Panto 2022: FORTRANGLED 

Caleb Miller – c.s.miller@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Jen Stout – j.r.stout@pgr.reading.ac.uk

One of the biggest traditions in the Reading meteorology department is the yearly Christmas pantomime. Because of lockdowns and safety measures in the past several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 was the first year to return to a live performance since 2019, and it was a lot of fun! 

FORTRANGLED Poster 

The panto this year was directed by Jen Stout and Caleb Miller. We were asked at the end of the summer by last year’s organizers if we would be interested in the roles of director, and we both agreed to it — most likely only because we didn’t realize how big of a task this would be! 

Plot 

The original idea for this plot was Jen’s idea. They suggested that we create a plot based on the story of Rapunzel, particularly on Disney’s adaptation in the movie Tangled. This turned out to be a well-loved story for many of the PhD students in the department, and when we met early in the autumn term to vote on a plot idea, Tangled won unanimously. 

It wasn’t long before we began to adapt the story to our own department and the field of meteorology. The original movie centers around the story of Rapunzel, a princess who was kidnapped at birth because of her hair’s special abilities, as she escapes the remote tower with the help of an outlaw. We quickly recognized the similarity between the original story and our own department’s move from the old Lyle building to the main Brian Hoskins building which was taking place at the time. 

The Lyle building was famously tall (with many, many stairs), and it was isolated from the majority of the department, much like Rapunzel’s tower. We even had someone to rescue the poor Lyle residents: head of department, Joy Singarayer! 

But who would take the spot of the villain, the woman who owned the tower and held Rapunzel there? Why not the Remote Sensing, Clouds, and Precipitation (“Radar”) research group? Jen and Caleb were both members (as were two of our supervisors), so we could make fun of ourselves, and the group had many members who were still in the Lyle building at the time. 

Soon, the story began to develop. Caleb wrote much of the initial draft and dialog, and several of the seasoned panto writers from last year stepped in and peppered the script with jokes and radar-related puns, much improving the final story! 

In the end, FORTRANGLED told the story of a young PhD student, Rapunzel, who wanted to use her invention, the Handheld Advanced Imaging Radar (“HAIR”), for in situ measurements on a weather balloon, but she is stopped by the Radar group. Thankfully, she is rescued from the lonely Lyle tower by Joy Singarayer, and finally she joins her original supervisor King Professor Sir Brian Hoskins and launches the balloon. 

Songs 

Of course, the panto wouldn’t be the same unless it featured popular songs with brand-new lyrics full of meteorology puns! We decided to use several of the songs from the Tangled film, while adding a few others where they fit.  

The band was headed by Flynn Ames. They began rehearsing months in advance, and their practice paid off enormously. The band performed excellent covers of a wide variety of musical genres and songs, featuring acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, keys, cello, and even a trombone! By the time we came to rehearse with the singers, they sounded incredible.  

As for the lyrics to the songs, Jen took charge with most of the writing — once it was realized that “Sheet Nimbostratus” sounded vaguely like “Pina Coladas,” the favourite “Sheet Nimbostratus (Escape)” song (a parody of Rupert Holmes’ Pina Colada Song) was written in under half an hour on a lunch break and ended up working well with theme of escape for the first act. 

Flynn was also a massive help with the songs, especially the last song of the show: Hall & Oates’ – “You Make My Dreams”. When it came to rehearsing the songs with the cast as singers, it was excellent having Flynn as someone who wasn’t rhythmically challenged to help us sort out when to sing the lyrics (as well as what words to sing and what notes to sing them to!), so thank you to Flynn, Beth, and the rest of the band for helping the rest of us sing as best as we could! 

Casting the lead 

Once the script was written, it was time to select the cast. Most of the casting was reasonably quick, but we had one issue: no one wanted to play the lead! Convincing a PhD student to pretend to be a princess in front of the entire department is understandably difficult. We spent at least a week going around the department trying to convince one another to step up for the role.  

However, the role had far too many lines for any one person to commit to, and therefore we settled on the “Rapunzel Roulette,” where a different person would play Rapunzel in each of the scenes. This ended up being a really good move, and meant that instead of the role being high-pressure, it was a rush of excitement and silliness for each act, especially as they had to pass the wig onto the next person before the next act started. 

The Night of the Panto 

The panto turned out to be a lot of fun! We sold over 130 tickets, and this was certainly one of the larger post-lockdown events at the department. Planning for the in-person event required no small amount of admin work, and we were especially helped by Dana Allen, Joy Singarayer, and Andrew Charlton-Perez! 

The event started at 6:30 with a bring-and-share buffet, and doors opened to Madejski Lecture Theatre at 7:30 before the show start. 

The FORTRANGLED cast 

We also had several interval acts, including the latest episode from John Shonk’s famous Mr. Mets series, Blair McGinness’s presentation on the controversial results of a department biscuit ranking tournament, and a musical performance from the faculty! 

After the interval acts, we resumed with the second act of the panto, and finished the result of months’ writing and rehearsals. The inclusion of the “Top Secret” notes and distribution of balloons was a last-minute inclusion, organized by Jen, intended to surprise the rest of the cast except for our excellent Narrator, Natalie, who was told beforehand in case everything went wrong!  

The instructions to the audience were as follows: “In the wilderness: If you see a duck; shout: quack! If you see a goose, shout: honk!,” as well as the extremely vague: “If the stage needs a balloon: please blow up your balloon and throw it towards stage!” 

Surprisingly, especially for a pantomime, the audience was incredibly well-behaved, balloons arrived exactly on cue (despite this not being written into the script whatsoever). As for the command to shout “honk” and “quack” when geese and ducks appeared… the honks went on for much longer than we expected, causing a lot of chaos and confusion both on and off stage! This was undoubtedly Jen’s favourite part of the entire show. 

After the party, we celebrated with an afterparty in the department coffee area led by DJ Shonk. This included some thematically appropriate piña coladas, which may have led to the scattering of the geese and ducks throughout the department… 

Reflections 

As the panto was the first in-person panto since 2019’s The Sonde of Music, and so most of the cast hadn’t seen a live pantomime in the way we did it this year! This made it a massive challenge to organise, and directing the Panto turned out to be a very difficult, but also very rewarding, task. Seeing everyone’s hard work come together on the night was the best part, and we’re glad we contributed to such a long-standing department tradition. 

We’d like to thank everyone who was involved: anyone we convinced to act, sing, play in the band, make props, put on silly outfits, organise the event, perform an interval act, or throw balloons at the stage. We found that this department is full of some very talented people, and it was really fun getting to work in some areas we don’t often get to see. If meteorology research is one day taken over by AI, the members in our department would have no problem finding new jobs on Broadway! 

AGU 2022 in the Windy City

Lauren James – l.a.james@pgr.reading.ac.uk

AGU Fall Meeting 2022 was held in Chicago, Illinois from 12th – 16th December, and I was fortunate to attend the conference in person to present a poster on my PhD research. At the post-pandemic event, 18,000 attendees were expected to be present throughout the week and more attended online. To date, this was going to be the largest audience to view my research.

No matter how many people tell you how huge the AGU meeting is, it is not until you walk into the venue you understand the extent of this conference. Rows upon rows of poster boards, a sizeable exhibition hall, an AGU centre and relaxation zone, and endless hallways to the seminar rooms. I went by the venue on Sunday afternoon to register and work out the main routes to and around the conference centre. I would recommend this to anyone attending as come Monday morning the registration queue was extraordinarily long, looping across bridges and down staircases. You would have missed any early morning talks you wanted to attend.

Tuesday morning was my allocated time to showcase my work. The poster sessions were 3.5 hours long, but the posters could be kept up on the board for the full day. Whilst there was no requirement to stand next to your poster for the full duration, I did just that as time flew by very quickly. Fellow scientists were eager to discuss the work, learn about new ideas, and find overlaps with their work. I brought along A4 printed versions of the poster (an idea I had picked up from another conference) and it was beneficial to either let attendees take away your work for reference or for allowing people at the back of a crowd to read the poster. For the online attendees, presenters could make an interactive poster (a.k.a iPosters) which was published on the online gallery. This platform allowed videos, gifs, and audio clips as well as no-limit to text in expandable text boxes. Whilst still being mindful of not overcrowding a poster, these additional features made the poster more accessible. For some fortunate presenters, digital poster rows at the conference allowed their iPosters to be viewable in person too. Thus, presenters could use the movies and audio to support their work as well as attendees could easily interact with their displays whilst unmanned. Further, there was no organisation for printing and travelling with a poster and produced no waste. Could this be the future of poster sessions?

Figure 1: An overlooking view of a section of the poster hall on the final day of the conference. The digital poster row can be seen on the closest row.
Figure 2: A picture of myself in front of my poster.

There were so many oral presentations throughout the week that are suitable for your field of research. With the help of the AGU app, I was able to make a schedule for the space physics sessions I wanted to attend and optimise my time at the conference by finding other sessions I would find interesting. This year, for the first time, there was a session on ‘Raising Awareness on Mental Health in the Earth and Space Sciences’. In the last few years, such sessions have become more widely available and I am happy to see that AGU has also taken the opportunity to discuss the importance of healthy work. Of the oral presentation sessions I attended, this one instigated a very engaged audience and highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary discussions. All the oral presentation sessions catered for in-person and online audiences, and have continued to allow online speakers to present and participate in the Q&A. These sessions are also still available to re-watch for all the attendees for a few weeks.

A walk amongst the exhibition hall filled some of the free time between sessions and allowed attendees to discuss careers with academic institutes and businesses working with instrumentation, programming, data accessibility, fieldwork and more. As a postgraduate student in space physics, it was initially overwhelming to see many stands that were advertising topics alien to me. But before you knew it, I had heard about a new state-of-the-art instrument that will rapidly transmit terabytes of data; learnt about ground aquifers by making an Oreo Ice Cream float; and collected a renowned NASA 2023 calendar.

From my understanding, there have been a few changes to the AGU meeting since pre-pandemic times. The colours of your lanyard corresponded to your comfort level of COVID-19 safety, spanning from ‘I need distance’ to ‘Air high fives approved’. Alcoholic refreshments during poster sessions were not provided as a conscious decision to improve attendee well-being and ensure the code of conduct is upheld. And the host city of the meeting will change annually within the US to improve the accessibility of the conference (although for a UK attendee, a long-haul flight is unavoidable regardless of this).

Figure 3: A few memories from my visit to Chicago, including the Oreo ice cream float, the cloud gate (a.k.a., The Bean), and the NHL Ice Hockey game at the Union Center.

Chicago was a lovely city to host this year. The conference centre was easily accessible by train and bus from the downtown area, and even walkable on a good weather day. We were fortunate to have rather pleasant weather throughout the visit, although some rain, snow, and a bitterly cold wind were experienced. Exploring the city was extra special this close to Christmas and aided the glory of city lights after sunset. In the evenings, there was ample time and things to do with early career scientists I’ve met throughout my time as a PhD student and newly made contacts from the US. Watching an NHL ice hockey match, visiting Navy Pier, a competitive evening at the bowling alley, and trying the famous deep dish pizza were just some of the things squeezed into the busy week.

There is no doubt that attending the AGU Fall Meeting has been a highlight in my PhD experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to visit in the future. Even if you’re travelling alone, which I did, there were ample opportunities to meet fellow attendees and experience a very enjoyable week in the city. I thank the University of Reading Graduate School for giving me a student travel bursary to help fund this international trip. Next year, this conference is being held in San Francisco, California from the 11th – 15th of December 2023.

European Space Weather Week and exploring Zagreb

Harriet Turner – h.turner3@pgr.reading.ac.uk

This trip contained several firsts for me – first flight, first international conference and first in-person conference presentation. The 18th annual European Space Weather Week was held in Zagreb, Croatia from 24th to 28th October 2022, with delegates from Europe, the US and Australia present. The week was full of interesting talks and lively socials, culminating with the Reading lot (plus a postdoc from Imperial) completing the “secret social” lunar themed escape room in the second fastest time of the week.

It always feels more official when your name is on a lanyard!

The week started with the standard conference registration followed by some tutorials and a live space weather forecast. Space weather refers to the changing plasma conditions in near-Earth space, which can pose a threat to modern life. It can lead to communication failures, damage to satellites, blackouts, and harm the health of humans in space. For this reason, it is important to forecast space weather so that these impacts can be mitigated against. The afternoon of the first day consisted of two parallel sessions and a poster session, with a reception buffet in the evening. The parallel sessions ran throughout the week, covering a wide range of topics from ways to improve our space weather forecasting capabilities to measuring and modelling geoelectric fields.

Tuesday was filled with more parallel sessions containing a wide range of talks, including my first in-person conference presentation of my PhD. I was rather nervous to present my work in front of a (quite large) room full of experts in the field, however I think it was well received and I had some interesting questions.

I study the solar wind, which is a constant stream of charged particles that flows off the Sun and is an important component of space weather. I have been using data assimilation (DA) to forecast the solar wind, which combines model output and observations to form an optimum estimation of reality. For DA to work in an operational context, it needs to work with real time data. This often contains more data gaps and erroneous observations when compared with the cleaned-up science level data, which has been used for previous analysis of solar wind DA. To cut a long story short, my work has shown that the real time data does not significantly worsen the forecasts, meaning that DA could be used for operational solar wind forecasting. Which is what we wanted to hear! I celebrated the presentation being over with a big pizza, followed by the conference music night hosted in a local bar. Turns out there are some talented musicians in the space weather community!

On the stage presenting the slide on the data assimilation scheme I have been analysing.

The rest of the week went by in a blur of parallel and poster sessions, with the conference dinner on the Thursday evening and everything wrapping up on Friday lunchtime. With flights back to the UK not until Monday evening, we had plenty of time to explore what Zagreb had to offer. Saturday was spent exploring the Mushroom Museum (spoiler alert, it was full of mushrooms) and the Museum of Broken Relationships. The latter of the two was filled with donated items that were special in some way or another and symbolised the end of a meaningful relationship. There were certainly some quirky exhibits, but a good attraction for sure.

There was not mushroom for anything else… (I’ll show myself out).

We filled Sunday with a tram ride to the north of Zagreb to the Sljeme cable car. The cable car took us from 267m up to the mountain summit at 1030m, which, for context, is 55m lower than Snowdon. One thing that will remain with me is just how foggy it was in Zagreb, so rising out of the fog in the cable car provided some great views. We could see the cloud hanging low in the valley and it was glorious sunshine at the top. The mountains were covered in trees that were turning into their autumn colours, which certainly was a beautiful sight.

With most of Monday to spare, we explored another museum. This time it was the Museum of Illusions, which was a lot of fun. There were a lot of interactive exhibits, including ones where you can make a kaleidoscope of your own face and play poker with 7 versions of yourself. It led to some truly horrifying photos.

View from the cable car over the mountains.

Overall, it was a tiring yet productive and enjoyable trip. I enjoyed networking with many scientists in my field, many of whom I had only seen as a name on a paper or on Twitter. It was great to see how work in the field is advancing and I look forward to being a part of that in the future.

Finally, a tip if you are visiting Croatia, try Čoksa salted peanut chocolate, it’s great. The forest fruits flavour is also great, but the banana has received mixed reviews!

EGU 2022 

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

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

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

What is EGU22? 

With more events resuming as in-person, the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2022 (EGU22) was no exception. The European Geoscience Union General Assembly is one of the big annual conferences for Earth sciences. For some of us, EGU22 was our first in-person conference overseas, which made it both an exciting and eye-opening experience! This year, 12,332 abstracts were presented with the participation of 7,315 colleagues from 89 countries on-site in Vienna, accompanied by 7,002 virtual attendees from 116 countries. 

Venue of EGU22 – Vienna International Centre

With 791 sessions running throughout the week, working out our personal schedule was a challenge. Luckily, EGU had an online tool we used to add talks to a personal programme, without having to distribute printed programmes. Due to COVID restrictions, all presentations at EGU22 had the same format as short orals. These presentations were delivered and viewed both in-person and online in a hybrid format. Most talks were limited to 5 minutes, which meant it was not the easiest to summarise our work and also deliver effective science to the audience. 

Isabel Smith giving her 5-minute talk at the High-resolution weather and climate simulation session

What is a typical day like at EGU22? 

If you planned to attend an 8.30am session in the morning, then you would have had to take the U-Bahn to the conference centre, crossing your fingers there would be no breakdowns. Most sessions lasted for one and a half hours, consisting of between 15 and 20 presentations with some time for questions and discussion. There were coffee breaks between sessions, where we could recharge with a free flow of coffee and tea.  

A variety of short courses were also on offer, such as “Writing the IPCC AR6 Report: Behind the Scenes” or “Thermodynamics and energetics of the oceans, atmosphere and climate” co-convened by Remi Tailleux from our department. If you are likely to attend this conference in the future, sign up to the EGU newsletter, here you could see further details about the short courses and the EGU staff’s top sessions of the day.  

There was also a large exhibition hall featuring publishing companies and geoscience companies, some of which offered freebies like pens and notebooks. Outside the main exhibition halls, there were picnic benches, usually filled with conference attendees enjoying lunch or an afternoon beer after a full day of conferencing. 

What did we do other than the conference? 

Although there was an impressive showcase of presentations and networking at the 5-day long EGU, we also went sightseeing in and around Vienna. Some of us would take the opportunity of having an extended lunch break to take the U-Bahn to the centre of the city, or an afternoon off to explore a museum, or visit the Donauturm (Danube Tower) for an amazing if windy view of the city. 

We also enjoyed the dinners after long conference days, especially on the night when we filled ourselves with schnitzel larger than the size of our face and had late-night gelato after a few drinks. A few of us stayed over the weekend and visited the outskirts of the city, such as the Schönbrunn Palace and a free panoramic view of Vienna at the top of Leopoldsberg! 

Having met many familiar faces and networked with others in our field, EGU22 was a “Wunderbar” experience we would definitely recommend, especially in person! It is also a great excuse to practise your GCSE German. Just remember the phrase “Können wir die/der Rechnung/Kassenzettel haben, bitte?” if you want to claim back your meals and other expenses from the trip! 

Dinner gathering of past and present members of the University of Reading at EGU22

Climate Resilience Evidence Synthesis Training 

Lily Greig – l.greig@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

The Walker Academy, the capacity strengthening arm of the Walker Institute, based at the University of Reading, holds a brilliant week-long training course every year named (Climate Resilience Evidence Synthesis Training (CREST). The course helps PhD students from all disciplines to understand the role of academic research within wider society. I’m a third year PhD student studying ocean and sea ice interaction, and I wanted to do the course because I’m interested in understanding how to better communicate scientific research, and the process of how research is used to inform policy. The other students who participated were mainly from SCENARIO or MPECDT, studying a broad range of subjects from Agriculture to Mathematics.  

The Walker Institute  

The Walker Institute is an interdisciplinary research institute supporting the development of climate resilient societies. Their research relates to the impacts of climate variability, which includes social inequality, conflict, migration and loss of biodiversity. The projects at Walker involve partnership with communities in low-income countries to increase climate resilience on the ground. 

The institute follows a system-based approach, in which project stakeholders (e.g., scientists, village duty bearers, governments and NGOs) collaborate and communicate continuously, with the aim of making the best decisions for all. Such an approach allows, for example, communities on the ground (such as a village in North East Ghana affected by flooding) to vocalise their needs or future visions, meaning scientific research performed by local or national Meteorological agencies can be targeted and communicated according to those specific needs. Equally, with such a communication network, governments are able to understand how best to continually enforce those connections between scientists and farmers, and to make the best use of available resources or budgets. This way, the key stakeholders form part of an interacting, constantly evolving complex system. 

Format and Activities 

The course started off with introductory talks to the Walker’s work, with guest speakers from Malawi (Social Economic Research and Interventions Development) and Vietnam (Himalayan University Consortium). On the second day, we explored the topic of communication in depth, which included an interactive play, based on a negotiation of a social policy plan in Senegal. The play involved stepping on stage and improvising lines ourselves when we spotted a problem in negotiations. An example of this was a disagreement between two climate scientists and the social policy advisor to the President- the scientists knew that rainfall would get worse in the capital, but the social scientist understood that people’s livelihoods were actually more vulnerable elsewhere. Somebody stepped in and helped both characters understand that the need for climate resilience was more widespread than each individual character had originally thought.  

Quick coffee break after deciphering the timeline of the 2020 floods in North East Ghana.

The rest of the week consisted of speedy group work on our case study of increasing climate resilience to annual flood disasters in North East Ghana, putting together a policy brief and presentation. We were each assigned a stakeholder position, from which we were to propose future plans. Our group was assigned the Ghanaian government. We collected evidence to support our proposed actions (for example, training Government staff on flood action well in advance of a flood event, as not as an emergency response) and built a case for why those actions would improve people’s livelihoods. 

Alongside this group work, we had many more valuable guest speakers. See the full list of guest speakers below. Each guest gave their own unique viewpoint of working towards climate resilience. 

List of guest speakers 

Day 1: Chi Huyen Truong: Programme Coordinator Himalayan University Consortium, Mountain Knowledge and Action Networks 

Day 1: Stella Ngoleka: Country Director at Social Economic Research and Interventions Development – SERID and HEA Practitioner  

Day 2: Hannah Clark: Open Source Farmer Radio Development Manager, Lorna Young Foundation 

Day 2: Miriam Talwisa: National Coordinator at Climate Action Network-Uganda 

Day 3: panel speakers:  

Irene Amuron: Program Manager, Anticipatory Action at Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre 

Gavin Iley: International Expert, Crisis Management & DRR at World Meteorological Organization 

James Acidri: Former member of the Ugandan Parliament, Senio associate Evidence for Development 

Day 4: Tesse de Boer: Technical advisor in Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre 

Day 5: Peter Gibbs: Freelance Meteorologist & Broadcaster 

Course Highlights 

Everyone agreed that the interactive play was a highly engaging & unusual format, and one not yet encountered in my PhD journey! It allowed some of us to step right into the shoes of someone whose point of view you had potentially never stopped to consider before, like a government official or a media reporter… 

The 2022 CREST organisers and participants. Happy faces at the end of an enjoyable course!

Something else that really stayed with me was a talk given by the National Coordinator at Climate Action Network Uganda, Miriam Talwisa. She shared loads of creative ideas about how to empower climate action in small or low-income communities. These included the concept of community champions, media cafes, community dialogues, and alternative policy documentation such as citizens manifestos or visual documentaries. This helped me to think about my own local community and how such tools could be implemented to enforce climate action at the grassroots level.  

Takeaways  

An amazing workshop with a lovely and supportive team running it who built a real atmosphere. I took away a lot from the experience and I think the other students did too. It really helped us to think about our own research and our key stakeholders, and how reaching out to them is really important. 

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!