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by Ron Birk, Northrop Grumman

Over 150 stakeholders in our Space-based Environmental Intelligence community came together December 1 at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a special event co-hosted by the American Astronautical Society and the American Meteorological Society. Key stakeholders from NOAA, NASA, USGS, Congress, the Administration, the European Union, the private sector and academia celebrated accomplishments including the successful launch and deployment of the NOAA GOES R geostationary weather satellite.

There was a buzz throughout the networking event about advancing societal benefits into the future. Dr. Bill Hooke, Associate Executive Director of AMS and author of Living on the Real World, brought his compelling perspective on the value of science for society. Dr. Piers Sellers, acclaimed astronaut and Earth scientist, shared his findings from over 30 years of research and space travel on the value of monitoring our Earth from space in an excerpt from the recently released National Geographic Before the Flood movie.

The audience enjoyed an impressive video prepared by the space-based environmental community (watch for the video to be posted here soon). Major aerospace players, including Ball Aerospace, Harris Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, provided impressive accomplishments linked together to form the value chain from environmental sensors processed into information products to inform emergency responders in saving lives and protecting property for a Weather Ready Nation. The Society of Satellite Professionals International and the European Commission Copernicus program enhanced the video highlighting benefits and capabilities that span the environmental intelligence value chain. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Sustainable earth Observation Systems (SeOS), and the Aerospace Corporation joined in sponsoring the event.

The Honorable Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, arrived just as Tom Fahy announced the Senate passed the Weather Research and Forecasting Act S.1561. Congressman Bridenstine enthusiastically called for the space-based environmental community video to be shared with congressional committees. He emphasized the value of environmental information for severe weather warnings, especially tornados and floods, key to people of Oklahoma and across the nation. He described steadfast support for NOAA operational polar and geostationary weather missions, Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES R), and heralded the value of Earth science to monitor the vital signs of our planet with benefits for our economy, protection of life and property, and national security. The Congressman also emphasized progress and plans an increasingly robust Earth observations system, including benefits of being augmented by commercial weather data. A key area identified as a challenge for the community is space situational awareness, recognizing that low Earth orbit is increasingly congested and contested.

Tremendous recognition is due to everyone in the community coming together to make this important enterprise successful and vibrant as we continue into the future. Thanks to all for bringing so much talent and energy to the event.  Our challenge and opportunity is to continue to reach out and expand our community, recognizing that everyone across the U.S. and around the world benefits from quality space-based environmental intelligence.

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By Fred Carr, AMS President

Now that the election is over, a furious amount of activity has ensued on who will be in the new administration and what policies they will pursue. AMS members are particularly concerned about future science funding levels, environmental policies, observational and research infrastructure, STEM education, and who the new leaders will be in agencies that oversee aspects of the weather, water, and climate (WWC) enterprise. To provide guidance to those involved in the transition period, the AMS created a policy statement titled “Weather, Water, and Climate Priorities” that is located here.

I would like to summarize a few vital aspects of this document here. The fundamental premise is that “Economic and social prosperity belong to a society that understands and effectively responds to Earth’s changing weather, water, and climate conditions.” There is no doubt that many changes are occurring in the Earth’s physical and biological ecosystems (atmospheric and oceanic warming, Arctic and glacial ice losses, sea level rise, land use, drought and flooding intensities, etc.), most of them resulting from human activities. They are affecting our quality of life and large portions of our economy, and will worsen with time. These changes cannot be ignored, and national investment and leadership are needed.

The AMS policy statement provides recommendations on how to address these challenges, which require holistic, bipartisan, and coordinated strategies to accomplish. Some of them are:

  • The nation must invest in educating the next generation of scientists.
  • Both basic and applied research in the geophysical and environmental sciences must increase.
  • Observational infrastructure should increase across the WWC enterprise.
  • The U.S. should lead the world in high-performance computing.
  • Effective outreach to the public and decision-makers is needed to develop a scientifically literate citizenry and data-driven, science-based policies.
  • Partnerships among the academic, public, and private sectors are needed to develop successful policies and actions.
  • Outstanding individuals are needed to provide effective leadership of WWC-related agencies, advisory groups, and industries; they must be well-qualified, visionary, and diverse.

These recommendations make sense across the political spectrum, and I encourage readers to do what they can to bring them to the attention of the new administration.

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By Jonathan Malay, AMS Past-president and retired Lockheed Martin Washington Operations

I’m sorry to say, the word “awesome” seems way overused these days. OK, it’s pretty funny when Cecily Strong’s character on Saturday Night Live’s “Girl Talk” sketch keeps saying “Awesome!” That’s amusing, but it’s not awesome. Awesome is a word we simply can’t help ourselves from using when we’re really blown away by something, like when we gaze at the natural miracle of the Grand Canyon below us, or when we behold the immensity, both in size and raw emotional impact, of the new One Trade Center in southern Manhattan, or when we see an Olympic record being broken.

As a meteorologist and a space guy, I’ve been fortunate enough to look up at the Space Shuttle from the foot of its launch pad at Cape Canaveral. I’ve seen the brilliant flames when the mission lifted off, and, a few seconds later, felt the vibrations of sound waves penetrate all the way to my bones. I stood in a clean room at the Stennis Space Center a few years ago where I saw, and actually touched, the initial structure and propulsion module of GOES-R, a spacecraft destined to become the first of a new and revolutionary generation of geostationary meteorological satellites. I can honestly say these things I saw and felt were really and truly awesome. goes_r

If the schedule holds, at 5:42 p.m. this Saturday, November 19, that satellite will be launched. Thousands of eyes, either in spectator locations, or in mission control rooms, at National Weather Service centers, on big-screen TVs, on computer monitors, or even on handheld devices, will watch the magnificent white- and copper-colored Atlas V as its powerful RD-180 engines ignite and send the GOES-R spacecraft toward its assigned orbit in space. It will be awesome. Really and truly.

GOES-R, which has been some 15 years in the making, is going to deliver to meteorologists, oceanographers, and space weather forecasters at NOAA and everywhere—and to the people of the United States and all the Americas—a truly awesome set of capabilities, such as:

  • Three times more spectral information
  • Four times greater spatial resolution
  • Five times faster coverage
  • Real-time mapping of total lightning activity
  • Increased thunderstorm and tornado-warning lead time
  • Improved hurricane track and intensity forecasts
  • Improved monitoring of solar x-ray flux
  • Improved monitoring of solar flares and coronal mass ejections
  • Improved geomagnetic storm forecasting

By now, AMS members and the meteorological community are probably aware of the improvements GOES-R and the other birds in the series—S, T, and U—will provide over the current GOES-N/O/P-series satellites, which have been in orbit since 2006. This new generation of GOES satellites will far exceed anything we’ve seen before. As someone who lived the GOES-R experience while working at Lockheed Martin in Washington, D.C., I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with many of the fantastic people who have made it a reality. These folks at NOAA and NASA, on the White House staff, on Capitol Hill, at my great company, at our industry partners, and across the meteorological, oceanographic, and space weather communities . . . there are too many of you to acknowledge individually (except program director Greg Mandt, my good friend and colleague, who truly deserves a special shout-out)—you have all been awesome!

So, along with all my friends in government and at Lockheed Martin Space Systems and the Advanced Technology Center, United Launch Alliance, Harris, Exelis, ATC, LASP, and all the great contractors on the team, we’ll all be watching Saturday’s rocket launch, saying with all our hearts: “GO GOES-R! GO ATLAS!” And then, as the mission disappears in the sky, we’ll all involuntarily say, “Awesome!”

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By William Haggard, CCM

(This post is adapted from the Introduction to the author’s new AMS book, Weather in the Courtroom: Memoirs from a Career in Meteorology. You can purchase the book from the AMS Bookstore here.)

I have been very fortunate to have had many wonderful experiences, and to have known at age 4 that I wanted to be a weather man. Being a forensic meteorologist was exciting, challenging and filled with the fun of meteorological detective work. The purpose of writing my new book, Weather in the Courtroom, was to share some of the significant cases in which I played a part. One goal was to choose interesting cases, and another was to show the variety of weather situations that can affect litigation.  weather_courtroom_cover_blog

While serving as the director of National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) between 1963 and 1975, I had been impressed by the large number of attorneys requesting weather data for litigation cases. The center would offer data certified by the Department of Commerce but government meteorologists could not be released from their duties to interpret this data in the courtroom. This void was filled by consulting meteorologists.

I decided that after retirement from the federal government I would become a consulting meteorologist specializing in forensic work. This specialty would allow me to bring weather testimony into the courtroom. In 1976, I formed the Climatological Consulting Corporation (CCC) and sent letters of introduction to lawyers listed in legal directories who appeared likely to need weather testimony in their litigation. They included aviation, marine, and insurance lawyers.

The first response came several months later from Charles Hagan in Anchorage, Alaska, who needed an expert weather witness in a plane crash. Though the weather analysis was complex, I was faced with the great challenge of learning courtroom procedures and the behavioral techniques that would convince the jury that I was a credible witness. I learned the importance of effective visuals with the concept that people retain 80% of visual information versus 20% audible.

When I started in this field, there might have been up to 50 other forensic meteorologists. Few were using visuals to show the details of their analysis and to illustrate the weather to the courtroom. I quickly learned the importance of these images and spent a lot of time trying to improve them. I greatly appreciated the help of my wife, Martina, an accomplished artist, who designed and perfected many of them. We started with hand drawn poster boards and evolved to large, commercially produced color images.

From there, I graduated to carrying an overhead Vugraph projector and screen to display transparencies to the court. I became known as the man with the pictures. My expensive analysis projector in the 1980s, which could project a time-lapse sequence of images, was a great improvement in showing sequential radar images. First used in a case of a ruptured oil tank in Hurricane Alicia, the jury was convinced of my testimony after seeing the rainbands moving over the stationary image of the tank on the screen. With time and technology, televisions were installed in courtrooms, strategically placed before the jury, judge, and council. Computers and computer simulations have now taken over.

After a slow start, word of mouth advertising, attending various lawyer conferences, and hard work all helped increase my business. Meeting and working with so many talented attorneys and staff was a great experience. My staff increased, my travel increased, and my lifelong passion of working with the weather continued. We worked on hundreds of cases varying from simple “slip and falls” to complex weather patterns such as those found in the Perfect Storm of 1991.

I had taken the challenging test and been the 150th to obtain my CCM from the AMS. As the caseload increased, I realized the need for more specialized interpretation of satellite data, hydrology, radar, and severe weather. I began affiliating with other CCMs in these subspecialties to better meet the client’s needs. These associates greatly assisted me in their specialty and enhanced the final work product.

I grew up sailing, served in the navy, and was an oceanic weather forecaster. I had expected marine meteorology to be the cornerstone of my courtroom work, but aviation became predominant until late in my consulting experience. The aviation attorneys that engaged me became frequent clients and spread the word. Approximately 75% of my over 200 cases involved aviation weather. The data required are somewhat different for aviation and marine cases, but were all are available from the National Climatic Data Center.

With these data I began my detective work. Forensic meteorology requires careful and accurate retrospective weather reconstructions. These often required very detailed and small time/space scale analyses—frequently relying on supplemental and/or non-standard meteorological data such as eyewitness statements, photos, police reports, NTSB reports, site visits. The great improvements in meteorological technology, in the resolution of meteorological images, and in the availability of the data all helped in my analyses of the weather.

After I moved to Asheville in 1961, my wife and I had purchased a hilly 100-acre farm east of Asheville. In 1975, we built our dream house there and I started my new company in the den with one secretary and a graphic studio area in the large basement. As the staff grew in size, we moved to a remodeled house near the creek. This location, overlooking large pastures, was a beautiful setting for the next 20 years. When I became frustrated by a technical problem, I would announce to the staff, “I’m going out to mow,” and would climb on my riding mower. Nature’s panorama of blue skies, white clouds, hillside forests and green grass helped clear my mind and was conducive to constructive thinking allowing me to return to the office with a fresh view and a mowed pasture. The five-minute walk from home to the office made it very convenient for me when I was not travelling. And I did travel extensively to meet clients, visit accident sites, testify in court attend depositions and meetings. I became a 1.6 million miler with Delta Airlines.

Writing this book has brought back fond memories of these great 26 years. I hope you enjoy it.

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by Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director, and Michael Friedman, AMS Journals Production Manager

It is interesting how quickly bad news travels, isn’t it? Conversely, good news seems to barely propagate at all if left to its own devices. Changing long-held impressions is even harder, and in some cases, even overwhelming evidence can barely make a dent. As an example, let’s turn to the terrific news coming out of the AMS Publications Commission meeting last May that seems to be taking a long time to filter effectively into the community.

The news at the meeting was universally positive and record setting on nearly every front—from the 3,436 manuscript submissions received in 2015, to the 65-day average time to first decision for those submissions, to the time to publication of accepted manuscripts, which has gone from an all-time low of 95 days in 2015 to the 2016 average (so far) of just 74 days. This is a huge improvement (~72%) from the dark days of 2008, when that metric was well over 200 days.

The dramatic recent drop in time to publication is due in large part to the 2016 transition to a continuous publication model in which each individual article is published online when it reaches final form, instead of waiting until there is a whole issue’s worth of material. The AMS Publications staff tries to take advantage of every potential efficiency improvement it can to drive the time to publication even lower.

These records are just the latest data points mapping a trajectory of continued growth and improvement on all fronts over the past several years, thanks to the efforts of many dedicated volunteers and professional staff, along with effective implementation of technological advances. Meanwhile, AMS publications have maintained the very high quality that has always been their hallmark.  AMS journals continue to rank among the best in the world in our subject areas, and their impact also increased as measured by several objective metrics.

We are doing our best to let the author community know about the excellent performance of the AMS journals on all fronts so that they will not avoid publishing their work with AMS due to concerns based on incorrect impressions. As noted above, however, this can be a frustratingly slow process, and overriding long-held impressions is not easy (we still hear from authors who complain about color charges even though those were eliminated three years ago).

Help us spread the good news. If it has been awhile since you have published in AMS journals, you will be pleased with the improved work flow and speed to publication that we currently provide. If you are considering doing so for the first time, know that along with the prestige and quality that have always been associated with AMS publications, we are able to offer a path to publication much faster than ever before.

(A version of this post appeared in AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter’s 45 Beacon column in the August 2016 BAMS)

 

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A Peer Review Conversation

September 23, 2016 · 0 comments

by Jeff Rosenfeld, BAMS Editor in Chief, and Bob Rauber, AMS Publications Commissioner

Since this week has been declared Peer Review Week, the publishing blog, “Scholarly Kitchen,” is devoting a series of posts about the manuscript evaluation process that you might dread or love, depending on where you sit as an author, editor, or reviewer. They kicked off discussions with a round table on the future of peer review. You’ll find in that blog the usual gamut of projections about peer review—from business as usual to wholesale revolution. Given the many innovations in publishing lately, nobody seems to know what will happen next in this centuries-old tradition in science.

One thing the participants all seemed to agree on, however: in one form or another, peer review is here to stay. As Alice Meadows, director of communications for ORCID, the researcher identification consortium, puts it, “It is hard to imagine scholarly communication without some form of peer review.”

Those of us who have served as AMS editors will not be surprised by that sentiment, and not just because we rely so heavily on reviewers to provide their input into the publishing process. We know how valuable peer review is because the authors tell us.

It is not unusual to see an author’s final revisions arrive accompanied by a note to the editor saying ““Please thank the reviewers.” And it is not unusual to find “anonymous reviewers” thanked in the acknowledgements of published papers.

This happens even though not all of these authors have been entirely happy throughout the review process. Reviews usually mean authors spend additional time on a paper they thought was fine when they first submitted it. Despite that, the authors know their reviewers deserve thanks, and the authors freely give it.

They do this because they find that peer review is not just “essential to the communication of science.”  Peer review is, itself, scientific communication of the best kind.

We often picture peer review as criticism. One set of anonymous experts tells another expert how to write their article, what to say, and what not to say.

That’s hardly a model for scientists communicating with other scientists. It sounds downright regressive, actually—an intrusive but necessary form of telling authors what the standards are and where to throw out the junk. Thumbs up, or thumbs down.

But actually, more often than not, the thumb wiggles and points the way to success. Editors notice that when the review process is going well, the reviewers are not simply dictating terms for acceptance for the authors. What happens instead is conversation. It is often an even more intimate and honest exchange than one can get from colleagues down the hall. And like any good conversation, it involves iterations. Reviews go to authors, and the authors who take them seriously often reply unexpectedly, forcing reviewers to think again. In the best cases, reviewers and authors—and the editors who facilitate their two-way exchange—learn from each other and adapt.

The evidence of this conversation is in those citations AMS gives when naming the recipients of our Editor’s Awards each year. Sift through the Annual Meeting banquet programs and you’ll find many words of praise for an iterative communication. For example, the 2016 Journal of Hydrometeorology Editor’s Award went to W. Justin Baisden for “a series of rigorous and detailed reviews … resulting in a substantially improved paper.” Similarly, both Andrew Stewart (for the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology) and Matthew Kumjian (for Monthly Weather Review and Weather and Forecasting) were cited for how “constructive” their reviews were. And the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology singled out Tanya Spero Otte for “thought provoking reviews that led to significant manuscript improvements.”

Clearly this is what editors want, and this is what makes peer review a conversation. The manuscripts improve, and both sides learn. People often ask why scientists devote so much effort and time—often unpaid and at extremely inconvenient moments—to formulating reviews and considering authors’ responses. Like any scientific communication, it’s because reviewers, authors, editors, and ultimately readers are all headed for the same goal: learning something new from each other. That’s what makes these conversations so lively, so intense, and so rewarding.

It is striking how frequently the review process in AMS journals becomes a conversation.  It happens so often that it’s the norm, and we sometimes don’t stop to think how extraordinary it is that busy people volunteer their time to contribute so fundamentally to the work of others. Thumbs up, then, for Peer Review Week, for peer review itself, and in particular for the thousands of volunteers who answer the call from editors, day in, day out, to review for AMS journals!

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by Keith Seitter, CCM, AMS Executive Director

(From Dr. Seitter’s column in the June 2016 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.)

There are a variety of ways to think about the word “value” and to apply that term in the context of being an AMS member. Those who consider the value of membership in terms of financial benefit are likely to recognize that their subscriptions to BAMS and Physics Today, as well as any of several types of member discounts (such as that for meeting registration) can easily offset the cost of dues.

While fully appreciating the importance of member discounts on AMS journals, Weatherwise magazine, books, merchandise, meetings, and other services, I have always tended to think of the value of membership in terms of the less tangible aspects—and this has been true for me reaching back far before I was part of the AMS staff. My AMS membership makes me part of a vibrant community of scientists and professionals with common goals. I have always taken great pride in being associated with an organization that promotes the advancement of knowledge and understanding about our environment, that stands up for the integrity of science, and that helps ensure that the scientific understanding coming from the research community is translated into effective actions that protect lives and property.

In addition, my involvement with AMS—especially early in my career—opened up avenues for professional growth that helped shape my career in important ways. Volunteer service with AMS drew me deeper into the community and introduced me to colleagues who have become lifelong friends. AMS meetings further expanded opportunities for networking and collaboration, which allowed my work to be more productive and successful. Many of the most important turning points in my career can be traced back to my membership with AMS.

I was talking with a longtime member a few months ago about why he enjoys his volunteer service with AMS so much. His words struck me as clear and on target. He said, “The Society is not here to give you things. The Society is here to help you get the most out of your professional career.” I think there are thousands of us in AMS who would agree with this, and who have experienced firsthand the value of being part of an organization that represents a truly incredible community of scientists and other professionals dedicated to serving society. The impact of the science and services provided by the AMS community has never been greater, and the continually expanding role of AMS in serving and representing this community means your AMS membership has never been more valuable.

With new services coming online, we think the tangible benefits of being an AMS member have never been more significant, while the intangible value—the many ways that AMS promotes community and collaboration—also continues to strengthen and grow. If you have colleagues who are not AMS members, but should be, I hope you will encourage them to join AMS and become part of this truly unique community.

 

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Last week, the fourth named storm—Danielle—of the Atlantic hurricane season formed. It was the earliest such formation in any of the 165 seasons on record. Tropical Storm Colin preceded Danielle just days into the official season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, and was the earliest-on-record third named storm. And Tropical Storm Bonnie formed in May, prior to the season’s start, a pattern that seems to have increased in the past decade.

It makes one wonder: should the official Atlantic hurricane season be lengthened to accommodate the earlier storm formation? The season for Eastern Pacific tropical storms and hurricanes, which form off Mexico’s coast, already does. It runs from May 15 to Nov. 30, and almost like clockwork, the first storm of that season will typically appear midmonth or after.

In the past decade, half of the Atlantic’s seasons had “preseason” storms. In 2012, two storms—Alberto and Beryl—were named before the season officially started. And last year, Ana formed east of Georgia on May 7. Granted, it was initially a subtropical storm, a hybrid with both tropical features and features of midlatitude cyclones. But waters were warm and Ana became fully tropical in just days, and moved ashore in South Carolina on May 10.

In an e-mail exchange with James Franklin, branch chief of the Hurricane Specialist Unit of forecasters at the National Hurricane Center, he noted that the current 6-month Atlantic hurricane season was established in 1965 and was based on the formation dates of roughly 97% of the total annual tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin, which includes the northern hemisphere Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.

Franklin pointed out that tropical cyclones have formed in every month of the year, including Hurricane Alex this year in January. (Its formation was considered a very late entry in the 2015 hurricane season, despite its “A”-name designation in the calendar 2016 season.) He also pointed out that moving the season up to May 15 wouldn’t have prevented an out-of-season start in half of the recent early-season years (in addition to Alex and 2015’s Ana, 2007’s Andrea formed on May 9).

While extending the season might not catch all early storms, it would accommodate an increasing number. Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters and Bob Henson blogged last year with Ana’s early development that it isn’t all that rare to have early-season storms. Adjusting the numbers up by two for 2016, they conclude that 41 preseason tropical or subtropical systems have formed in 33 separate years since record-keeping began in 1851. Since the satellite era began in 1960, which improved detection of tropical systems basin wide, they find that there has been on average about one such system in the Atlantic every 2-3 years.

“Preseason named storms may be getting more common,” they wrote. Of note, they mentioned a 2008 paper published in Geophysical Research Letters by Jim Kossin of the University of Wisconsin, titled “Is the North Atlantic hurricane season getting longer?” that supports an earlier start to hurricane season. Kossin concluded that there is an “apparent tendency toward more common early- and late-season storms that correlates with warming sea surface temperature, but the uncertainty in these relationships is high.”

So the question remains: Is it climate change that necessitates a longer season, or natural variability?

Franklin states that there would need to be pretty convincing evidence “to go to the trouble of changing the official season. I don’t think we know whether this ‘uptick’ is real or apparent, or whether it will persist,” he writes. “I think we’d want to see a definitive trend in the long-term climatology before contemplating such a change.”

Makes sense. However, if we have too many seasons like these past several years, with multiple storms in May, starting hurricane season on June 1 may begin to appear arbitrary.

What do you think?

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Distinguished Guests

June 22, 2016 · 0 comments

by Gwendolyn Whittaker, AMS Publications Coordinator & Peer Review Support Manager

In October 2015 an AMS delegation that included a number of AMS Publications staff and AMS Publications Commissioner Bob Rauber took part in a symposium in Tianjin, China, on  “The Latest Developments in Atmospheric Science and Meteorological Journals,” hosted by staff from the journals publishing program of the Chinese Meteorological Society (CMS).

The symposium was an opportunity for AMS and CMS staff to share information on their respective  programs, and to share ideas on the common challenges we face: attracting good manuscripts, supporting volunteer editors and reviewers, maintaining rigorous standards for peer review while making that process as efficient as possible, improving the production time to allow accepted papers to appear quickly, and keeping expenses as low as possible to allow a sustainable business model. There was agreement that such exchanges were extremely useful and should continue.

Despite their myriad other duties (the symposium took place during the CMS Annual Meeting), our hosts took marvelous care of the AMS delegation, including making sure we got to The Great Wall, had endless amounts of good food, and had a tour of the CMS campus in Beijing.

The AMS delegation left China looking forward to a chance to return the favor, and during the week of May 23 we had the pleasure of hosting two guests from CMS who attended the annual meeting of the AMS Publications Commission in Boston: Dr. Lan Yi, executive chief editor of CMS’s Journal of Meteorological Research, and Ms. Aidi Liu, executive chief editor of the Chinese Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (published by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences).

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While the week’s activities did not quite reach the fever pitch of either society’s Annual Meeting, it was full enough. In addition to sitting in on the Publications Commission presentations and deliberations, Dr. Yi and Ms. Liu had in-depth meetings with AMS journals and BAMS staff on topics ranging from business models to technologies management to the strategies the various teams within AMS Publications use to manage productivity, priorities, and resources. AMS Librarian Jinny Nathans gave an overview of AMS’s involvement in ASLI (Atmospheric Science Librarians International) and gave a tour of AMS headquarters at historic 45 Beacon Street. She also described the project to digitize the entire run of BAMS (back to 1920) in commemoration of the AMS’s Centennial in 2020. While the formal meetings ended with lunch on Friday, the conversations continued during a boat tour of Boston Harbor.

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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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