Practical Statistics for Atmospheric Sciences

METEO515 Practical Statistics for Atmospheric Sciences 

Meteo 515 - Spring 2021

Course Instructor:
Melissa Gervais
Office: 523 Walker Building
Office Hours: TBD 

Class meeting times and locations: Tuesday and Thursday 9:05-10:20am Zoom or Walker Building 101 (if in person)

Course designation in curriculum: Elective 

Course description:

The aim of this course is to build practical statistical tools for data analysis in the atmospheric sciences. The course will first provide the students with a solid foundation in fundamental statistical concepts, including hypothesis testing, maximum likelihood estimation, random variables, and probability density functions. Once the students are familiar with the basic terminology and concepts in statistics, the course will move on to a suite of more advanced statistical techniques that are commonly used in atmospheric science research. The advanced topics include regression analysis, nonparametric tests and resampling techniques, data reduction such as eigendecompositions and principal component analysis, time series analysis, spatial statistics, and Bayesian modeling. The emphasis will be on the sound application of these techniques and their interpretations, rather than technical foundations and derivations. The goal is to build intuition behind commonly used statistical tools and learn how to avoid potential pitfalls in their applications. 

Prerequisites and Concurrent Courses: The course assumes familiarity with calculus and linear algebra, including basic matrix manipulations and eigendecomposition. 

Recommended textbook: Statistical Methods in the Atmospheric Sciences, Third Edition, Daniel S. Wilks, 2011.  This is available online for free through the Penn State Library system. 

Course Goals and Objectives:

  • Learn necessary skills for research in atmospheric science
  • Cover the basics of many techniques you might use in your research
  • Learn appropriate statistical tests you might apply to your data
  • Discover new methods of data mining
  • Learn how to apply the concepts to real problems

Course Content

  • Exploratory Data Analysis
  • Parametric Distributions
  • Statistical Inference
  • Time Series Analysis
  • Empirical Orthogonal Functions
  • Self-organizing Maps

Assessment Policy:

Assignments (60%): There will be approximately 5 homework assignments throughout the course. The number of assignments is subject to change based on course progression and these may not be weighted equally.  These will be very practical assignments where concepts from class are applied to real data.  Students are free to program in the language of their choice for these assignments (Matlab or Python); however, any sample code and resources will be provided in Matlab.  Due dates for each assignment will be communicated upon their distribution.  These homework assignments must be typed up and clearly written, figures must be of near-publication quality with titles, labeled axes with units, legends (when appropriate), and be clearly captioned.  Homework will be submitted as file uploads on canvas and must include a copy of the code used to produce any figures.   

Journal Article Discussions (10%): Throughout the semester, class time will be devoted to journal article discussions aimed to provide practical examples of the methodologies taught in lecture as well as develop skills in critiquing published literature.  These discussions will be student lead and occur in small groups within zoom breakout rooms.  The student leader will briefly summarize the paper and prepare discussion questions to help guide the paper discussion.  During this process, I will circulate between the rooms to see how the discussions are going and hope to hear all voices contributing.  The leaders will also provide recaps of the group’s discussion for the benefit of the whole class.  Grades for this section of the course will be awarded both for the preparation by student leaders and for active participation by the remaining students.  

Participation (5%): In class polls/quizzes will be conducted throughout the semester to provide engagement in the online learning environment and allow students to test their understanding of course concepts.  These will be used to help assess class participation.  

Final Project (25%): A group final project will apply multiple techniques learned in the course to a single real dataset.  This project will consist of a proposal (5%), presentation (10%), and short written report (10%). 

Examination Policy:

There will be no midterm or final exams in this course.

Grading Policy:

The following weights will be used to determine the final course grade:

  • Assignments: 60%
  • Journal Discussions: 10%
  • Participation: 5%
  • Final Project: 25% 

The final grade will be based on a standard grading scale:

  • A: 93-100%
  • A-: 90-92%
  • B+: 87-89%
  • B: 83-86%
  • B-: 80-82%
  • C+: 77-79%
  • C: 70-76%
  • D: 60-69%
  • F: 0-59% 

The instructor reserves the right to adjust the grading scale.  In the event this is required, grades will only be adjusted upwards.

Academic Integrity

Students in this class are expected to write up their problem sets individually, to work the exams on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations.  Class members may work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately.  Students are not to copy problem or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own; students may not plagiarize text from papers or websites written by others.  Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment and may well receive an F or XF in the course.  Please see: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Procedures:, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws. 

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website ( 

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities. 

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements. 

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff.  Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated ( and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.  Services include the following: 

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail (see to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40 ( To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript. 

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review some general Netiquette guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course. 

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework.  For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website. 

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Accessible Syllabus

Notes: Any syllabus posted online (e.g. a Word/PDF file or an online syllabus) should make destinations clickable links such as is done throughout this page. Also, in order to comply with Penn State Policy AD69(Accessibility of Penn State Web Pages,, PDF documents cannot be the sole source of presenting online information. Such documents include syllabi, homework assignments, and scanned notes.  

Technical Requirements


For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page (, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk ( - for World Campus students) or the ITS Help Desk ( for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our technical requirements page to view the mixed content.

Disclaimer Statement

Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. Changes will be posted to the course discussion forum.