by Tom Champoux, AMS Director of Communications

Working at AMS headquarters in Boston, several things become almost second nature to our daily work life.

One is that we work in an amazing location: on Beacon Hill, directly across the street from the beautiful Boston Common. The other is that AMS has quick access to some truly smart scientists and experts in nearly all areas of the atmospheric sciences.

These two aspects intersected when I went out for lunch one day on the Common. The sun was at its midday peak, and a high-pressure system was located to our west, which meant that we had a bright blue sky overhead. circumhorizontal arcIt was then that I noticed something I’d never seen before in my life: a single cirrus cloud, low on the horizon and drifting east, that was entirely rainbow colored.

It took me a second to realize I was seeing a very strange atmospheric phenomenon, and I did what most people would probably do: photographed it and sent it off to social media. I got lots of comments about this unique optical phenomenon, including some who said they thought it might be a sundog, cloud iridescence, or a solar halo.

I also asked several AMS members and staff to help identity what I had called a “rainbow cloud.” After some digging around, and much e-mail activity, the consensus was that this must have been a circumhorizontal arc. There is an AMS Glossary of Meteorology definition to match and also a Wikipedia page.

Circumhorizontal arcs are rare solar arcs that occur when certain atmospheric conditions are in place, including a high-altitude sun (with an altitude angle above 58°) and a cirrus cloud at or below 32° above the horizon. In this case, we speculated the cloud was a lingering airplane contrail.

The sunlight passes through the ice crystals in the cloud, bending (refracting) twice: first upon entering the side face of each crystal, and then upon exiting through the flat base of each crystal. As in a prism, the refractions separate the colors of the spectrum, with red on the top portion, nearer the sun, and blue/violet on the lower portion.

At Boston’s latitude, the brightest circumhorizontal arcs occur only around midday near the summer solstice—in other words, this was a perfect time to see this splendor. Although we only see a piece of it, the full arc would ring the sky, parallel to the horizon. (By contrast, halos ring the sun, with a separation of either 46° or, more typically, 22°).

Because the circumhorizontal arc is “horizontal,” it allows the contrail/cloud drifting along the horizon to maintain its vibrant colors much longer than it would if it were passing through the curve of a halo.

I was thrilled to have seen such an impressive anomaly during lunch, along with many other Bostonians who happened to look skyward. The evening news covered the story in depth because so many people had shared it on social media. I felt doubly fortunate as an AMS staff person to have so many experts able to help me understand what I’d witnessed.

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If you’re planning on rowing 3,300 miles across the North Atlantic Ocean in a 24-foot boat during hurricane season, you can imagine how important a reliable weather forecast would be. Cynthia Way, a chief learning officer at NOAA, is not just going to imagine making this journey; she’s going to do it. This week, she’ll set out from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Ireland with her boyfriend, James Caple, a software engineer. The journey will take three to four months, depending on weather and other obstacles they may encounter. If they make it across, they’ll be the first American pair to succeed in the endeavor.

“We want to challenge ourselves to do something amazing, something that is also scary and way out of our comfort zones and will stretch our capabilities,” Way says. And stretch their capabilities is certainly what they’ll be doing. The two will face the grueling physical challenge of constant rowing, sleep deprivation, and mental exhaustion. Way is pursuing a Ph.D., researching how immersion outdoor experiences help people reconnect with nature and is hoping this journey will give her an up-close perspective she’ll be able to utilize in her doctoral research.

rowing_North Atlantic_2

For his part, Caple has been planning and preparing for this trip since he read a news article about Roz Savage, a solo ocean rower, who in 2007 rowed across the Indian Ocean. Last year, the couple got in touch with Savage, who has been advising them on safety.  “It is a dream come true to have Roz as our expedition mentor after stalking her all these years,” says Caple.

While the challenges will be numerous, what Way fears most is the possibility of encountering bad weather. They’ll be provided with forecasts from a private weather service through satellite phones every three days.  Weather reports are crucial to planning. Rowing shifts may need to be altered based on inclement weather. If there will be minimal sun, Way and Caple need to cautiously manage their use of power, as all their power is generated by solar. Also, the couple needs to be alerted to upcoming weather forecasts for preparation in case of a hurricane and challenging winds or waves.  However, even if they’re alerted to rough weather ahead it will be difficult to change course far enough to avoid it.

When they do encounter rough weather—which is likely given the majority of their trip falls smack dab in the middle of hurricane season—the plan is to hunker down. Way and Caple will tie down everything aboard and employ a para-anchor, an underwater parachute that creates drag to stabilize the boat, then wait out the storm in the cabin. The boat is designed to roll back up if flipped over.

But what if they’re faced with a hurricane? Way and Caple say that staying with the boat is the safest option for both them and any potential rescuers. When faced with severe weather, they will deploy the para-anchor, alert their shore team manager, and seatbelt themselves in the stern cabin. If in life-threatening trouble, they’ll be able to activate a distress signal from radio beacons on their life vests, which would be picked up by a satellite and then transmitted to search and rescue authorities.

They plan to leave any time this week when a five-day stretch of decent weather will enable them to get to open sea safely. “In our society, it can be hard to even fathom stepping away from our office cubicles and daily routines,” says Way. “We want to show that it can be done—we want to inspire people to get out and do something great.”

You can track the team’s progress on their website and blog, 1000Leagues.com, which they will update by satellite.

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by Ya’el Seid-Green, AMS Policy Program

There has been much talk recently about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceedings to sell the radio frequencies of 1675-1680 MHz, currently used for GOES data transmission, on the open market. A comment period on the proposal closes June 21st. More information can be found here.

The radio spectrum is a limited resource of great value both within and beyond our scientific community. The weather, water, and climate community uses radio spectrum to conduct scientific research, collect observations, and transmit data that contribute to oceanic, atmospheric, and hydrologic research, models, products, and services. Spectrum is also used to support mobile broadband networks, a sector with enormous growth potential and value for the United States economy.

The scientific community uses the radio spectrum in three distinct ways:

  • Passive remote sensing: Measuring the natural radio emissions of the environment and space (receiver only). Example: GPM Microwave Imager on the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission Core Spacecraft
  • Active remote sensing: Emitting radio waves and measuring the return emissions (transmitter and receiver). Example: Cloud Profiling Radar on CloudSat
  • Data transmission: Transmitting data from satellites and ground-observation stations. Example: GOES VARiable (GVAR) service on the GOES system satellites

Observations are made using ground-based, airborne, and space-based platforms to determine wind profiles, rainfall estimates, wave heights, and ocean current direction, among others. Further information on active and passive sensing instruments is available here: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/user-resources/remote-sensors.

With the advent and rapid growth of mobile commercial technologies, interference on and competition for the radio spectrum has increased. The signals of commercial terrestrial users of spectrum are often much stronger than the signals being measured or transmitted by the weather, water, and climate communities. This can cause radio frequency interference (RFI) that degrades or entirely destroys the data being collected and transmitted for scientific and operational uses.

In addition, there is pressure for federal agencies to relocate off certain spectrum bands to free up additional space for commercial users. In 2010, President Obama set a target of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband services. (See also, the Report to the President: Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth, available here.) The potential benefits to the U.S. economy from freeing up spectrum for commercial use are considerable. Mobile broadband is a rapidly growing segment of the economy, and in 2015 the FCC auctioned off the frequencies of 1695-1710, 1755-1780, and 2155-2180 MHz (collectively the “AWS-3” bands) for mobile telecommunication use for a combined $44.9 billion.

There are several challenges in understanding spectrum allocation policy. First, several different agencies are responsible for allocating and regulating spectrum: the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), within the U.N., allocates spectrum internationally; the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) manages Federal use of the spectrum; and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages non-Federal use of the spectrum. This bifurcated regulatory system can make decision-making and management of spectrum use challenging.

Second, given the diverse and complex sources of data that go into weather, water, and climate products, it is often hard for end users to understand how radio spectrum management issues may impact the products and services they rely on for creating value-added products or for making management decisions (see the joint letter sent to the FCC by the AMS and National Weather Association). Finally, it is often difficult to determine the value of scientific and operational uses of the spectrum. Because of this valuation problem, there is concern that earth science uses of the spectrum are not being taken fully into account in spectrum management decisions (see the National Research Council report, A Strategy for Active Remote Sensing Amid Increased Demand for Radio Spectrum).

Although the FCC proceedings regarding 1675-1780 MHz have received the most attention in our community recently, issues around spectrum allocation and management are only going in grow in scope and frequency as pressure on the spectrum increases. An AMS Ad Hoc Committee is working to update the AMS Statement on radio frequency allocations, and there are several bills under consideration in Congress that focus on spectrum management concerns. As a community, we must be prepared to communicate the importance of spectrum for earth observations, science, and services, and the resulting societal applications. We need to be actively engaged in exploring management strategies, policy options, and technology innovations that will allow the nation and the world to gain the maximum benefit from our use of the radio spectrum.

 

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The vast majority of members of the American Meteorological Society agree that recent climate change stems at least in part from human causes, and the agreement has been growing significantly in the last five years.

According to a new survey of AMS members, 67% say climate change over the last 50 years is mostly to entirely caused by human activity, and more than 4 in 5 respondents attributed at least some of the climate change to human activity.

Only 5% said that climate change was “largely or entirely” due to natural events (while 6% said they “didn’t know.”)

The findings are from the initial results of a 2016 national survey of more than 4,000 AMS members just released today by George Mason University. The joint GMU/AMS study was conducted in January with support from the National Science Foundation.

Four in five respondents say their opinion on the issue has not changed over the last five years, but of the 17% who did shift, 87% said they feel “more convinced” now that human-caused climate change is happening. Two-thirds of them based this change on new scientific information in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, although in general respondents report basing these changes on multiple sources of information, such as peers and personal observation. Indeed, 74% think that their local climate has changed in the past 50 years.

AMS membership is largely constituted of professionals in the weather, water, and climate fields. One-third of the respondents hold a Ph.D. in meteorology or the atmospheric sciences, and overall just more than half have doctorates in some field.

Yet, while highly educated, the AMS membership represents a different selection of the profession than the climate-expert community commonly cited in statistics about the scientific consensus on climate change. Only 37% of AMS respondents self-identified themselves as climate change experts.

As a result, despite the growing agreement among the membership, there are differences in the results of the new survey compared to the position of climate scientists reflected in the reports of the IPCC.

On one key basic point the difference between the climate expert community and the AMS community as a whole is nearly negligible: AMS members are nearly unanimous (96%) in thinking that climate change is occurring and almost 9 in 10 of them are either “extremely” or “very” sure of this change. Only 1% say climate change is not happening.

However, the AMS Statement on Climate Change, which basically reflects the IPCC findings, not only says “warming of the climate system now is unequivocal” but also says, “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases.” The new survey shows the AMS community as a whole is still moving toward this state of the science position. Furthermore, the new GMU/AMS survey does not probe members’ views on specific mechanisms of human-caused climate change.

Full results of the survey, including what members think of the future prospects for climate change, are posted here.

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Imagine being awoken late one night by the near constant glow of lightning overhead—often flickering silently but occasionally rumbling deeply with a strike nearby. Then it happens the same time the next night—and the next, and the next, sometimes lasting for many hours at a time.

Now imagine the nocturnal fireworks happening nearly 300 days per year.

Welcome to Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Based on a scientific paper just released by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), the Lake Maracaibo region is the newly crowned lightning capital of the world, taking the throne from a celebrated thunderstorm-prone region of Africa.

Lake Maracaibo, the largest lake in South America, is already well known for its lightning. Boats take tourists onto the water to watch the storms, and the flag of the region—the State of Zulia—features a lightning bolt in honor of the lake’s prolific displays.200px-Flag_of_Zulia_State.svg

Nonetheless, Africa’s Congo Basin had previously been identified by scientists as the world’s lightning hotspot. It stayed that way for several years until the new BAMS article (available online) recalculated rankings based on a new, high-resolution dataset of satellite observations of the lightning flash-rate density.

Lake Maracaibo’s pattern of convergent wind flow–mountain–valley, lake, and sea breezes–occurs over warm lake waters nearly year-round and contributes to nocturnal thunderstorm development 297 days per year on average, with a peak in September. These thunderstorms are very localized and their persistent development anchored in one location accounts for the high flash-rate density. While practically the whole lake is averaging 50 flashes per year, only a small portion qualifies as the world leading hotspot, with more than 232 flashes per square kilometer per year (including cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud lightning).

The BAMS article, “Where are the Lightning Hotspots on Earth?” by Rachel I. Albrecht, Steven J. Goodman, Dennis E. Buechler, Richard J. Blakeslee, and Hugh J. Christian, is derived from 16 years of observations by the Lightning Imaging Sensor aboard the now defunct NASA Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission satellite.

The team—representing the University of Maryland, Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil), NOAA, NASA, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville—cites several factors for the new lightning champion, including its unique geography and climatology. Storms mostly form during the nighttime hours, after the tropical heating of the day allows warm Caribbean air to mix with colder Andes Mountain air. According to the article, “Nocturnal thunderstorms over Lake Maracaibo are so frequent that their lightning activity was used as a lighthouse by Caribbean navigators in colonial times.”

lightning hot spots

The authors noted that previous studies, using the same satellite capabilities, missed the localized peak at Lake Maracaibo for several reasons. Coarser resolution was one problem (the new study partitions the lake into 20 times more sectors than earlier studies), but so were filtering of high-density outbursts of lightning and calculations made to compensate for limited samples of sparse lightning areas. Where the previous studies were aimed at getting the first useful global overviews, the new study is calibrated to identify hotspots.

Located near the border of the Congo and Rwanda, the now second-ranked Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in Kabare has its own mountainous geography that allows five different locations in the region to rank in the top 10 for lightning flash-rate density. Previous research had shown that the Congo basin boasted the largest flash rate per thunderstorm, and the region still has the world’s largest average flash rate density for any particular part of the day. It averages 5.5 flashes per hour at about 5:30 p.m. local time within a 1° latitude x 1° longitude box. That rate is nearly matched by Lake Maracaibo averaging more than 5.4 flashes per hour at about 3 a.m., when nighttime winds descending the mountain valleys converge over the ever-warm lake waters.

Both of the top two hotspots have lengthy lightning “seasons” but neither had a peak spell matching the 90 flashes per day in early August in the 1° x 1° region of Majagual, Colombia.

Before satellite observations were available, scientists estimated that the whole Earth at any one time experienced about 100 flashes per second. Satellite evidence has reduced that estimate to about 44 to 46 flashes per second, which means Earth experiences nearly 1.4 billion lightning flashes per year. The rate is 20% higher during Northern Hemisphere summer. This variation is in part due to the larger amount of land north of the equator, which lends itself to the surface heating that fuels thunderstorms.

The new BAMS study confirms previous findings showing that lightning activity tends to happen at night in areas closer to mountain ranges and/or coasts but continental-wide lightning activity peaks during the afternoons. And yet the new king of lightning is over water and peaks at night.

The new list of the world’s top 10 lightning flash-rate density hotspots (shown below) includes no sites from North America. Four locations, in Guatemala, Cuba, and Haiti, had more than 100 flashes per square km per year (led by 117 in Patulul, Guatemala). The most lightning prone U.S. location, ranked 122nd globally, was in the Everglades not far from Ft. Myers, Florida, with 79 flashes per square km per year.

World rank

Flash-rate density

 

Location

1

232.52

Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela

2

205.31

Kabare, Dem. Rep. of Congo

3

176.71

Kampene, Dem. Rep. of Congo

4

172.29

Caceres, Colombia

5

143.21

Sake, Dem. Rep. of Congo

6

143.11

Dagar, Pakistan

7

138.61

El Tarra, Colombia

8

129.58

Nguti, Cameroon

9

129.50

Butembo, Dem. Rep. of Congo

10

127.52

Boende, Dem. Rep. of Congo

Flash-rate density indicates the average number of times lightning flashes each year over an area 1 square kilometer in size.

 

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diversity project 2

In a milestone year for the now 25-year-old AMS Education Program, one of the proudest achievements was the successful completion of the five-year AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project. This NSF-funded initiative introduced and enhanced geoscience and/or sustainability teaching at nearly 100 minority-serving institutions (MSIs) since 2011.

The recent AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans was the final event in the project; it included a Sunday workshop bringing together 18 faculty from minority-serving institutions who had attended the project’s May 2015 workshop on implementing the AMS Climate Studies course. The faculty not only attend the workshop; they also presented at the subsequent Education Symposium of the Annual Meeting.

Overall in the Climate Studies Diversity Project, AMS was able to partner with Second Nature, a nonprofit working toward societal sustainability through a network of colleges and universities, to recruit 101 faculty to attend Climate Studies workshops in Washington, D.C. to learn from top scientists at Howard University, NOAA, and NASA. The attendees then incorporated the AMS Climate Studies course materials, real-time data, and lessons in their teaching.

 diversity project 1

Since 2001, in faculty enhancement through the AMS Weather Studies and Ocean Studies courses and now the Climate Studies Diversity Project, AMS has engaged 24,000 students through 220 MSIs.

Two of the MSI faculty who presented their climate science teaching in New Orleans shared with The Front Page blog their impressions of the May 2015 AMS Climate Studies Course Implementation Workshop:

Ivetta Abramyan, Professor, Florida State College at Jacksonville:

The combination of noteworthy speakers and fascinating field trips made the workshop a very informative and engaging environment and I found myself absorbing a plethora of information. Upon walking out of our meeting room on the last day, I realized that I not only gained a wealth of knowledge on a variety of climate-related topics, but also gained a support system that I will hopefully have for the rest of my career.

We were armed with valuable resources to help us tackle the challenge of teaching a brand new course or incorporating new material into existing courses. I learned about so many new websites, programs, initiatives, and funding opportunities. The field trips to NCEP, the Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation (BCCSO), and NASA Goddard provided an opportunity to see the operational side of the field. They were inspirational and motivating to say the least. In fact, I had a student email me a few days later asking for some ocean data. It felt good to be able to direct him to one of the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center sites that was shown to us during the NCEP tour.

In addition to the arsenal of tools and resources we were given, the workshop provided indispensable insight and sense of community. There were quite a few quotes that left an impression on me, some of them being: “We did not get out of the Stone Age because we ran out of stones,” by Rear Admiral David Titley, and “every state is an ocean state.” However, the one that really resonated with me was from Frank Niepold, the Climate Education Coordinator at NOAA’s Climate Program Office, who mentioned that students are getting the majority of their climate information from unskilled, unreliable, nonscientific sources. That statement is overwhelmingly true, and it made me realize just how much of an impact we, as educators, can potentially have on our students.

Another aspect of the workshop that I found intriguing was the diversity among the faculty in attendance. So many different institutions were represented, both large and small. The faculty also had various educational backgrounds. Our group of approximately 30 professors consisted of meteorologists, geologists, oceanographers, biologists, geographers, and everything in between.

Regional differences were also very evident. For example, I teach on a campus that is approximately nine minutes from the coast, and found it fascinating that other workshop attendees and fellow colleagues have classes in which the majority of students had never been on a boat. These conversations sparked ideas for collaboration projects within the cohort and we were excited to present our results at the AMS Annual Meeting. The connections we made at the workshop can be just as important as content in making us effective leaders in an effort to help change the world with respect to climate education.

On a more personal note, it can be a challenge for minority serving institutions to encourage their student body to pursue the STEM fields. The Earth science and physical science majors are extremely underrepresented in our population. We have few traditional students. My students range in age from 16 to 66. Some have full-time jobs. Some have families. Some are active military. Although they have the same drive, aptitude, and interests as traditional students, they may not have the resources. Many of them have academic dreams, but don’t know what opportunities exist. They don’t realize that NASA, NSF or other federal agencies would be willing to fund them if they were to pursue those dreams. They may be interested in the atmosphere or the oceans, but lack the motivation or confidence to make it a career path. It could be something as minor as not having the right information. Some of these students have a potential fire within and it is up to us to provide the spark to truly make them shine. We are on the front lines, not just for climate education, but STEM disciplines in general. Our voice is the bridge between can’t and absolutely can and I truly feel like the AMS Climate Diversity Project Workshop helped strengthen that voice.

In fact, as I was writing this, I received another email from the aforementioned student that I gave the OPC link to. He is declaring that he wants to change his major to a physical science and wants to meet to discuss his options. This student also happens to be a minority. It’s pretty rewarding to see the impact that this workshop is already having before the course has even been taught. I hope to utilize everything I learned during that week to inspire my students the way that the workshop inspired me.

María Calixta Ortiz, MSEM, (PhDc), Associate professor, Universidad Metropolitana, San Juan Puerto Rico:

One of the best decisions I have made was to apply for an announcement from Second Nature inviting professors to be part of the Climate Diversity Project from the American Meteorological Society. Our climatology course, which I have not taught, had not incorporated climate change. I was searching for more experience with climate change to integrate it to the curriculum at my school.

Climate change has mixed meanings for students living in an island in the Caribbean. Most of the time, students underestimate and misunderstand the topic, mainly because it is seen as a future event, and because models have many uncertainties. Traditionally, water sources in Puerto Rico have been considered vast and sufficient for all purposes. However, this availability could be impacted by future challenges of climate change. Puerto Rico has experienced climate variability in terms of alternated extremely heavy precipitation in some areas and droughts in other areas that have driven potable water rationing.

In addition, being an island, 67% of the population lives in coastal municipalities. Demand for the occupation of coastal land increased 25% over the period 2000-2005. The amount of population living in coastal areas signalled a challenge for policymakers and environmental planners.Change and climate variability combined with social, economic, and environmental factors produce synergistic effects on human health. Climate change is definitely a threat to human health, so “it is about people.”

As the dean of the school, my AMS experience will help me in different ways to update the curriculum. First, I intend to include knowledge and evidence on climate change—NOAA data, NASA simulations, and current references—as part of the course of climatology. Then, we will include the topic in related courses: environmental science, Earth science, and oceanography.  Finally, when I feel comfortable with the topic, I will teach the course of climatology myself.

In the future, the school can move to consider a master degree in climate studies focused on preparing the population for mitigation and adaptation. We are responsible for preparing professionals for building resilience within communities, and to develop leaders who will have the ability to cope with external perturbations to society and its infrastructure caused by climate variability. More students need to understand Earth’s climate system and the evidence of climate change to evaluate potential impacts on human health and to improve the decision-making process.

 

 

 

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One of the special, life-shaping mid-career experiences AMS offers is the  Summer Policy Colloquium in Washington, D.C. The AMS Policy Program is accepting registrations now for the 2016 Colloquium, held 5-14 June; don’t delay, because the slots fill up well in advance. Grad students (and faculty from minority-serving institutions) can apply for NSF support to attend. The deadline for those funding applications is 31 March.

Here we share the first-hand impressions of a graduate student who attended last year’s colloquium.

by Alice Alpert, MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 

My favorite moment was adding the “poison pill” amendment to the amended HR2380 to ensure that the opposing party could not vote yes on it. I doubt that real senators laugh as much as we did. “We” were the participants of the 2015 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium – scientists and federal agency employees studying weather, water, and climate. Every year, AMS hosts this 10-day intensive program designed to give attendees an intensive introduction to the policy process.

Over the 10 days, we learned about and engaged with science policy through talks by current practitioners and hands-on activities. Each day focused on a different topic, including an introduction to science policy; practical perspectives from executive, legislative, diplomatic, private, and nonprofit sectors; science communication; and executive leadership. Speakers from throughout the federal government and beyond described their personal career paths, discussed how they practice science policy, and dispensed nuggets of advice. Woven throughout the event were practical simulations, including a role-playing activity of the legislative process in which we amended a bill and negotiated for a final vote. In the end my senator’s poison pill was misguided, but the lesson was not lost.

There are many aspects contributing to the great success of the policy colloquium that together create an immersive and exhilarating learning environment. Instrumental to the experience is the leadership of the AMS staff, Bill Hooke, Ya’el Seid-Green, and Paul Higgins. They meticulously but flexibly plan the event, reach out to high-level public servants, listen carefully to feedback, and most of all show a profound respect for the participants.

Another key ingredient is the invited speakers from high levels of government. They provide concrete examples of what science policy is and what it means both in day-to-day activities and in larger abstract goals. From my own perspective, embarking upon a career in science policy from a PhD is difficult because there is no one specific path to take, and indeed it is hard to see any from within academia. The speakers in the SPC program, from a former Congressman to senior White House advisors to agency heads, provide examples of specific roles and make a future in science policy much clearer. They often started out with similar paths to those of the participants, and in many cases are actually colloquium alumni who launched a career from this program. Their words were inspiring and will remain with me in the years to come.

The last ingredient is the participants themselves, coming at a range of career stages from academia, federal agencies, and the private sector. Our range of backgrounds and experiences meant we could provide each other valuable perspectives. Many of us in academia feel like we do not quite fit in, and we are our own greatest resource in connecting with each other to create a pool of support. It was exhilarating to meet the people who I am sure will become my colleagues.

This program is an incredible investment both for the future of policy for science and science for policy. It develops the links to strengthen financial support for the work of the scientific community as well as enhances our ability to produce science that serves society.

Personally, I have planned to enter science policy since before I started my doctoral studies. I have been involved in student policy groups, participated in congressional visit days, done oh-so-many informational interviews, taken relevant classes, and researched policy fellowships. But all that did not illuminate the world of science policy in the way the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium did. I found role models, and discovered in myself a voice that I had never heard before. I return to my PhD research energized and eagerly anticipating a future in science policy.

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2015: The Hottest Hiatus

January 20, 2016 · 0 comments

It was predicted early and often—and now, finally, it’s official. Throughout 2015, climate-watchers at NOAA and NASA were giving indications that the world’s surface temperature was going to top every annual mean measured since records began in 1880. Today, the two agencies with independent analyses jointly confirmed that global surface temperatures in 2015 blew away the record set in 2014.

The mean global temperature in the analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies was 0.13°C above the 2014 record, and NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information had it as 0.16°C above. In all, according to NCEI, 2015 was 0.90°C above the 20th-century average.

The temperature record was no surprise, even though 2015 set a new record by the largest margin ever recorded. In the horse race of annual temperatures, 2015 jumped out of the gate ahead of the pack and never looked back at previous record holders like 1997, 2005, and 2014 (see the NOAA graphic below). It was a wire-to-wire victory in which 10 of 12 months were the hottest ever on record for their respective periods. Indeed, going into the homestretch, NCEI pointed out that December 2015 would have to stumble to more than 0.81°C below average to avoid setting a record. Instead, December extended the year’s lead by registering 1.11°C above the 1880-2015 century average—in other words, it was the hottest month in the century-plus of measurement history.

ytd_temps

Inevitably, the question arises: does this record conflict with the notion of a “hiatus,” which the IPCC addressed in its Fifth Assessment Report in 2013? Trend aside, 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred in this still-young 21st century, according to NASA; NOAA says four different years in that brief period have now reset the global surface temperature record.

Not surprisingly, a decade or so is a mere blip in climatology terms, and the short-term trend of global warming depends on where you mark the start and end point of your analysis. The warming has been relatively fast since 1970—about 0.16 or 0.17°C per decade, depending on your dataset. If you just look at only 1998-2012, as IPCC did, during sustained warmth near record levels, the upward trend is half what it is over the longer period. Of course, starting with 1998 means starting out very warm—hence a trend with major handicapping.

As a result, there’s been scientific backlash against use of the term “hiatus.” As Stephan Lewandowsky, James Risbey, and Naomi Oreskes point out in a newly released article in BAMS, the word doesn’t fit:

The meaning of the terms “pause” and “hiatus” implies that the normal fluctuations in warming rate have been surpassed such that warming has stopped.

They show that warming looks slower or faster depending on the start date of any given 15-year period, but that none of the slowest-warming periods, including the last 15 years, is any slower than one might expect in a warming climate post-1970 (or indeed less remarkable with longer periods one might choose). They conclude,

The “pause” is not unusual or extraordinary relative to other fluctuations and it does not stand out in any meaningful statistical sense.

Lewandowsky and colleagues go on to show that, objectively, “hiatus” doesn’t pass the eye test. When tested by looking at a curve resembling the global temperature curve, experts and nonexperts alike perceived a long-term, uninterrupted upward trend.  The authors conclude that misuse of the word “hiatus” distorts how the data look, and thus impedes not only public perception of global warming but also scientific work.

One benefit of the “hiatus” talk is that scientists have been motivated to ask more questions about the normal short-term fluctuations of climate. One purpose of the Community Earth System Model’s Large Ensemble Project, for example, is to produce large numbers of climate model simulations to help “disentangle” model error from internal climate variability—that is, the fluctuations caused by climate irrespective of anthropogenic forcing.

In an article in the August issue of BAMS, the ensemble project’s investigators show a sample experiment in which the slower warming of the last 15 years has actually been a pace well within normal variability, with or without greenhouse gas forcing (see figure below).

As the world continues to warm, this year’s record is prone to fall. Meanwhile, the ensemble also shows that the odds of a 10- or 20-year fluctuation stopping the warming—let alone a brief cooling—keeps getting tinier and tinier.

histograms

 

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New Orleans knows how to draw a crowd. The 96th AMS Annual Meeting brought together more than 5,000 members of the weather, water, and climate community for a week of activity in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Total attendance came in at a record-breaking 3,780, with the student conference drawing approximately 800 attendees. In the Exhibit Hall, there were 96 booths with close to 690 staff members manning them. Weatherfest brought in hundreds more from the New Orleans area on Sunday.

With so many members of the community in one location, there were innumerable opportunities to network, learn, and connect with friends and colleagues. Thanks to all who took part to make #AMS2016 such a success, and see you next year in Seattle!

rachel_blog1 rachel_blog2 rachel_blog3 rachel_blog4 010515 AMS rachel_blog6

 

 

 

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You’ve likely heard the rumors that wherever the AMS Annual Meeting takes place, unusual and sometimes awful weather befalls that particular city. San Antonio, Texas, for example: AMS Annual has been there twice—in 1982 and 2007—and both times ice storms besieged the city, much to the dismay of residents and especially the city’s politicians. There’s nothing other than coincidence to this, of course; a convergence of meteorologists can no sooner conjure up furious tempests than AGU meeting attendees can deliver a mega disaster of geophysical proportions to their host city.

But … as the 2016 AMS Annual Meeting draws to a close, the tropical record books are coincidentally being rewritten: Hurricane Pali had been whipping the Central Pacific near Hawaii for much of the week, and, now, another hurricane—named Alex— has formed in the Atlantic Ocean. In January! And a hurricane warning has been issued for the Azores Islands. Did we mention … it’s January!!

It’s unprecedented: simultaneous tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the first month of the year. The average date of the first Atlantic named storm is July 9th. The first named storm in the Central Pacific also usually forms in July.

Pali this year is not surprising—with one of the strongest El Ninos on record in full swing, the tropical Pacific is like bathwater. But an Atlantic  hurricane? Forming in January, the middle month of winter? That’s happened only once in the 165-year Atlantic hurricane record. In 1938, an unnamed tropical storm formed way beyond the Lesser Antilles on January 3rd and became a hurricane on the 4th. The naming of Alex makes 2016 the second-earliest start to a hurricane season on record.

Two other January tropical storms in the Atlantic were also “tailenders”—stragglers from the previous year’s season—but formed in December and then celebrated the new year at sea. Both Hurricane Alice of 1955* and Tropical Storm Zeta in 2005 formed on December 30th (*Alice was thought to have formed on Jan. 2, 1955, and although reanalysis determined it actually formed three days earlier, it’s in the records as the first storm of 1955 rather than the last storm of 1954) and lasted until January 7 (for Alice, that was 1955, and Zeta was in 2006). Zeta remained at sea west of the Cape Verde Islands, while Alice moved through the northern Leeward Islands with 80 mph winds before dissipating in the Caribbean.

There were also two unnamed subtropical storms, in 1951 from January 4-9, and 1978 from January 18-23. Both churned the Atlantic northeast of Puerto Rico.

So, how is a hurricane in the Atlantic possible now, this year? Are the waters still summer-like?

Well, no. Sea surface temperatures are actually relatively cool: 20°C (68°F), much below the typical threshold temperature of 26.5°C (~80°F) and too cool to support tropical development outright. Alex, however, transitioned from an extratropical storm to a tropical cyclone, which—though rare—can sometimes occur over cooler water due to favorable conditions aloft. This seems to be the case with Hurricane Alex, as the National Hurricane Center explained in its January 14th mid-morning forecast discussion:

“It is very unusual to have a hurricane over waters that are near 20 deg C, but the upper-tropospheric temperatures are estimated to be around -60 deg C, which is significantly colder than the tropical mean. The resulting instability is likely the main factor contributing to the tropical transition and intensification of Alex.”

At the time of this discussion, Alex was packing 85 mph sustained winds and had formed a distinct 20 nm eye within a ring of thunderstorms surrounding the center.

Did Alex form because a bevy of meteorologists converged at the AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans this week? Fat chance! But stick around that host city a few more weeks and rumor has it you can experience Fat Tuesday—Mardi Gras in French.

Good news: That rumor’s true!

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