While a major winter storm last month was plastering the United States from Texas and New Mexico to New England with heavy snow and ice, volatile conditions in the Southeast (SE) spawned damaging and deadly tornadoes. One of these overnight Monday, February 16, tragically took the lives of 3 people and injured 10 in coastal North Carolina. Such nocturnal tornadoes are common in the Southeastern U.S.—a unique trait—and represent an extreme danger to sleeping residents.

Compounding this problem, new research in the AMS journal Weather, Climate, and Society suggests there may be a deadly disconnect between tornado perception and reality in the region right when residents instead need an acute assessment of their tornado potential.

The article “Do We Know Our Own Tornado Season? A Psychological Investigation of Perceived Tornado Likelihood in the Southeast United States,” by Stephen Broomell of Carnegie Mellon University, with  colleagues from Stanford and NCAR, notes the tragic results of the regional misperception:

The recurring risks posed by tornadoes in the SE United States are exemplified by the significant loss of life associated with recent tornado outbreaks in the SE, including the 2008 Super Tuesday outbreak that killed over 50 people and the devastating 27 April 2011 outbreak that killed over 300 people in a single day.

Their survey of residents in seven states, from Louisiana and Arkansas to Georgia and Kentucky, representing the Southeastern region, finds that the residents perceive their tornado likelihood differently than meteorologists and experts familiar with Southeastern tornado risk. This puts them at great risk because residents’ experiences don’t match what actually happens where they live.

Broomell and his fellow researchers contend that Southeast residents may be misusing knowledge of Great Plains tornado events, ubiquitous in tornado chasing reality shows and social media videos, when determining their own risk. A fatal flaw since tornado behavior is different between the two regions.

WCAS SE tornado season survey2For starters, unlike in infamous “Tornado Alley” states of Texas and Oklahoma north through Nebraska and Iowa into South Dakota, the Southeast lacks a single, “traditional” tornado season, with tornadoes “spread out across different seasons,” Broomell along with his coauthors report, including wintertime. The Southeast also endures more tornadoes overnight, as happened last week in North Carolina. And they spawn from multiple types of storm systems in the Southeast, more so than in the Great Plains. This makes knowledge about residents’ regional tornado likelihood especially critical in Southeastern states.

Another recent study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, “In the Dark: Public Perceptions of and National Weather Service Forecaster Considerations for Nocturnal Tornadoes in Tennessee,” by Kelsey Ellis (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), et al., surveyed residents of Tennessee and came away with similar findings about tornado timing: about half of Tennessee’s tornadoes occur at night, and yet less than half of those surveyed thought they would be able to receive nighttime tornado warnings.

Local forecasters and broadcast meteorologists as well as emergency managers are tuned into the mismatch. In the BAMS study, NWS forecasters said they fear for the public’s safety, particularly with nighttime tornadoes, because they “know how dangerous nocturnal events are”—fatalities “are a given,” some said.

Ellis and her colleagues recommended developing a single, consistent communication they term “One Message” to focus on getting out word about the most deadly aspect of the tornado threat. Forecasters, broadcasters, and emergency managers through regular and social media would then be consistent in their messaging to residents, the researchers state, decreasing confusion. For example:

Nighttime tornadoes expected. Sleep with your phone ON tonight!

With severe weather season ready to pop as spring-like warmth quickly overwhelms winter’s icy grip in the next couple of weeks, the nation’s tornado risk will blossom across the South and Southeast. And nocturnal tornado threats will only increase, particularly in the Southeast, as February turns into March, and then April—a historically deadly month.

For residents in places more prone to nighttime tornadoes, Ellis et al. say the ways to stay safe are clear:

Have multiple ways to get tornado warnings, do not rely on outdoor sirens, sleep with your phone on and charged during severe weather, and do not stay in particularly vulnerable locations such as mobile homes or vehicles.

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We’re on the verge of the first ever all-virtual AMS Annual Meeting—yet another milestone in a time of milestones, but nonetheless our 101st Annual Meeting. And like all of the mega-gatherings AMS has held for the weather, water, and climate community in the past, this coming week (starting Sunday, January 10th), promises many opportunities to catchAMS21 logo L6186437 DESGD v7 up with what colleagues have been doing over the past year, what they’re thinking about now, and what they’re planning for coming years.

Although we’ll miss the chance encounters, side conversations, and in-person meet-ups, this year’s virtual format offers a lot of interaction with its breakout rooms and ample time set aside both for concentrated contemplation of presentations and for back-and-forth between presenters and audiences. Indeed, the fact that thousands of people are not all in one place attending parallel tracks of conferences and symposia with walls in-between them means that it may even be easier than ever to hop between sessions without running from room to room.

This Year’s Overarching Theme

The virtual experience may create an opportunity to take in multiple perspectives on the 101st Annual Meeting theme: this AMS tradition of organizing all the parallel conferences together on one unifying theme can come alive with the new format if you’re willing to navigate your own pathway through the presentations with that in mind. This year’s theme is “Strengthening engagement with communities through our science and service.” While on the face of it that theme has the spirit of many Annual Meeting themes of the past, in this meeting those words have more direct relevance on the programming than you may think. We’ll show you how with an upcoming blog post.

In fact, this year’s theme is pivotal for a meeting at this moment. It turned out to anticipate central issues of the year we had in 2020 and the directions and solutions your colleagues are proposing in their presentations, in response to the unique experience of 2020. In an forthcoming post, we’ll lay out these thematic implications by proposing a simple crosscutting pathway through the week’s video presentations, touching on the meeting theme by hopping from symposium to symposium, taking advantage of the Annual Meeting as a virtual experience.

The usual way most of us approach the meeting, of course, is to focus on an area of specialization. That’s why it is organized as always as a collection of about 40 specific conferences and symposia running in parallel—for example the 35th Conference on Hydrology, the 30th Conference on Education, and the 23rd Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry.

But you can imagine many independent, personalized ways to navigate any AMS Annual Meeting, such as a focus on multidisciplinary work, or on award winners’ presentations. In the following blog posts, we’ll dream up a few such tracks for you to take next week.

A Closer Look

Most years, attendees look forward to the AMS Annual Meeting as a chance to catch up on what colleagues have been accomplishing. In 2020, as in any normal year, it’s the major weather events of the past year that shape the work this community does. So as our first example of a pathway through the virtual meeting—think of it as a personalized symposium—we’ll focus on how the Annual Meeting is an opportunity to reflect collectively on 2020 weather and the lessons learned from studying it and forecasting it, and helping the world respond to it. As in the past, the Annual Meeting next week offers a targeted discussion of the past year’s weather, in particular in a symposium on Major Weather Events and Impacts of 2020. These sessions are on Friday, January 15. Among the events covered will be the August Midwest Derecho, high-impact atmospheric rivers, a North Dakota blizzard, the hyperactive 2020 hurricane season, wildfires, atmospheric effects of COVID, and all the 10 separate billion-dollar weather disasters (tying a record number) of the year in the United States (as charted here in historical context from Adam Smith’s abstract).

US Billion Dollar Disasters

Given the profusion of major disasters, all the papers about the year are not contained in one set of sessions or one conference. You can make 2020’s weather a multi-conference track through the meeting, if you’re so inclined. 2020 was that kind of year, of course! For example …

  • Also in the mesoscale symposium posters is an evaluation of the difficulty to forecast the August Midwest derecho, by Bruno Z. Ribeiro (SUNY Albany), Steven J. Weiss (SPC), and Lance Bosart (SUNY Albany). They write in their abstract: “This case demonstrates that improvements in the predictability of warm-season derecho-producing MCSs requires better understanding of the evolution from disorganized convection into a linear MCS.

With wildfires, extreme heat, air quality…this presentation has the overwhelming feeling of simultaneous extreme events of 2020 wrapped up in a nutshell. Indeed, as the above NOAA graphic of billion-dollar disasters exemplifies, the experience of 2020 opened up as never before in the United States a public discourse about the relationship between climate change and vulnerability to extreme weather. Not surprisingly, the AMS Annual Meeting is going to offer many insights on this relationship. That’s yet another thread you can follow as from symposium to symposium you try to personalize the virtual experience of the meeting, We’ll propose that pathway in a follow-on blog post, and right after that we’ll trace several other cross-cutting themes in the Annual Meeting—themes you’d never have found so pervasive in any other years. The 2021 Annual Meeting is unique for the reasons that 2020 was unique.

More Cross-cutting Theme Tie-ins

Of course you’ll note the massive disruption of COVID as mentioned in Ahmaov’s presentation. The pandemic had more impacts than just on air quality, but we explore in a follow-on blog post how the pervasive theme of COVID is in itself a viable personalized crosscutting pathway through the 2021 Annual Meeting, as are some of the other salient societal themes of 2020—the fight against racism, the struggle for social justice and equity,  and the response of the sciences toNext Up1 Post 1 such larger societal issues by seeking better community engagement—thereby making this year’s overarching meeting theme exceptionally timely. These pathways in the Annual Meeting trace the ways the tumultuous year 2020 has left an indelible mark on the weather, water, and climate community, as it did on all other people and professions and sciences.

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As we mentioned in the first post in this series of potential “Virtual” Pathways through the rich AMS Annual Meeting program of parallel conferences, this year’s overarching theme is especially powerful:

Strengthening engagement with communities through our science and services.” 

This is a statement of needs, accomplishments, and future priorities all in one. After the recognitions so many people have had in 2020—a year of isolation and social distancing, of reliance on community, and of recognition that science is at the heart of cures and solutions for society, but also the recognition that the progress of science depends on cooperation with the greater community—the Annual Meeting theme guiding the program offerings reflects not only powerful future directions for the weather, water, and climate community, but also the unique experience of the year 2020.

Community Engagement is a viable pathway through the meeting—we can only touch on a few highlights of this path, because AMS members have resoundingly responded to the call for presentations on the theme with many perspectives on the need for community engagement. Many of your colleagues have been forging ahead already by forming their science, services, and products as a part of a community engagement process.

As he often does, AMS Associate Executive Director William Hooke gets to the heart of the issue, encapsulating the theme in a marriage metaphor in his Core Keynote for the Conference on Societal Applications, “Let’s Get Hitched.”

The metaphor of a marital commitment between scientists and communities expresses a shared destiny, as Hooke explains in his abstract:

… we need to build community relationships that are founded on trust and equity; that celebrate cultural and other forms of diversity, but focus on shared purposes that can’t be achieved except through concerted effort; that can accommodate social change and accompanying scientific and technological advance; and that offer joy and satisfaction in the moment, while ratcheting the community and even the larger world toward a better place over the long haul. Success requires we remain motivated, (multi-) disciplined and evidence-based in our approach toward these ends over a sustained period of years. Sound familiar? Perhaps it should; it mirrors attributes of successful engagements of a more romantic sort.

Hooke sets the stage for seeing this ongoing integration of community engagement through many steps of the scientific process—as a natural outgrowth of the focus on social justice that many presenters are bringing to the AMS Annual Meeting.

In the previous Front Page post, we traced a virtual pathway through the meeting for attendees who are interested in social justice. So, naturally, one could construct a similar pathway through the meeting devoted to Community Engagement. We’ll propose an abbreviated path of that kind—just touching on a few of the highlights by hopping between some of the conferences. Naturally because this is the meeting theme itself, there are potential discussions about Community Engagement in almost every session. It’s going to be a special meeting and a busy week, if this is your particular interest.

And you might as well follow Hooke’s presentation with a double dose of community engagement in this Core Science Keynote from Vernon Morris (Arizona State University), bringing together the mutual interdependence of social justice and community engagement themes:

A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing Lessons Learned from Community Engagement in Geohealth/Environmental Justice Studies in Washington, D.C., and Gondar, Ethiopia.”

From the abstract we learn that the presentation discusses dual projects in communities at the nexus of air quality – health research.  The work for an open-air hospital in Northern Ethiopia involved medical doctors, pharmacists, virologists, and microbiologists….and “the scope of the study was significantly modified based on community engagement,” Morris states. “The additional diversity in perspective inspired novel inquiry, drove creativity in the implementation of the study, and resulted in greater use-inspired research.”

Morris’s presentation is one of many that offer practical experience in community engagement.

For example, at the Conference on Transition of Research to Operations,”Nicholas Schmidt (National Ocean Service) is presenting  “NOAA’s Digital Coast—A Service Delivery Best Practice.” He writes:

The Digital Coast is … a website focused on providing the data, tools, and training coastal communities need to protect their citizens, infrastructure, and economy from coastal hazards and other threats. The Digital Coast …is successful because of the Digital Coast Partnership, a group of eight non-profit organizations who work with NOAA providing input for the effort. The Digital Coast is built on the interaction between the Digital Coast Partners and user community and the website… Effective implementation of service delivery requires relationships between information producers and consumers built on mutual trust and respect. Key to developing and maintaining these relationships is sustained engagement and collaboration that will facilitate the integration of services into actionable information.DigitalCoast

A number of presentations emphasize the need for translation of meteorological terms into Spanish as part of better service to Spanish speaking communities of the United States.

Community Feedback and Participation

The Annual Meeting will showcase a variety of ways to elicit feedback and participation from community members For example …

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Margaret Orr (NOAA, George Mason University)  presents “Lessons Learned from Heat Watch Interviews.” The interview process offers a hybrid of objective “Citizen Science” participation and subjective opinions from the community. She writes:

While satellite data is effective in identifying urban heat islands, ground-level measurements help tell the full story on a more personal and local level, and community engagement is necessary for publicizing data and galvanizing reform. The Heat Watch program, a collaboration between NOAA and CAPA Strategies, engages community scientists in taking air temperature measurements via car or bicycle to create detailed maps of urban heat islands throughout cities. Through interviews with city officials in the 2020 Heat Watch cohort, it was found that the program’s resulting data and anecdotal observations were significant and spoke directly to community concerns about heat. Participants indicated that the personalization of the heat island phenomenon, community engagement through citizen science, and the emphasis on heat’s effects on health and infrastructure were drivers for other city officials and agencies to implement solutions to the heat island problem.

On the other hand, these days the objective and subjective collection of community feedback and channeling of participation is possible through social media. Indeed, this presentation from Iain McConnell (University of Wisconsin-Madison), “Modeling Public Attention to Weather Alerts in Social Media” takes advantage of microblogging in the public as a vehicle for understanding public attention and response to warnings, but it is easy to imagine how such techniques could also constitute an advance in community engagement through objective/subjective gathering of community feedback timely enough to empower participation in the weather warnings process. McConnell writes:

Here tweets are collected relating to US weather alerts reported by the National Weather Service. For each alert event the public’s interaction with the evolving weather hazard information system is documented. The severity of the alerts (e.g., warned or not) is compared to the degree of public interaction. The public response is then generalized via a model that predicts the public response to a given weather alert. The prediction includes the expected degree of response, and from which part of the public this would be expected, for example weather enthusiasts or the general public. This approach may uncover ways to strengthen engagement of the community with weather forecasting through Twitter.

Of course, you could argue that this is an advance parallel to the movement toward connected vehicles in surface transportation, an extension of the Internet of Things world to driving and weather forecasting—the real-time data-sharing and engagement between the community that drives and the scientific community that forecasts For more on that, see the presentation by Danny Cheresnick et al. (Global WeatherCorp), “Improving Operational Road Weather Forecasts with Connected Vehicle Data,” in the Conference on Environmental Information Processing Technologies.

In the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, Lucy Piacentini (City College New York) et al. are presenting a web-based means for connecting qualitative feedback from community members with high resolution satellite information. In “Connecting Communities and Research: The Urban Heat Island Effect in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York,” they write:

In partnership with the Magnolia Initiative community advocacy group in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, various facets to increase community engagement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in general and in the geosciences in particular, were explored.

Using Landsat 8 and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Aqua satellite data, comparisons were made between the land surface temperatures of Bedford-Stuyvesant and other neighborhoods within New York City. Micro-level survey data was also collected from Bedford-Stuyvesant residents to assess factors that contribute to heat wave exposure and heat-related health risks. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an importance in connecting with the community in a socially distant setting. Interactive maps and a website were developed on an online platform for the community to emphasize how socioeconomic and geophysical factors compound to exacerbate the urban heat island effect in the community.

Preliminary results show that Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of the most heat vulnerable communities in New York City and highlight the importance of sharing mitigation and adaptation strategies with community-folk in a manner that they can comprehend and easily implement in a neighborhood bid for sustainability and the amelioration of heat-health risks. The survey and the interactive map have been implemented and have proven to be a positive community engagement tool!”

At the Symposium on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Carolyn S. Brinkworth (UCAR) et al. are presenting “Cocreating Hydrological Research between Earth Science Institutions and Indigenous Scientists and Communities: Success Stories and Lessons Learned.” Previewing it, they state:

In 2016, a group of Earth Science organizations and Indigenous scientists affiliated with the Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences worked together to submit an ANSF proposal … to bring together NCAR scientists with Indigenous communities to co-develop research of mutual interest and benefit; to involve Indigenous undergraduate and K-12 students in that research as part of a pathway into the geosciences; and to provide Indigenous mentorship to the NCAR scientists to help them create culturally responsive spaces for the communities and students they were working with, and to develop guidance and good practices for Earth science institutions wishing to develop similar partnerships in the future.

Here we describe the challenges encountered in implementing the project as planned, the changes we made in order to be responsive to the situations, the ultimate successes that emerged from the communities and students we engaged through the re-imagined program, and the lessons learned for future collaborations.

In community engagement at an even larger scale—for full cities, across the world: Susan C. Anenberg (George Washington University) is presenting an invited Core Science Keynote on “Recent Advances in Integrating Climate Change, Air Quality, and Public Health into Urban Decision-Making.” She writes:

Cities contribute the majority of greenhouse gas emissions globally, are challenged by high air pollution levels, and experience substantial health disparities. Many cities are committing to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and in sustainability improvements. These actions have the potential to mitigate climate change globally and over centuries, as well as improve air quality and public health locally and in the near term. Decision-support tools to assess climate, air quality and health benefits of alternative emission policies exist at the national scale, but are not widely available at the city scale, where clean air interventions are often targeted. This talk will address recent advances …[among many things]… novel methods and tools for integrating climate change, air pollution, and public health into urban decision-making on clean air interventions, including in efforts led by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and C40 Cities.

An Invitation to Crowdsource: Citizen Science as Community Engagement

In this AMS Annual Meeting “citizen” or “community” science appears frequently, as it has in previous years’ meetings, but in the context of this meeting’s overall theme. The projects that solicit nonscientists to collect data and/or analyze data or imagery can be seen as a special participatory form of community engagement. In fact, in the spirit of crowdsourced science, we’ll go ahead now and invite you to share your favorite citizen science examples from the Annual Meeting—including your own presentations—in the Comments section of this Post. And furthermore, send comments with your recommendations for non-traditional viable virtual pathways that you see through the Annual Meeting program this year.

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After a year of substantial social injustice-fueled upheavals, the 101st AMS Annual Meeting builds on social justice themes all week and you could make social justice the theme of you own virtual programming, picking and choosing your way through the sessions if you’re so inclined, right from the centerpiece Presidential Forum on Sunday, “Building a Culture of Anti-Racism in the Weather, Water and Climate Community.”

The session promises to be a frank conversation on racism and its impacts on the weather, water, and climate community.  The panel will explore and discuss how racism against blacks, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC+) and other marginalized  groups has not only denied opportunities to a wide range of people but also limited our ability to advance the weather, water and climate sciences and services.  We will revisit our past and explore how even today social inequities are reflected in the provision of services to people living in underserved areas throughout the United States.  The panel will discuss what actions have helped in combating racism, steps that have been taken to address social inequities in the provision of environmental services, and highlight steps we, as a community and individually, need to take to make further progress.  AMS’s on-going activities in this area will also be highlighted.

Many presentations pick up on this keynote. Certainly, If you are interested in social justice issues, you will want to attend the Symposium on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which has valuable programming.

Addressing Social Justice within the Scientific Community

Session 8: “Advancing a Culture of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Geosciences” is the most inward looking of this key symposium in the social justice pathway through the AMS Annual Meeting—this session is a self-examination of these issues within the scientific community.

The Symposium is also holding a joint session with the Conference on Education: “The Dr. Janet Liou-Mark Memorial Session on Effective Strategies for Increasing Minority Participation in the Atmospheric Sciences.”

Also at the Conference on Education, Valerie Sloan (NCAR) et al. are presenting, “What Worked for Us? Student Experiences with Geoscience Summer Research Internships during Both COVID-19 and Heightened Racist Violence.” They write:

The successful engagement through remote internships this summer suggests that virtual programs prepare students to face new work environments, as conferences, courses, and collaborations continue to shift online. These may come to attract a broader range of students than those who have participated in the past. It is our hope that it will result in more equitable, accessible opportunities for students pursuing geoscience careers.

Session 1 of the Conference for Early Career Professionals invites attendees “to come together and create and experience inclusive environments—an improvscience workshop.” to explore simple, creative ways to cultivate diverse voices, equity, and inclusion.”

Also, there’s Town Hall Meeting—”Her Career, Her Stories“—from the 35th Conference on Hydrology:

This event will bring women of all career stages together to share experience, challenges, and success, to inspire and empower one another, and to foster the development of mentoring relationships. A diverse group of scientists will speak at the event as panelists, including Ana Barros, Terri Hogue, Ruby Lai-Yung Leung, Christa Peters-Lidard, and Britt Westergard.

In the Mesoscale Symposium: Posters Kristen Rasmussen et al. will present, “Best Practices for Preventing Harassment in Atmospheric Science: Leveraging the RELAMPAGO and WE-CAN Field-Campaign Networks for Collaborative Change.” They report:

This project implemented and studied sexual harassment training, awareness, and experiences during the WE-CAN and RELAMPAGO field campaigns ….Both women and men who attended the training were more likely than those who did not attend to report feeling more trusting of coworkers, comfortable with reporting, and more willing to intervene in situations of harassment. We will present findings about attitudes and experiences of harassment in field work, and we will conclude with a discussion around how the atmospheric science community can facilitate collaborative change around sexual harassment within existing networks.

In the Conference on Education, K. Ryder Fox (University of Miami, Florida) et al. present on  “Mental Health Interventions for Marginalized STEM Individuals.”

Also in this conference, Leticia Williams (Howard University) will present “How to Have Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented Students: Best Communication Practices for Multicultural Mentoring to Increase Minority Participation in the Atmospheric Sciences.” In part, they write:

This study examined STEM faculty mentors multicultural mentoring practices and strategies to discuss protégés’ issues and challenges, and the ways that gender and race influenced their communication. Findings revealed that STEM faculty mentors communicated about discrimination and diversity, did not communicate about discrimination and diversity, or did not feel qualified to communicate about discrimination and diversity.

A Legacy of Racism in Science

The Symposium on History at the Annual Meeting also picks up on topics of past injustices in the science community—from the treatment of women scientists and the treatment of scientists from other underrepresented groups, to such issues as the under counting of disaster victims from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, thus potentially skewing scientific and services priorities for many years. One presentation, for example, discusses how “land theft, eugenics, and scientific racism are interwoven into the history of geosciences.”

Social Justice in the Broader Society

Many presentations in the Annual Meeting show that scientists are realizing they have a role in society that is so that social justice issues for the scientific community, go far beyond the diversity and equity inclusiveness within the scientific workforce and its pipeline of future members. Your track of social justice in the Annual Meeting should include such insights.

For example, In one of the Core Science Keynotes, Vernon Morris (Arizona State Univ) tells “A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing Lessons Learned from Community Engagement in Geohealth/Environmental Justice Studies in Washington, D.C., and Gondar, Ethiopia.” Morris “will highlight what has been learned from ‘community-inspired’ environmental health projects at the nexus of air quality – health research, … centered in Washington, DC, and involv[ing] collaboration with activists and residents in low SES and politically disenfranchised communities whose air quality challenges have been exacerbated by gentrification.” Further:

One of the DC studies was able to demonstrate that neighborhood residents were already at risk for airborne particulate matter (PM) exceedances even without the presence of additional point sources. The results were provided in expert testimony at two District of Columbia hearings and a two-year stay from 2012 to 2014 was a direct result of the efforts. Unfortunately, the stay was later overturned and the battle to protect these citizen’s health continues. The other is a study in an open-air hospital in Northern Ethiopia (Gondar). This collaboration involves medical doctors, pharmacists, virologists, and microbiologists at the University of Gondar The Gondar study project combined environmental monitoring, atmospheric sampling, and atmospheric data analysis with the genomic mapping of sampled airborne microflora. Ambient aerobiological samples were collected in order to identify the changes in taxonomically diverse and novel bacteria present on airborne particulate. One specific application of this work was the development of a better understanding of the distribution and transmission of opportunistic microflora within the open-air hospital environment at the University of Gondar Health Sciences Campus. In each case, the original design and scope of the study was significantly modified based on community engagement. The additional diversity in perspective inspired novel inquiry, drove creativity in the implementation of the study, and resulted in greater use-inspired research.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, David Sittenfeld (Museum of Science) et al. are presenting “Wicked Hot Boston: Community Science for Building Extreme Heat Resilience and Addressing Public Health Disparities.” They write:

Urban communities face growing concerns from heat waves that endanger public health, threaten infrastructures, and exacerbate existing social inequities. These impacts fall disproportionately upon people of color, low-income communities, and the elderly. Using a machine learning algorithm. MOS researchers have been working with environmental and community members to produce high-resolution, hyperlocal heat maps that are being actively used by city and regional planners. This session will present results from the mapping activities, with a particular focus on emergent analysis about the heat impacts of urban form in the greater Boston metro area, historic redlining practices, and spatial correlations with … socioeconomic covariates and negative public health outcomes.

We mentioned this next one in our previous blog post delineating a COVID pathway through the Annual Meeting, as it intersects with social justice themes as well, much in the way everything in the production of knowledge, including science, can, either directly or indirectly. The presentation is by Gaige Hunter Kerr et al. in the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, “Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns on NO2: Successes and Challenges for Environmental Inequality in the United States.” They explain in their abstract:

This study highlights the potential for shrinking the gap in pollution exposure between population subgroups in the U.S. but simultaneously underscores the perennial challenges in reducing environmental inequalities.

In the Symposium on Societal Applications: Policy, Research, and Practice, Margaret Mooney and Steve Ackerman (both of CIMMS) give voice to student perspectives in a presentation “University Undergraduates Speak Out on Climate Change and Climate Justice.” From their abstract:

NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin – Madison collaborates with the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) to offer an online 3-credit course on “Climate and Climate Change” each summer. The class is structured to actively engage students in learning about and communicating about climate change, the later through a weekly discussion forum. Week 1 students upload a video describing their background and motivation for taking the course. Other weeks students respond and interact to varying topics that regularly feature current events. As a capstone activity, students upload an “elevator speech” imagining someone asks “what do you think about climate change?” 2020 prompted uniquely thoughtful discussion posts and passionate elevator pitches referencing racial disparities, climate justice, economics, and a global pandemic. This AMS presentation will share select anonymous responses to the week 5 discussion topic: “identify a scenario in the state or region you grew up where climate and environmental injustices combine to affect people of color more negatively than white people, then research the COVID19 cases for that location” and twelve particularly powerful elevator pitches sanctioned for distribution. Paper_381618_elevator speechesIn addition, responses to questions seeking to gauge frequency and comfort around discussing climate change and environmental issues obtained via a follow-up survey will will also be shared in this session.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Adora Shortridge, Jennifer Vanos, and William Walker (Arizona State University) present a program to protect children in South Phoenix from extreme heat by preparing neighborhood schools. They write:

In Phoenix, heat is a priority for preparedness and policy plans at the city-level, yet these policies do not always encompass the most vulnerable regions and populations: elementary schoolchildren and low-income neighborhoods. South Phoenix has experienced historical environmental racism and injustice. Residents currently face challenges including higher air temperatures, air pollution, and economic disparities, which can impact children’s health, physical activity, and cognitive abilities. Although children are routinely stated to need additional heat-coping resources, no formal policy or evaluation toolbox exists nationwide to support systematic and effective efforts to protect children from negative consequences of heat at schools. The overarching goal of this research is to create an evaluation tool for “HeatReady Schools.”

In the same conference, Alexis Merdjanoff and Gabriella Meltzer (NYU) present “Falling from Grace”: A Qualitative Study of Disaster Exposure and Downward Mobility among Middle Class Families,” a study of emotional and financial impacts of on families due to Hurricane Sandy:

Prior to Hurricane Sandy, many families had steady paychecks, owned their homes, and had enough discretionary income that they were not constantly constrained by monthly expenses (i.e., middle class). Following Sandy, however, parents expressed that they were unable to participate in activities that they once enjoyed. Instead, once-discretionary income was spent entirely on home repairs, paying bills, or other essential expenses. While parents were clearly conscious of these financial difficulties and attempted to lessen any additional disruptions to their children … this qualitative data reveals the tenuous nature of being middle class in an era of more frequent and severe extreme weather events.

Social Justice Issues with AI in Geosciences

In the Conference on Artificial Intelligence for Environmental Science, Nicol Turner Lee (Brookings Institute) delivers a core science keynote on “The Importance of Fairness in Algorithmic Decision-Making.” Dr. Lee is a senior fellow in Governance Studies, the director of the Center for Technology Innovation, and serves as Co-Editor-In-Chief of TechTank. Her current research portfolio also includes artificial intelligence (AI), particularly machine learning algorithms and their unintended consequences on marginalized communities.

In another invited keynote in the same conference, Ann Bostrom (University of Washington) explores “Three Risk Decision Traps for the Ethical AI Geoscientist.” Shew notes:

Three crises have gripped the sciences in recent years, each stemming from abuses of power. The first, irreproducibility, resulted arguably from incentives to publish and the use and abuse of statistical power in underpowered and overpowered studies. Inattention to power has resulted in, for example, spurious and unreliable findings capturing the limelight and inspiring fatal choices in some instances (e.g., COVID19 self-medication choices), and in other instances may have diverted attention from larger effects and the possibility of disastrous extremes (e.g., sea-level rise). The second, exclusivity—that is, lack of inclusivity and representativeness—results from the internal and societal power dynamics of the scientific enterprise, wherein those with power have tended to reproduce themselves and their epistemologies, to the exclusion of others. Our understanding of how power disparities in science have increased disparities between people continues to evolve, but the use of purportedly scientific arguments to perpetuate racism, and the unintended consequences of science-informed risk policies (e.g., early air bags) for women, children, and vulnerable populations come to mind. The third, inexplicability, has been enabled by exponential growth in computational technology and power, and is evident in the ever-growing complexity and scale of modeling across the sciences (e.g., genetics, climate and weather modeling, pathogeography), increasingly powered by AI. Each of these crises represents a class of power decisions and presents a risk decision trap for AI geoscientists who hope to be ethical. Addressing how these risk decision traps manifest in research designs and science behaviors requires understanding the default decisions and their roots in human judgment and decision making and social context.
The now pervasive use of AI in the sciences and in information and communication technologies (ICT) has captured the spotlight in recent years, bringing to light, for example, the insidious and devastating effects of algorithmic reinforcement of data biases, and the apparently socially destructive consequences of applying, for private profit, social and behavioral science on attention, persuasion, addiction and risky choice to massive microscale observational data. All three crises contribute to these, illustrating how the risk decisions that AI geoscientists now face have trapped other AI scientists. Ethical research design and behavior require AI geoscientists to attend to these risk decision traps. Echo chambers and an absence of common sources of information dominate information use even at the highest levels of government—including for scientific information—increasing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and the exploitation of scientific uncertainties for private ends. Thus, at the same time as science in general has continued to enjoy a relatively high level of confidence and trust from diverse publics, increasing use of social media for news has contributed to the social amplification of scientific risk and uncertainty, with concomitant damage to public good. The three crises highlighted—irreproducibility, exclusivity, and inexplicability—have gained notoriety primarily in other sciences and contexts. But in the AI geosciences too, missteps in risk decisions are likely to have unanticipated consequences. AI geosciences have immediate applications to and consequences for global health and the environment, and for trust in science. Understanding risk decision traps is imperative for the ethical AI geoscientist.

The Themes Keep Coming

So far we have introduced four themes that cut across conferences and symposia of all types in the 2021 AMS Annual Meeting, and viewing any Next Up Post 4 Finalnumber of the video presentations and posters highlighted is easy despite our enormous conference … because for the first time it’s virtual. View at your convenience. Part 1 in our blog series has taken a closer look at major weather events and impacts in 2020 outside of that main program; Part 2 extended our crosscutting approach to weather extremes and climate change; Part 3 was everything COVID-19; and of course Part 4, here, the critical discussions of social justice. The link to the right or here takes you to the Part 5: Community Engagement, now posted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Often our Annual Meeting week feels like a chance to get away from some of the day-to-day issues of work to focus on exchanging scientific ideas with colleagues. This year, the AMS Annual Meeting is a virtual gathering, however, so there’s little chance AMS21 logo L6186437 DESGD v7any of us will escape entirely the everyday concerns of COVID-19 this week, whether it was the subject of research, a challenge to providing services, performing community engagement, educating future scientists, or even if it meant impacts on the world that obscured research results in other topics. The meeting programming itself is an indication that no scientific aspect of 2020 escaped the pandemic entirely. In fact, this is a good week to catch up on how the pandemic has impacted the weather, water, and climate enterprise in 2020, if you to want to navigate the Annual Meeting and hop through the conference schedules to look for pandemic-related topics. Some of these presentations are most obviously found in the Conference on Environment and Health, but in other conferences too. Below, we’ll give you some suggestions for following up on this unavoidable intersection of science and society . Meanwhile, keep it virtual, and be safe and healthy. After all, that’s one reason this is unlike any other AMS meeting week.

The Pandemic Impact on the Global Earth Observing System and Forecasting Operations and Research Programs

In the Conference on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, Blake Sorenson (Univ. North Dakota) et al. discuss “Regional Impacts of Aircraft Observation Losses Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.” They point out:

Thousands of commercial aircraft in the United States and around the world provide meteorological observations every day, obtaining valuable measurements of temperature, wind, and (from a subset of aircraft) humidity. These aircraft are a critical source of upper-air observations for operational numerical weather prediction, especially over regions with limited radiosonde coverage such as the tropics and southern hemisphere. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many airlines from around the world saw drastic decreases in flight activity, with portions of Europe seeing a near complete loss. The decrease in flights from January 2020 to April 2020 also resulted in a significant loss in aircraft observations, which is noticeable in both aircraft observation counts and Forecast Sensitivity to Observation Impact (FSOI), which is a measure of error reduction in 24-hr forecasts from a specific group of observations. In January 2020, aircraft observations accounted for 5.7% of the total number of observations assimilated into the U.S. Navy’s Navy Global Environmental Model (NAVGEM) and accounted for 9.5% of the total error reduction. In April 2020, aircraft obs accounted for only 2.2% of the total ob counts and 4.2% of the total error reduction. Interestingly, the total FSOI was nearly the same in the two months, which implies that the beneficial impact of the other observation types increased.

While the aircraft observations in the Northern Hemisphere dropped by nearly 50% from January 2020 to April 2020, the amount of error reduction due to aircraft obs at those latitudes only slightly decreased. Aircraft observation counts in the Southern Hemisphere and tropics dropped by nearly 100% and the error reduction from the aircraft ob group decreased almost completely, reflecting the importance of aircraft observations in data-sparse regions. This presentation will expand on the global FSOI statistics and delve into regional statistics of the changes caused by decreases in aircraft observations from the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to the later stages of the pandemic, especially for South America, Australia and New Zealand, East Asia, Europe, and CONUS. The impacts of aircraft observation losses on FSOI in data rich areas will be contrasted with the impacts in data sparse areas.

Similarly, and also at the same conference, Eric P. James (CIRES) et al. present on “Commercial Aircraft-Based Weather Observations for NWP: Global Coverage, Data Impacts, and COVID-19.” They write:

Weather observations from commercial aircraft have been shown to be the most valuable observation source for short-range numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems over North America. However, the distribution of aircraft observations is highly irregular in space and time. In this study, we summarize the recent coverage of aircraft observations over the globe, and provide an updated quantification of their impact upon short-range NWP forecast skill. Aircraft observation coverage is most dense over the contiguous United States and Europe, with secondary maxima in East Asia and Australia / New Zealand. As of late November 2019, 665 airports around the world had at least one daily ascent or descent profile of observations; 400 of these come from North American or European airports. Flight reductions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a 75% reduction in aircraft observations globally as of late April 2020.

A set of data denial experiments with the latest version of the Rapid Refresh NWP system for recent summer and winter periods quantifies the statistically significant positive forecast impacts of assimilating aircraft observations. Additional experiments excluding approximately 75% of aircraft observations reveal a statistically significant degradation of forecast skill for both winter and summer seasons; these results provide an approximate quantification of the short-range NWP impact of COVID-19 related commercial flight reductions, demonstrating that regional NWP guidance is degraded due to the availability of fewer observations. This finding further highlights the importance of aircraft observations for regional NWP data assimilation.

In the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, Laura L. Pan (NCAR) et al. note in a presentation on the airborne field program, The Asian Summer Monsoon Chemical and Climate Impact Project (ACCLIP), deployments of aircraft over the western Pacific were postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the pandemic but “the positive side of the delay has been the opportunity to perform more extensive pre-campaign studies.”

The Pandemic Impact on the Earth System

In Friday’s sessions of Major Weather Events and Impacts of 2020, Paul Miller et al. (Louisiana State Univ.) report on how “China’s COVID-19 Quarantine Marginally Exacerbated a Warm February 2020.” They write:

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, east China experienced two consecutive months of exceptionally warm weather, with 28 cities observing their warmest January-February period on record. Coincident with these unseasonable temperatures, large areas of China faced restricted economic activity due to COVID-19 quarantines, which were subsequently associated with marked air pollution reductions. Because particulate pollutants can scatter, diffuse, and absorb incoming solar radiation, serving as net negative radiative forcing, a reduction in air pollution can yield warming at the surface. This study explores whether the warm February 2020 in east China was exacerbated by COVID-19 quarantines.  [Insights from modeling show] The C19Q emissions reductions increased surface air temperatures, with warming concentrated in interior China due to the synoptic circulation pattern. A maximum temperature increase of 0.13°C was observed in Changde, roughly 300 km west of Wuhan. In contrast, warming was not observed over the haze-prone North China Plain, where mean northwest flow dispersed pollution offshore in both emissions scenarios. Though a seemingly minor increase in temperature, epidemiological research suggests marginal warming may have a non-trivial effect on SARS-CoV-2 transmission, especially when integrated over densely populated regions such as east China.

The shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID had measurable impacts on the atmosphere and air quality during 2020. So many (but not all) of these presentations are in sessions of the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry.

In the Symposium of Lidar Atmospheric Applications, Simone Lolli (SSAI, and National Research Council, Tito, Italy) et al. present “Effects of the Lockdown Imposed by the COVID-19 Pandemic on Vertically Resolved Aerosol Profiles Assessed through Different Permanent Observational Sites of the NASA MPLNET Lidar Network.”

In the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, Qiyang Yan (Georgia Tech) et al. present a poster on, “Satellite observed reduction of nitrogen oxides emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts over the United States.” Their discussion:

In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the state and local governments declared emergency and enforced lockdowns to slow the progress of infections in March 2020, which significantly reduced pollutant emissions in the United States. Satellite observations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have been used to estimate nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions due to COVID-19 We monitored emission changes over the U.S. in correspondence to the enactments of varied virus control policies and social behavior changes in different states. The effects of NOx emission changes on surface ozone and the oxidation state of the boundary layer in the U.S. are assessed to evaluate the environmental impacts of COVID-19. The NOx emission changes are also applied in a Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Removed model to understand the values of satellite observations on the management of public health crises.

Similarly, in another session on air quality in the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry for example, Doyeon Ahn (Univ of Maryland, College Park) et al. present on “Reduced Emissions of CO2 and NOx from Power Plants in the Eastern United States during the COVID-19 Pandemic Period: Separating the Impact of COVID-19 against Varying Weather and Fuel-Mix.” In part their abstract states:

During the COVID-19 pandemic period, electricity generation patterns in the United States were disrupted as people have spent more time at home while commercial and industrial activities were reduced. Reductions in electricity generation associated with decreased demand led to declines in emissions of air pollutants from power plants. In this study, we estimate the reduction in the emissions of CO2 and NOx from power plants in Eastern U.S. we estimate the “Business-as-usual (BAU)” gross electric outputs in Eastern U.S.: i.e., the likely gross electric outputs given the weather conditions and historical trend in fuel-mix usage without COVID-19. Then, we estimate the BAU emissions of CO2 and NOx during COVID-19 pandemic period. Preliminary results show that power plant emissions of CO2 and NOx were reduced most significantly in April 2020, with following months showing varying magnitudes of reduction. The relative magnitude of reduced emissions from power plants in Eastern U.S. will be compared to reduced emissions from transportation sector during Spring 2020.

Also at the same conference, Alexander Kotsakis (NASA Goddard) et al. present “Analyzing the Impact of COVID-19 on tropospheric NO2 Using Pandora observations across North America“:

As the primary precursor to ozone production, NO2 exhibits large amounts of heterogeneity on vertical and horizontal scales. The well documented decreases in NO2 pollution from pandemic shutdowns worldwide are seen in daily satellite observations. While satellite observations of NO2 from polar orbiting satellites (TROPOMI, OMI, etc) provide a unique high resolution spatial perspective, these satellites only provide a once daily snapshot. Pandora, a ground based spectrophotometer, allows us to measure column NO2 at a much higher temporal resolution that is on a similar scale to that of a traditional in-situ surface NO2 monitor. To quantify the changes in NO2 due to COVID19 from a ground based perspective, we utilize a combination of Pandora and in situ observations to investigate the changes in surface and column NO2. Using the combination of these observations we will provide better insight into changes in the diurnal variation of NO2. The results of this study are essential for understanding the sensitivity of column measurements to emission changes and for better interpreting future geostationary air quality observations.

Going the Other Way: The Effect of the Atmosphere on the Pandemic

While COVID impacted the atmosphere especially through societal changes, the weather, as expected in epidemiological models, impacted the outbreak itself.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Beatriz Hervella (AEMET, Spanish Meteorological Agency) presents on the “Impact of Temperature on the Early Dynamics of the COVID-19 Outbreak in Spain.” She notes:

The role played by the weather in the outbreaks of the Covid-19 pandemic is being discussed and is still highly uncertain. There are studies that suggest that meteorology is only a minor factor in the evolution of the pandemic, once it has already started, compared to other more relevant factors such as policy measures, the lack of population immunity, social factors as human density, public transport, social habits or the evolutionary dynamics of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus itself. But what about initial pandemic stage of an emerging pathogen? Within the same country with the same cultural aspects and containment policies (without lockdown), why did the disease evolve exponentially in some areas while in others it did not?

Our hypothesis is that the weather is a relevant factor in this first stage of spread, favoring the development of this new virus for the population in some areas against others; it is in line with previous studies that point out cities with significant outbreaks of COVID-19 have very similar climates pattern with relatively cool and dry environment . In order to proof it, the covid-19 trigger incidence rate has been calculated, defined as the critical time for the onset of the epidemic spread, in each of the 50 Spanish provinces. Analysis has conducted to explore the association between this incidence rate and the average temperature over 14 and 7 days in order to take into account the covid-19 incubation period (the average incubation period is 5–6 days with the longest incubation period of 14 days. When the epidemic explodes, we have found an average temperature threshold below which the provinces have developed the most several outbreaks. Consequently, above it, the spread has been much milder or less relevant; in Spain it seems that the virus has harder time spreading in warmer temperatures.

The results that have been obtained may be useful in the future because when population immunity would be obtained and if the disease becomes endemic, meteorological factors will play a fundamental role again.

Education During a Pandemic

In the poster session of Sunday’s 20th Student Conference, Joshua Higgins et al., all with the University of Alabama-Huntsville, present on the COVID adaptations made to continue UAH’s “unique leadership and active-learning opportunities for undergraduates in the Department of Atmospheric and Earth Science as members of the student organization UPSTORM – the UAH Profile Sounding Team for Operational and Research Meteorology.” They continue:

UPSTORM is a necessary component of meteorological research and upper-air analysis for the National Weather Service (NWS)…. Safety is always UPSTORM’s number-one priority, and the existence of the Coronavirus Pandemic has strengthened that prerogative. The presence of COVID-19 has changed the way training is conducted, with a limited number of students able to be trained at a given time, all while wearing masks and adhering to social distancing guidelines. Although COVID-19 has altered the way operations are completed, each member continues to undergo training each semester on the preparation involved to launch weather balloons, Python and SHARPpy use, and the set-up process of several data collection instruments used in the field.

At the Conference on Education, Tiffany Fourment (UCAR) et al. present a poster entitled “Turn and Face the Strange: Lessons Learned for Digital K-12 Education in Changing Times.” They write:

The School and Public Programs team at the UCAR Center for Science Education implements K-12 field trips, public tours, and outreach events at the National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesa Lab.

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic turned our daily lives and work upside down, we were forced to pivot abruptly in a number of ways. In the following months our team scrambled to shift our focus from in-person to online programming. This process called for a dynamic combination of flexibility, new skill acquisition, candid analysis of our team’s strengths and challenges, humility, and good old-fashioned trial and error (in fact, it still does today). It has resulted in a number of digital learning resources and opportunities for K-12 educators and students including live virtual activities, recorded videos with supplemental resources, and “Meet the Experts”—a series of presentations and Q&A with subject matter experts.

Nobody would ask for the challenges introduced by the pandemic, but we can appreciate that it pushed us to work on something we had been discussing for some time: developing digital education programming for K-12 students, teachers, and the general public. While this effort was instigated by a major global catastrophe, the outcome will prevail and evolve as we define our “new normal”. Our programming abilities have expanded, allowing us to reach more diverse and widespread audiences than we have in the past.

This presentation will detail the learning process that accompanied our shift from in-person to digital K-12 education programming, what worked and what didn’t, and the vision for sustaining our programs through whatever future changes may come.

Also in the Conference on Education, Valerie Sloan (NCAR) et al. write about lessons learned from student internships in the tumultuous summer of 2020:

Undergraduate students faced a challenging summer in which many missed out on summer research opportunities due to COVID-19-related cancellations. Some internships did proceed, with most running remotely and a few on-site. Unprecedented conditions faced this year’s cohort. This included living and working under the difficult conditions of the pandemic and witnessing the heightened police violence against people in the Black community. Puerto Rican students were also faced with earthquakes, a tropical storm, and an unpredictable power supply. In this presentation, students who participated in online REU experiences will discuss the challenges and successes of working remotely within this period of history. They will identify those strategies that promoted a sense of engagement and community, and effective mentoring. They will also discuss ways to support students in dealing with traumatic current events. The successful engagement through remote internships this summer suggests that virtual programs prepare students to face new work environments, as conferences, courses, and collaborations continue to shift online. These may come to attract a broader range of students than those who have participated in the past. It is our hope that it will result in more equitable, accessible opportunities for students pursuing geoscience careers.

And again in the Education Conference, K. Ryder Fox (Univeristy of Miami, Florida) et al. note in a poster that COVID exacerbated the ongoing mental health crisis in amongst STEM grad students, and especially heightens the need for interventions for marginalized STEM Individuals. They write:

… many marginalized individuals face greater personal crises, including greater health risks, as well as job, food, and home insecurity. The mental health crisis within STEM fields has been compounded by increased isolation, disrupted research and coursework, national discussions of police brutality and racial inequality, and living in unprecedented times of uncertainty.

We employ a radical approach of creating the first 24/7 text-based crisis hotline run by and for marginalized individuals in STEM.

Adapting and Enhancing Services during COVID

The meeting provides numerous examples of how the atmospheric science community had to work quickly to respond to the COVID challenges by enhancing products in all sorts of settings. Many scientists found COVID increased the need for applications of earth systems information and forecasts.

In the Symposium on Societal Applications, for example, Michael Brewer (NESDIS) et al. report on “The Value of Environmental Data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.” Their abstract states:

For over 6 years, NCEI has systematically documented the interactions it has had with users. Information from over 70,000 users has led to an understanding of the uses and benefits that NCEI information provides to every sector of the US Economy. These user insights have also been used to drive products and services changes across NCEI’s product portfolio. This talk will focus on the product changes and benefits received, with an emphasis on the value NCEI has played in the current COVID-19 Pandemic response and understanding the spread of coronavirus. It will also highlight the need for a systematic approach to insights from bulk users that would provide critical understanding of how NCEI can make its products and services more valuable. This presentation will also summarize mechanisms NCEI uses and will use in the future to document the value of its information.

Brewer and student scholar Alexandra Grayson present a related poster in the Sunday sessions, “Applications of NOAA’s Environmental Data to Emerging Real-time Crises: A COVID-19, Public Health and Climate Solutions Example.” In it they state:

The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the application of NOAA’s climate information to researchers and decision-makers in the public health sector. This paper focuses on the impact that NCEI has had in providing climate information to those seeking to better understand the COVID-19 respiratory virus and the way it may be impacted by environmental parameters. The paper then addresses NCEI emerging activities related to COVID-19 and wildfire smoke data, wildfire responders’ health, and Western wildfire evacuation planning.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Raymond B. Kiess (AWS) et al. present on “Creating Actionable Climate Intelligence and Communicating Uncertainty during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” They write:

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic produced a wave of research investigating the potential impact of weather and climate on the spread of the novel coronavirus. As the Air Force’s authoritative provider of climate intelligence, the 14th Weather Squadron (14 WS) was charged with distilling the dynamically evolving body of research into products to inform Department of Defense (DoD) and National Intelligence Community (NIC) risk assessments. In this presentation, we outline how 14 WS leveraged medical research and interagency partnerships to produce tailored, actionable climate intelligence at the speed of relevance while at the same time communicating the uncertainty and limitations associated with emerging research.

Early in the pandemic, media coverage of research highlighting the similarities between weather conditions in the areas of initial Covid-19 spread motivated inquiries to the 14 WS. In response, 14 WS conducted an initial literature review focusing on temperature and humidity ranges that were associated with higher rates of Covid-19 transmission. Coordination with Air Force Weather colleagues and the Air Force’s Surgeon General Office was necessary to establish confidence and appropriately communicate uncertainty. Initial products showed when and where the temperature and humidity ranges associated with increased Covid-19 transmission occur on average globally, regionally, and locally. As research evolved, 14 WS updated and added products to reflect the current state of the science. Updates included the development of Ultraviolet Index climatology products and modeled risk metrics. Throughout the process, 14 WS accompanied product releases with caveat statements and explanatory documents to communicate uncertainty and help users accurately interpret tailored products….14 WS created map-based decision aids that identify the regions most at risk from environmental hazards such as tropical cyclones, tornadoes, floods, wildfire, and winter weather by month. These climatology-based products enable readiness by identifying risk windows with lead times sufficient to allow proactive preparation. 14 WS staged all climatology products relevant to the pandemic on a tailored webpage specifically built to deliver climate intelligence to inform the DoD and NIC response to Covid-19.…The speed of operations required products to be created and communicated as research became available “at the speed of relevance;” before the peer review process could be completed. This required 14 WS to be agile, iterating and adjusting as research evolved, and rely on interagency coordination to access medical and epidemiological expertise not organic to the unit. In addition, clear communication was critical to ensure that end users understood how to interpret climate intelligence to inform operations in the context of Covid-19 and, importantly, the limitations resulting from using products as research was rapidly evolving. The lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic will be applicable to other climate intelligence applications moving forward.

Albert Martis (WMO) et al. will present at the Conference on Environment and Health on “Forecasting Healthcare Capacity By Using the Mass Curve Technique.” They state in their abstract:

An Empirical Model was developed to predict shape of the COVID-19 curve a week after a COVID-19 outbreak. To initialize the model the daily new cases were fitted to an exponential function with an initial growth factor. Historical COVID-19 data of several countries like China, Italy Spain France and Austria were used to estimate the governmental intervention index that can change the growth factor. Social Distancing, school closure, curfew or lockdown are among the intervention taken by the governments. This Empirical Model was tested with the outbreak of the COVID-19 and the government interventions in the Netherlands successfully.

This model can assess the behavior of the curve after the outbreak based on the governmental intervention and can be tool for decision making to monitor the compliance of the governmental measures and indicate the time for further escalation or de-escalation. Furthermore by using the mass curve technique, a widely used method in climatology, the healthcare capacity can be determine and the capacity of the IC.

In the Conference on Environmental Information Processing Technologies, Charles D. Camp (NWS) and Parks Camp (NWS) present on “Using Cloud-Based GIS Solutions to Rapidly Develop and Deploy an IDSS Interface during a Pandemic.” They write that …

Translation of data into actionable information is one of many critical steps successful completion of…Impact-based Decision Support Services (IDSS) …To ensure successful completion of this IDSS mission, which can be further complicated by a variety of factors, most notably the sheer amount of information to be shared across a variety of communication platforms. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 further exacerbated this challenge as National Weather Service core partners at the federal, state, and local levels were presented with additional weather-related threats to life and property as mobile testing sites, triage centers, and other types of healthcare facilities became of utmost importance. As a result, National Weather Service meteorologists were increasingly providing critical IDSS to core partners with the responsibilities of overseeing activities at these locations. It soon became evident that a more organized effort of cataloging and monitoring these IDSS locations was needed.

In response, a team of GIS subject matter experts across the National Weather Service’s Southern Region organized and charted a path toward a rapid prototype solution. … The result was a publicly viewable dashboard that was highly data driven, organized, flexible, and IDSS focused as it enhanced situational awareness and decision making capabilities for both the National Weather Service and its core partners.

Disaster Response in COVID and Other Pandemic Lessons and Impacts

In the Symposium on Building a Weather-Ready Nation, Craig Croskery (Mississippi State University) is presenting, “Learning from the COVID-19 Pandemic: When Public Health and Tornado Threats Converge.” He notes:

The pandemic also made the process of protecting individuals from tornadoes more challenging, especially when their personal residence lacks suitable shelter, particularly for residents of mobile homes. The necessity of having to shelter with other families – either in a public shelter or at another residence – in order to protect themselves from a tornado threat conflicted with the advice of public health officials who recommended avoiding public places and limiting contact with the public to minimize the spread of COVID-19. There was also a perception that protecting against one threat could amplify the other threat and a survey was undertaken with the public to determine the general viewpoint to see if that was indeed the case.

The results found that it was possible to attenuate both threats provided that careful planning and actions were undertaken. Understanding how emergency managers should react and plan for such dual threats are important to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while also maintaining the safety of the public…..both short-term and long-term recommendations were suggested which may also be useful…even after this pandemic is over.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Yihan Wu (Harvard Univ.) et al. present on “the successes of mobility interventions in curbing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2, [which] demonstrate how policies can help limit the person-to-person interactions that are essential to infection.”

We investigate mobility changes during the first major quarantine period in the United States, assessing how human behavior changed in response to policies and to weather. We look at a variety of mobility metrics, including distance traveled, visitation rates to different destinations, and potential encounters measured based on proximity of mobile devices. We show that consistent national behavioral change was associated with clear national messaging and independent of local policy. Not only is the timing of mobility changes nationally consistent, potential encounters are related to distance traveled by an exponential relationship with a nationally consistent growth rate and a scaling directly proportional to population density. To explore the effect of weather on mobility, we high-pass filter both the weather and mobility time series and estimate their correlations and uncertainties using a bootstrapping technique. We find that while the number of park visitations changed with favorable weather conditions, generally the changes did not increase encounters between people. Experts predict this virus will continue to be a threat until a safe and effective vaccine has been developed and widely deployed; the independence of encounters and temperatures suggests that behavioral changes will not impact any direct physical modulation of transmission by weather as the virus becomes endemic. Both of these results are encouraging for the potential of the country to be able to curb the virus with clear national messaging.

The Symposium on Building a Weather-Ready Nation has many presentations with COVID-based lessons including in this joint session: “Hurricane Messaging: Improvements in Communicating Impacts, Uncertainty, and the Forecaster’s Decision-Making and Joint Session: Preparing for and Responding to Weather Events during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” including presentations on COVID adjustments for operations at NWS in Norman Oklahoma and for maintaining NWS Weather Forecast Office operations more generally.

In Sunday’s Student Conference posters, Delián Colón-Burgos (Pennsylvania State University) is presenting on “Hurricane Evacuations in the Age of COVID-19: How Evacuation Zones and Concerns about Location of Residence influence Perceptions of Risk and Evacuation Decisions.” The presentation recognizes COVID as “an urgent call to study the evacuation behaviors for this year’s hurricane season, due to conditions in shelters that may lead to further outbreaks.” They continue:

The purpose of this research is to understand the perceived and real risk factors that individuals consider in making evacuation decisions during a pandemic and see if these vary amongst people living in different evacuation zones and with different concerns about their location of residence. Data were obtained from an online statewide survey sent to Florida residents and analyzed using SPSS v26. Chi-square tests were performed between responses to four statements about anticipated evacuation decisions considering COVID-19 and a resident’s a) Evacuation zone (Ranging from Evacuation Zone A to non-Evacuation zones), b) Concerns about location of residence, and c) Water-based concerns. …It was found that a resident’s evacuation zone does impact their perceptions of risk for going to shelters regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents from high risk evacuation zones were found to be less likely to evacuate to a shelter, but at the same time less likely to shelter in place. Residents are hesitant of evacuating to a shelter due to possible close-quarters conditions that will lead to getting infected with COVID-19. These results can provide guidance to emergency management and local government in order to plan for this hurricane season with compounded risks.

The Rare Beneficial Effects

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Jan Null (San Jose State Univ.) and Andrew Grundstein (Univ. of Georgia) report that “After the two worst years on record in 2018 and 2019, the number of children that died inside hot vehicles in the United States dropped dramatically in 2020.” And they investigate “How and why might this be related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Another possible silver lining of the pandemic appears in the air quality sessions of the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry. Julianna Christopoulos (NOAA) et al. present an “Assessment of COVID-19-Related Emission Changes on Crop Yields across the Continental United States.” Specifically they “estimate the losses/gains in soybean yields from the changed crop exposure to ground-level O3.” They write:

The pandemic’s impact on ground-level O3 is quantified using NOAA’s National Air Quality Forecasting Capability (NAQFC). The NAQFC simulations use ground- and satellite-based adjustments to the National Emission Inventory 2014 data that are projected for each state to the “would-be,” 2020 level business-as-usual (BAU) emissions, and compare this to a simulation that uses the actual COVID-19 (C19) emissions. The differences between the predicted O3 concentrations for the BAU and C19 cases are attributed to the economic slowdown impacts of the pandemic. The O3 changes caused by COVID-19 are then combined with a dose-response function and the soybean production for this year to estimate the losses/gains in soybean yields from the changed crop exposure to ground-level O3.

The Double Whammy: COVID and Social Justice Issues

The COVID path through the AMS Annual Meeting forms an intersection with one of the other salient societal issues of 2020: the inequities and social injustices that fueled the news in 2020 in the U.S. and that themselves form yet another pathway through the presentations of the Annual Meeting.

Here’s an obvious crossing of the two main societal themes that 2020 imparted on the 101st AMS Annual Meeting: the presentation at the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry by Gaige Hunter Kerr, Daniel Goldberg, and Susan Anenberg (all of George Washington University): they write about the “Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns on NO2: Successes and Challenges for Environmental Inequality in the United States,” and examine neighborhood-scale data on air quality beside demographic data to show that the largest reductions in NO2 during lockdowns occur in urban tracts whose populations are more racially and ethnically diverse and have lower household income and educational attainment:

While this result is promising given the environmental injustices that have long plagued disadvantaged communities, we find that even the dramatic reductions in NO2 during lockdowns are not large enough to decrease NO2 to the pre-pandemic levels experienced by tracts with higher income, higher levels of educational attainment, and fewer racial and ethnic minorities. To further understand the uneven gains in NO2, we also use traffic data and assess changes in mobility following lockdowns. This study highlights the potential for shrinking the gap in pollution exposure between population subgroups in the U.S. but simultaneously underscores the perennial challenges in reducing environmental inequalities. Our results may inform long-term policies aimed at reducing air pollution and associated public health damages associated with emissions from transportation and other combustion sources.

Check out our next blog post in this series if you’re interested in following this fork in the road Next Up Post 3 Finalto a pathway of exploring the AMS Annual Meeting’s numerous crosscutting discussions of the relation of science and scientists to the equity, diversity and social justice issues which emerged as never before in the weather, water, and climate community in 2020 and dominated national news at the same time. It’s a natural and timely track to follow in this week’s meeting—just as the COVID track is—touching on numerous specialties, scientific issues, and interdisciplinary dilemmas.

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As we noted in the previous blog post, there are multiple ways to navigate an AMS Annual Meeting, even though we’re usually channeled into separate rooms devoted to parallel conferences, each focused on an area of specialization. But this year’s all-virtual conference, during the coming week, offers unusual prospects for hopping AMS21 logo L6186437 DESGD v7from conference to conference, with room to follow crosscutting themes. One of the most active such themes this year is the relationship of extreme weather to climate change.

The Conference on Climate Variability and Change is a natural home for such presentations; for example, the poster on “The Principal Reasons for the Observed Increase in Atlantic Hurricane and Named Storm Activity,” by  Conor I. McMenemie  and Karl Zeller with NiCE Research.

They write:

It is known that sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are a key component for energizing equatorial Atlantic storms. Similarly that the SSTs in the region which germinate such events are largely dependent upon the duopoly of the surface temperature of the ocean currents flowing towards the equatorial Atlantic and the heating effect applied by the sun. There has been a significant loss of cloud cover. This has allowed for a corresponding increase in isolation, resulting in the increased SSTs which gives rise to the increased Named Storm and Hurricane activity. …a reduction in the frequency of the African Easterly Wave (AEW) weather system has allowed for an additional multi hundred terrawatt ocean heating effect, which is providing the additional ‘fuel’ for the storm and hurricane events. … The factors affecting the original precursors to the AEW system can be backtracked to the Ethiopian Highlands, where the confluence of a number of atmospheric events had given rise to this AEW climatic chain reaction. It will be suggested here that human activity had unintentionally made sufficient alteration to one of these precursors, in an area of uncommon meteorological vulnerability during the hurricane season. That as a consequence we had inadvertently degraded one of the planet’s major weather systems, which after being allowed to go unnoticed since the start of the last century, this is the principal reason for the observed increase in Atlantic Hurricane and Named Storm activity.

Another poster, by Emily Beros-Hickey and Christina M. Patricola ((Lawrence-BerkeleyNational Lab) in the same Wednesday session is on “Anthropogenic Influences on African Easterly Waves,” with potential insights on late 21st century Atlantic tropical cyclone climatology.

Anna M. Wilson et al  present a related poster in the same conference: “Efforts to Build Infrastructure Resiliency to Future Hydroclimate Extremes.” In their, they state:

Record-breaking storms are increasing in frequency with climate change. Aging infrastructure, increasing population, and land use changes are all exacerbating the impacts of these events on the human enterprise. Thus, infrastructure’s risk and resilience to unexpected events are changing in ways that we have not been yet able to precisely quantify. [We] highlight successful interdisciplinary efforts led by the water management community to reduce risk and build infrastructure resilience to an increasing frequency and complexity of events.

But not all the presentations in this crosscutting theme of weather extremes set in the context of climate change are in the same conference. For example Elizaveta Malashenko and Matt Rogers (McKinsey and Company) present a poster in the Conference on Weather, Climate, and the New Energy Economy about “Climate Risk and Response: Why, and How, Utilities Should Start to Manage Climate Change Risk.” They write:

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in late 2018, … predicted “more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events,” such as floods and hurricanes. For utilities, the assessment concluded, the possibilities were grave: lower efficiency, higher expenses, and more power outages—even as demand for energy rises. And many utilities are not ready … The cost of extreme weather is already high, and the frequency and the cost to life and property of extreme weather events has increased in recent years. …Even now, some utilities are making investments in long-lived assets in risky locations, increasing system vulnerability and balance-sheet risk. On that basis, we believe there is a strong case for utilities to start now to take steps on climate-change adaptation.

In other ways, too, utilities are already more vulnerable to extreme weather events than in the past. When homes are built in areas prone to wildfires, power companies follow, placing their own assets at higher risk. These can even exacerbate the problem, if sparks from power lines ignite [wildfires]. …

If climate change brings significant sea-level rise, as many models predict, that raises new vulnerabilities, but the risk is material today. In the United States, nine nuclear-power plants are located within two miles of the ocean. Many of the nation’s 8,625 power plants were deliberately sited near shorelines in order to have access to water. As a result, when hurricanes strike, power plants already face significant flooding damage. … 44 power plants were in flooded areas in Hurricane Irene and 69 were in flooded areas in Hurricane Sandy. … During Houston’s Hurricane Harvey in 2017, wind and catastrophic flooding knocked down or damaged more than 6,200 distribution poles and 850 transmission structures; 21.4 gigawatts of generation were affected by wind damage, flooding damage, fuel supply issues, or evacuations and shutdowns. If sea levels rise, storm surges would hit further inland, causing more damaging coastal flooding to generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure.

We examined the financial records of ten large power utilities in seven states where hurricanes are common plus New Jersey, where hurricanes are less common but dense coastal populations mean damage from storms can be particularly costly. According to this analysis, a typical utility saw $1.4 billion in storm-damage costs and lost revenues due to outages caused by storms over a 20-year period [and] using estimates from the Fourth National Climate Assessment for increases in extreme weather events and coastal infrastructure damage driven by climate change, we estimated that by 2050, the cost of damages and lost revenues would rise by $300 million. We estimate it would take $700 million to $1 billion for a typical Southeastern US utility to prepare for impacts related to climate change [and] … our conclusion is that it pays to prepare for extreme weather.

At the Symposium on the Coastal Environment, Chia-Ying Lee (Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory) et al. use historical and future climate warming scenarios and downscaled modeling to generate model storms. A new, machine-learning based wind reconstruction model will be used with the model tropical cyclone tracks to assess the wind hazard in New York State and … estimate storm surge.

In the Conference on Hydrology, Eunsang Cho (Univ. of Maryland) et al. present on whether we should expect Slower or Faster Extreme Snowmelt in a Warmer World. Their findings indicate that so far such flood-producing events are less frequent in the western mountains but more frequent in the north-central states.

In the Symposium on Societal Applications, John Lee is presenting “Applications of Extreme Event Attribution: Climate Change Litigation and More.” His abstract explains:

As the science underlying extreme event attribution (EEA) continues to improve … EEA … will play an increasing role … in climate change litigation, both domestically and internationally. Causation, legally defined as the relationship between an event and a particular result, is a key component in such litigation. In other words, in this context, how can you prove that a defendant’s actions are sufficiently related to anthropogenic climate change such that the defendant can be held liable for damages that occur at a distant location? EEA addresses that question. EEA also is playing an increasingly important role in the insurance industry … to model and … prepare for future losses. As the climate changes, human rights impacts, from military conflict to forced migrations, become increasingly likely. EEA has an important role to play in the characterization and prediction of such environmental human rights abuses … [among other examples] … providing an additional tool to aid in mitigating these events.

Also in the conference on Climate Variability and Change, Ni Dai and Brian Soden (Univ. of Miami, FL) investigate the implications of climate change for tropical precipitation extremes. They point out that:

It is widely believed that precipitation extremes will increase in response to a warming climate. In the absence of changes in atmospheric circulations, extreme precipitation is expected to increase in already-moist regions along a thermodynamical Clausius-Clapeyron scaling. However, within the tropics, the sensitivities inferred from observations are roughly twice as large, implying an unknown contribution from atmospheric dynamics. … We investigate the relationship between convective aggregation and precipitation and the role that convective aggregation plays in amplifying the response of frequency of tropical precipitation extremes to interannual surface warming. … Increases in large-scale convective aggregation contribute to roughly one-third of the increase in extreme precipitation occurrence to interannual warming by shifting moderate-to-heavy precipitation events to more extreme precipitation intensities. The linkages between convective aggregation and precipitation extremes considered here offer insights into their potential response to anthropogenic warming.

In the second session of “Major Weather Events and Impacts of 2020,” Blair Trewin (Bureau of Meteorology) et al. present on “Australia’s 2019/20 Summer of Extremes and Its Climate Drivers.”

They document the exceptional heat and drought underlying the year’s deadly conflagrations. But they also note:

Several key climate drivers contributed to the dry and warm conditions in 2019, despite limited signals from the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, typically a major driver of eastern Australian drought. The strongest signal on seasonal timescales was a very strong positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). Positive IOD events are associated with an enhanced likelihood of below-average rainfall in winter and spring across much of Australia, especially the south.

A second major driver of abnormal conditions was a persistent negative phase of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). Negative phases of SAM in spring and summer are associated with enhanced risk of dry conditions along the east coast of Australia. The major contributor to the negative SAM phase was a rare Sudden Stratospheric Warming event over the Antarctic which peaked in mid-September, causing an early breakdown in the polar vortex and equatorward movement of mid-latitude westerly winds. A delayed monsoon also contributed to an abnormally dry November and December in northern Australia. … The conditions of 2019-20 were without precedent in the Australian historical record. As the climate warms, the world is seeing more extreme events outside the range of previous historical experience, with the scale of the wildfires of 2020 in the western United States analogous in some ways to the preceding summer in Australia.

While the Southern annular mode figured in Australia’s extreme summer, in the Conference on Climate Variability and Change, Bradford S. Barrett (U.S. Naval Academy) et al. look at the relation of Northern Hemisphere extremes to Arctic climate change: in “Extreme Greenland Blocking and Moisture Transport under Arctic Amplification: Historical and Future Perspectives.” They note:

Recent changes in low-frequency atmospheric circulation around Greenland, including as a result of accelerating Arctic amplification, have increased sensible heat and moisture advection from the mid-latitudes into the region.We explored the frequency and seasonality of extreme Greenland blocking in both past and future climates. Our findings are analyzed in context of other work on extreme weather and climate events, and future work is suggested on the role of moisture transport in developing or sustaining blocks over Greenland.

Also in the Climate Variability and Change conference, Bin Fu (Environment Canada) et al. present a poster earth system model ensemble finding that “projected trends of North American extreme temperatures over the next half-century are likely very uncertain and need to be applied with caution.”

And again the same conference, Salvador del Cos Garza (City College of New York) et al. present a poster in which they note the devastating effects of the 135 mph gusts from Hurricane Maria that are unprecedented in Puerto Rico. They study the effect of a warming Climate on return periods of extreme wind and precipitation in the Caribbean using bias corrected GCM Models. They found that Hurricane Maria level wind gusts are likely to occur far more often, from a 400-year occurrence event in current climate to once in a century events by the year 2100. Rainfall had a similar effect where events whose rainfall intensity occurred once every 500 years in observation are turning into once a century events. They conclude:PR Wind Gusts Return

The increase of wind speed and precipitation may be directly linked to the increase of Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) as a key driving force of Caribbean climate change and a strong indicator of extreme events. Current trends of SSTs are in the order of 0.15⁰C/decade, while future trends appear to accelerate to 0.7⁰C/decade at the end of the Century. The increased rate of occurrence of extreme events will negatively affect the longevity of the physical infrastructure.

Next Up Post 2 FinalWe have additional presentations detailing a variety of aspects connecting extreme weather to climate change, so check back in with this post as we approach the Annual Meeting. You also will want to check The Front Page for new posts highlighting other salient crosscutting themes, the struggle for social justice and equity, and citizen science.

 

 

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We’re on the verge of the first ever all-virtual AMS Annual Meeting—yet another milestone in a time of milestones, but nonetheless our 101st Annual Meeting. And like all of the mega-gatherings AMS has held for the weather, water, and climate community in the past, this coming week (starting Sunday, January 10th), promises many opportunities to catchAMS21 logo L6186437 DESGD v7 up with what colleagues have been doing over the past year, what they’re thinking about now, and what they’re planning for coming years.

Although we’ll miss the chance encounters, side conversations, and in-person meet-ups, this year’s virtual format offers a lot of interaction with its breakout rooms and ample time set aside both for concentrated contemplation of presentations and for back-and-forth between presenters and audiences. Indeed, the fact that thousands of people are not all in one place attending parallel tracks of conferences and symposia with walls in-between them means that it may even be easier than ever to hop between sessions without running from room to room.

This Year’s Overarching Theme

The virtual experience may create an opportunity to take in multiple perspectives on the 101st Annual Meeting theme: this AMS tradition of organizing all the parallel conferences together on one unifying theme can come alive with the new format if you’re willing to navigate your own pathway through the presentations with that in mind. This year’s theme is “Strengthening engagement with communities through our science and service.” While on the face of it that theme has the spirit of many Annual Meeting themes of the past, in this meeting those words have more direct relevance on the programming than you may think. We’ll show you how with an upcoming blog post.

In fact, this year’s theme is pivotal for a meeting at this moment. It turned out to anticipate central issues of the year we had in 2020 and the directions and solutions your colleagues are proposing in their presentations, in response to the unique experience of 2020. In an forthcoming post, we’ll lay out these thematic implications by proposing a simple crosscutting pathway through the week’s video presentations, touching on the meeting theme by hopping from symposium to symposium, taking advantage of the Annual Meeting as a virtual experience.

The usual way most of us approach the meeting, of course, is to focus on an area of specialization. That’s why it is organized as always as a collection of about 40 specific conferences and symposia running in parallel—for example the 35th Conference on Hydrology, the 30th Conference on Education, and the 23rd Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry.

But you can imagine many independent, personalized ways to navigate any AMS Annual Meeting, such as a focus on multidisciplinary work, or on award winners’ presentations. In the following blog posts, we’ll dream up a few such tracks for you to take next week.

A Closer Look

Most years, attendees look forward to the AMS Annual Meeting as a chance to catch up on what colleagues have been accomplishing. In 2020, as in any normal year, it’s the major weather events of the past year that shape the work this community does. So as our first example of a pathway through the virtual meeting—think of it as a personalized symposium—we’ll focus on how the Annual Meeting is an opportunity to reflect collectively on 2020 weather and the lessons learned from studying it and forecasting it, and helping the world respond to it. As in the past, the Annual Meeting next week offers a targeted discussion of the past year’s weather, in particular in a symposium on Major Weather Events and Impacts of 2020. These sessions are on Friday, January 15. Among the events covered will be the August Midwest Derecho, high-impact atmospheric rivers, a North Dakota blizzard, the hyperactive 2020 hurricane season, wildfires, atmospheric effects of COVID, and all the 10 separate billion-dollar weather disasters (tying a record number) of the year in the United States (as charted here in historical context from Adam Smith’s abstract).

US Billion Dollar Disasters

Given the profusion of major disasters, all the papers about the year are not contained in one set of sessions or one conference. You can make 2020’s weather a multi-conference track through the meeting, if you’re so inclined. 2020 was that kind of year, of course! For example …

  • Also in the mesoscale symposium posters is an evaluation of the difficulty to forecast the August Midwest derecho, by Bruno Z. Ribeiro (SUNY Albany), Steven J. Weiss (SPC), and Lance Bosart (SUNY Albany). They write in their abstract: “This case demonstrates that improvements in the predictability of warm-season derecho-producing MCSs requires better understanding of the evolution from disorganized convection into a linear MCS.

With wildfires, extreme heat, air quality…this presentation has the overwhelming feeling of simultaneous extreme events of 2020 wrapped up in a nutshell. Indeed, as the above NOAA graphic of billion-dollar disasters exemplifies, the experience of 2020 opened up as never before in the United States a public discourse about the relationship between climate change and vulnerability to extreme weather. Not surprisingly, the AMS Annual Meeting is going to offer many insights on this relationship. That’s yet another thread you can follow as from symposium to symposium you try to personalize the virtual experience of the meeting, We’ll propose that pathway in a follow-on blog post, and right after that we’ll trace several other cross-cutting themes in the Annual Meeting—themes you’d never have found so pervasive in any other years. The 2021 Annual Meeting is unique for the reasons that 2020 was unique.

More Cross-cutting Theme Tie-ins

Of course you’ll note the massive disruption of COVID as mentioned in Ahmaov’s presentation. The pandemic had more impacts than just on air quality, but we explore in a follow-on blog post how the pervasive theme of COVID is in itself a viable personalized crosscutting pathway through the 2021 Annual Meeting, as are some of the other salient societal themes of 2020—the fight against racism, the struggle for social justice and equity, and the response of the sciences toNext Up1 Post 1 such larger societal issues by seeking better community engagement—thereby making this year’s overarching meeting theme exceptionally timely. These pathways in the Annual Meeting trace the ways the tumultuous year 2020 has left an indelible mark on the weather, water, and climate community, as it did on all other people and professions and sciences.

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Stormy weather increases pain. That fact is actually good news for people suffering from chronic pain whose complaints are often dismissed by family, their friends, and even their doctors.

Speaking, and likely complaining, about the effect of weather on their pain for millennia, chronic pain sufferers finally have a large-scale scientific study to back up their claims. Its findings reveal that, at least in the United Kingdom where the research was conducted, days with higher pain levels correspond with lower pressure and its attendant adverse weather conditions, including higher humidity, precipitation and increased wind. Conversely, low pain days where fewer experience a pain event are dominated by higher pressure with weaker winds and drier air.

In “Weather Patterns Associated with Pain in Chronic-Pain Sufferers,” recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, author David Schultz of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and Centre for Crisis Studies and Mitigation, along with colleagues, detail their 15-month smartphone study, “Cloudy with a Chance of Pain.” The UK-wide initiative involved more than 10,000 participants suffering from chronic pain who used a special phone app daily to answer 10 questions about their level of pain, related symptoms, mood and physical activity, and other questions about their pain. GPS sensors in their phones enabled concurrent tracking of their location’s average weather conditions, pairing observations with their responses for analysis.

Using an epidemiological method to confine comparisons to individual participants, their research found on any given day that 16 percent of chronic-pain sufferers experience a pain event at least one level above their typical pain level, using a 5-point scale: “no pain,” “mild pain,” “moderate pain,” “severe pain,” and “very severe pain.” This increased to 23 percent on high pain days, and dropped to 10 percent on low pain days. Weather patterns, they found, explain part of the changes, modulating pain in people. It remains to be determined who suffers most, but Schultz et al. have confidence in the findings of the largest and longest-term study of its kind on the weather–chronic pain relationship.

“This result confirms the anecdotal evidence from the three-quarters of those who suffer from chronic pain who say that their pain levels are related to poor weather,” Schultz says in a video he produced to discuss the topic and the study’s findings. [See below.]

He notes that because prior research had inconsistent results and disagreement over findings, reactions to their research have been mixed, with both high praise and disdain.

“It’s perhaps not surprising that the public reaction to our study is one of two things: depending on who you listen to, people either thank us for showing what they already knew and giving support to their strongly held beliefs, or they say it was a waste of time and money because they already knew that poor weather was associated with their pain.”

By the very nature of the smartphone survey, Schultz notes that participants had the opportunity to really look at their pain and the conditions accompanying it. And with evidence in hand, the opportunity now exists for scientists to move toward forecasting such conditions in tandem with people’s pain levels to provide understanding in addition to potential welcome relief.

For people who suffer from chronic pain and believe weather influences their daily pain levels, scientists including them in the study and then conclusively demonstrating this relationship on a large scale gives their suffering meaning and validates their beliefs.

“We’ve received so many emails and tweets of support from those who participated telling us how much they appreciate being able to participate in a study like this where they actually felt their contributions were valued and they were contributing to answering a scientific question that was important to them personally.  And, we do value their contributions.”

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GoniA little more than two weeks ago, Supertyphoon Goni blasted ashore in the Philippines with top sustained winds of 195 mph, becoming the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record. It topped STY Haiyan’s 190 mph land strike just seven years ago. With Hurricane Iota in the Caribbean explosively intensifying 100 mph in under 24 hours to reach Category 5 intensity Monday, it set a new record of five consecutive years of Cat 5 hurricanes in the North Atlantic tropical cyclone basin. Among the seven catastrophic hurricanes, starting with Matthew in 2016, were Dorian and Irma, packing 185 mph and 180 mph steady winds, respectively, with peak gusts well over 200 mph.

Goni is the latest formidable example of an increasing trend in tropical cyclone intensity. While Goni established a new landfall wind intensity record, Iota and other recent major hurricanes Eta, Zeta, and Delta set or challenged records for most intense hurricanes so late in the season.

PercentilesJames Elsner of Florida State University says this is to be expected. His research stated in 2008 that there was an upward trend in the intensity of the most intense tropical cyclones. Rising ocean temperatures, as theory predicted, were driving the trend. And with oceans continuing to warm along with Earth’s climate since then, Elsner anticipated the continuing upward trend. New research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society confirms his prediction, finding that another 3.5 to 4.5 percent increase in intensity has occurred with the strongest tropical cyclones during the period 2007-19.

Globally, all basins show upward trends, Elsner says, with the North Atlantic and Western North Pacific revealing the steepest and most consistent upticks.

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ZetaZeta blossomed into the 11th hurricane of this hyperactive season Monday and its forecast track takes it ashore on the Gulf Coast by midweek. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) on Monday said computer models had become more tightly clustered with the forecast in the Gulf, “resulting in an increase in track-forecast confidence,” and Hurricane Zeta is expected to become the United States’ record 11th storm landfall in a single season.

Such confidence is a reflection that NHC’s tropical storm and hurricane track forecasts, which go out 5 days, have substantially improved in the last 25 years. But, a 2018 essay in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) found that such improvements in track forecasts have slowed, raising concern about making them any better and extending them out beyond 5 days with any skill. While that study suggested improvements may have reached a limit, new research also published in BAMS finds a way to further refine them in the coming decades. Using a different interpretation of track position errors than the earlier article, the research moves the predictability limit for tropical cyclones out a day per decade to 6-8 days in the next 10-30 years.

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