Python in New Orleans: Once Bitten, Quickly Smitten

October 25, 2011 · 0 comments

The upcoming 2012 AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans is only the second with a whole symposium devoted to the use of Python programming language in the atmospheric sciences. The first was last year’s meeting in Seattle.

The quick return of Python to the conference program–including beginning and advanced short courses over the weekend (21-22 January)–suggests what a growing community of modelers and programmers already knows. Once they’ve encountered the Python language, people tend to become devotees.

“Python is an elegant and robust programming language that combines the power and flexibility of traditional compiled languages with the ease-of-use of simpler scripting and interpreted languages,” according to Filipe Pires Fernandes of  the School of Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford, Massachusetts, who presents Monday (23 January, 2 p.m.).

Python, for example, is at the heart of the National Weather Service’s graphical forecast editor (GFE) tool and thus at the basis of the usage of the whole gridded forecast product suite in effect over the last decade. “Python’s introspective capabilities permitted developers to build a tool framework in which forecasters could write simple expressions and apply them directly to the forecast process without the burden of needing to know details about data structures or user interfaces,” writes Thomas LeFebvre of NOAA, who will discuss (Tuesday, 24 January, 8:30 am) how “a large part of GFE’s success is the result of the rich set of features that Python offers.”

Symposium Chair Johnny Lin of North Park University produced a short video to explain the attraction of Python, now the “eighth most popular programming language in the world” and preview the upcoming symposium:

The symposium program features numerous new software packages, with many of the presentations demonstrating how Python is a solution to software quirks and limitations that have become more bothersome as technology advances. One presenter is using Python to display data and model output on Google Earth. Another developed a new Skew-T diagram and Hodograph visualization and research tool (SHARPY), recasting a standard program, SHARP, in Python. Explains Patrick Marsh of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory: “Unfortunately, SHARP utilizes several GEMPAK routines which makes compiling, let alone installing and using, a non-trivial task.”

Andrew Charles of the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia used Python to create a web-based tool to integrate contour plotting with GIS applications. “With ever increasing amounts of data being made available, the related increase in required storage means static plots are not a viable solution for the delivery of all maps to end users,” writes Charles about his (11:30 a.m. Tuesday) presentation. “Contour plots are one of the most used data visualisation techniques in meteorology and oceanography and yet, surprisingly, there are few available solutions for the generation of contour plots to be used as map overlays from live data sources.”