. This was partly true, though there was still a lot of last-minute tweaking…

We were very fortunate that Kris Boykin brought forward the idea to recreate The Greatest Showman, with a detailed plan for the plot, which fought off the other (very good) competition for plot ideas. This made the script writing relatively pain-free as we filled in the details and decided on which of the staff should be included.

Next was the song writing: in retrospect, the songs we chose were quite difficult to get right, as it was challenging to stay in time when singing for most of them, especially when we had changed the lyrics to include meteorological puns! In a live panto this might not have been so bad, but as everything had to be recorded individually and put together by our audio editing experts Dominic Jones and Beth Saunders, we can only say, Dom, we’re very sorry…  

The next 9 weeks were filled with read throughs, character selection and filming. In a normal year, these weeks would be relatively relaxed, with rehearsals spanning the full 9 weeks, however as we were aware that the video editors Lauren James and Wilson Chan had a lot of work to do in putting all of the scenes together, we tried to film as early as possible to give them more time. Our initial plan was to meet up on a weekend to film the parts in a socially distanced setting, but as the second lockdown was announced, we had to quickly change our plan. Some scenes were filmed individually, but the majority were filmed over Zoom: although this had reduced camera quality, it was much more fun to see each other every week and laugh at everyone’s wacky costumes and improvisation!

The last week leading up to Thursday’s showing (tomorrow as we’re writing this!) was slightly busier, with reviewing footage and making final edits, in the knowledge that in these unprecedented circumstances most of the cast will not have seen a complete run through before the final showing! In the end it all came together with an entirely smooth and seamless virtual viewing experience / it all went horribly wrong and we should never have been entrusted with panto (delete as applicable), which everyone viewing hopefully enjoyed!

Screenshot of scene 2 – the misfits’ entrance.

With that, we’d like to say thank you so much to everyone involved, from script writers, band, editors, cast and everyone that helped both on and off our virtual stage! It has been so lovely to see everyone come together, and although has been a very tiring process, panto 2020 has been a very welcome distraction to the rest of 2020!

This year we did not sell tickets, but instead asked for donations to cover our (reasonably small!) running costs, plus any extra will go to the Reading Meteorology department’s charity: San Francisco Libre Association. If you didn’t donate on the night, but wanted to, here’s a link to our donations page – https://paypal.me/pools/c/8uIzsVEQwB. We were so humbled by everyone that has already donated, both small and large amounts, we really appreciate it!

Thank you to everyone that watched The Greatest Storm on Thursday, we hope you had a fun evening! And we look forward to next year’s panto; who will be next to volunteer for this incredible tradition, with panto 2021…?