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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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by Kyle Brown, Valparaiso University, AMS Communications Intern

You’re no longer likely to be “just” a forecaster, broadcaster, or researcher over the course of your career in this field. That mobility—or, as some might say, instability—of working in the water, weather, and climate field was a key point from Wednesday’s AMS Presidential Town Hall meeting.

The Town Hall provided insight into career opportunities and career changes within atmospheric sciences. Panelists included Heidi Centola, manager of business development at Schneider Electric; Michael Farrar, director of the Meteorological Development Lab of the NWS; and Kevin Petty, chief science officer at Vaisala.

They stressed that some career shifts result from opportunities that present themselves through the most unlikely of sources. Other shifts come from within–the panelists recommended that midcareer professionals perform a “gut-check” to ensure that they are happy and being challenged at their jobs.

With this in mind, the panelists considered the question, “What are the trends and opportunities ahead in meteorology?” Petty suggested individuals should pursue skills in data analytics. Farrar commented on the time constraints NWS forecasters face with the multitude of incoming weather data. Forecasters now have to efficiently digest data and add value in a short amount of time. This can be achieved through strong communication skills.

Centola reminded the audience that all industries are impacted by the weather. Therefore, she recommended finding a niche for the use of one’s meteorological skills, such as in insurance or transportation. Specialization is a process that may happen in the least likely of times or ways. In fact, the panelists attested that they have been surprised with their career paths. None of them had been able to anticipate that they would be doing what they are doing today.

As a result, the unpredictable migration of careers makes it essential to broaden one’s interests and skillsets, even while developing specializations. Professionals need to keep their doors open to whatever opportunities may be knocking. Centola told the audience that she started out selling flood insurance after college and then became a salesperson for WSI. Now she finds herself in the energy sector. Petty added that students should know other disciplines, and students were advised to broaden their coursework. Farrar said he would like to see more partnerships and linkages between atmospheric scientists and others within various industries, which could also help broaden exposure.

 

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By Alex Adams, Western Illinois University, AMS Communications Intern

If you go to any app store and search for weather apps, you will have thousands and thousands of suggestions thrown at you, ranging from home screen weather widgets; to big, multifunctional weather apps; to small independent apps, and everything in between. For about 99.99% of consumers, this selection meets all of their needs. For some weather enthusiasts and professionals, however, there is still a lot left to be desired in the mobile market. Information such as model data, forecast discussions, or even multiple radar products can only be found in a handful of apps; for some types of information, there isn’t even one app that can provide what we want. So when high-quality apps come along in the market that do satisfy our desires, it’s an event to celebrate.

During this week’s Annual Meeting, I had a chance to sit in on a session discussing new or already popular weather apps tailored specifically to meteorologists. All three of the apps that were presented impressed me greatly with their in-depth functionality and beautiful design. I was so impressed that I decided to take a moment and write down my thoughts about them.

  • Seasonality Pro–Unveiled at last year’s meeting in Phoenix, Seasonality Pro is an iOS app designed to present the user with detailed model data that can be accessed and manipulated in many fashions with nothing more than a swipe of the finger. It includes several models, such as the GFS, NAM, RAP, and more. The intuitive design of the app lets you easily control what you see on screen, and it features a variety of functions that allows you to manipulate how data is displayed. As far as I am aware, this is one of the only apps out there that includes such detailed model data, and from what I saw at this presentation, I would consider it to be an incredibly well-designed app.
  • Weather Informant – Another important aspect of having weather information ready at our fingertips is getting specific alerts, watches, discussions, etc., when we need them. Weather Informant is a relatively new app on iOS and Android that compiles all NWS products in a succinct, organized manner for easy access. The app includes the last 72 hours of everything the NWS has pushed out, so previous versions of discussions are available for comparison. The app also allows you to “favorite” certain NWS offices, types of products, types of warnings, or even just a keyword that might be mentioned. “Favoriting” allows you to quickly access these products from a separate page in the app, as well as enable push notifications so you can be notified if an alert goes live or is canceled. I am sure many will be excited about having all of this information accessible from a single place on our phones, and it seems like many areas of the field can greatly benefit from the convenience created by it.
  • RadarScope – I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about this one. One of the most popular weather apps for meteorologists on both iOS and Android, Radarscope provides users with one of the most–if not the most–detailed sets of radar data available on mobile devices—an absolute necessity for storm chasers and weather enthusiasts. This year’s session outlined a lot of major plans for future updates for the app, as well as where it has gone in the past year. We were told that it is available on all mobile devices running iOS and Android, including the newest platforms, Apple Watch and Android Wear, and also that there are plans for a major 3.0 version update, including updates of UI design and layout for all platforms. As an Android lover, I was excited to hear about a Material Design update in the works. Additionally, a major feature that was announced was the added functionality for dual-pane display, allowing multiple products on the screen at the same time. At the mention of this feature, the entire room produced an audible gasp in amazement! This, along with the multitude of existing features, makes RadarScope one of the best weather apps out there. If you don’t have it yet, I would highly recommend purchasing it. Its developers are committed to producing the best mobile experience possible, and they were recognized for their efforts with an AMS Special Award at yesterday’s Banquet.

Visiting these sessions at the Annual Meeting and hearing presentations on these apps was a real pleasure. While the app-development community is usually pretty open, you don’t often get to see developers in person discussing their projects and sharing new ideas—it allows us to see how much love they have for their products. So if you get the chance, get on the App Store or Play Store, and check out these three awesome apps.

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For 11 years, Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) has been selecting the best books in the atmospheric sciences based on nine criteria: uniqueness, comprehensiveness, usefulness, quality, authoritativeness, organization, illustrations/diagrams, competition, and references. At their awards ceremony this afternoon at the Annual Meeting, ASLI announced their winners for 2015, giving us a new selection of titles to put on our must-read list.ASLI's Choice 2015

The ASLI Choice winner in the main category was An Introduction to Lightning, by Vernon Cooray, published by Springer, which ASLI recognized for being “a clearly written book that provides its readers with a thorough and accessible understanding of lightning.” In the history category, the winning title was Weatherland: Writers & Artists under English Skies, by Alexandra Harris, published by Thames & Hudson, which ASLI called “a highly original, inviting book that brings readers to the weathers of England through art and word.” And in the popular category, the winning book was Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future, by Lauren Redniss, published by Random House, which ASLI recognized for “designing rich, original art to accompany vivid description that creates a one-of-a-kind treatise on weather.”  ASLI's Choice 2015 2

In the main category, Honorable Mention went to Climate Change and Public Health, by Barry S. Levy, published by Oxford University Press, for “bringing scientific, medical, and public policy aspects together in a useful treatment of this important topic.”

In the history category, Honorable Mention was awarded to an AMS Books title, A Scientific Peak: How Boulder Became a World Center for Space and Atmospheric Science, by Joseph P. Bassi,  praised by ASLI for being “a well-researched and written description of this western city’s road to atmospheric science fame.” You can purchase A Scientific Peak this week at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall!

Honorable Mentions in history also went to Sea of Storms: A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina, by Stuart B. Schwartz, published by Princeton University Press, for “enabling readers to discover ASLI's Choice 2015 3 more about this part of the world through its tempests”; and The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future, by Peter Moore, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which was recognized for “a vivid account of those early scientists and the weather they sought to understand.”

In the popular category, Honorable Mention was awarded to Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, by Cynthia Barnett, published by Crown Publishers, honored for being a book “that celebrates rain in all its history, forms and life”; and Melting Away: Images of the Arctic and Antarctic, by Camille Seaman, published by Princeton Architectural Press, for “the author-photographer’s composition, creativity, and artistry that depict the beauty of and pressures upon both our polar realms.”

Visit the ASLI Choice Awards website to view past winners and to learn how to nominate a book next year.

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In education, 1984 was a watershed year: Malcolm Walker of the U.K Royal Meteorological Society convened the first international conference in school and popular meteorological education. A small group of Americans headed to Oxford, curious to see how the rest of the world was starting to experiment with ways of improving teaching.

As David Smith tells it, Walker hooked attendees into a passion for meteorological education. The effects are now felt in the AMS and through the nation. For example, Eugene Bierly, an attendee at the Oxford meeting, offered money from NSF to help start up an initiative by Ira Geer—another attendee—which became the AMS Education Program in Washington, D.C.

For his own part, Smith, now retired from the U.S. Naval Academy, went on to co-chair 22 years of AMS Education Symposia (http://bit.ly/1ngkjJm)—the first being in 1992, at the AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta. This year he’s been here in New Orleans, helping to celebrate the symposium’s 25 years of bringing teachers and scientists together on their common mission of spreading knowledge.

“I don’t think we would be here today without the energy and the vision Malcolm brought to these conferences,” Smith told the symposium audience before the celebratory cake cutting.

The group of 21 master teachers in Geer’s network have brought a new energy to the AMS meeting, with their hands-on, interactive presentations. “They absolutely turned the society on their heads,” Smith said. They also drew others in AMS into a renewed commitment to great and creative teaching that thrives each year through the recurring AMS symposium.

“When I think about education, I think about exciting that spark: Giving young people a new way to see the world,” said Raj Pandya of AGU, another former co-chair who now heads the AMS Commission on Human Resources, said at Monday’s celebratory session.

“Education is a really important part of what we do,” outgoing AMS President Sandy MacDonald said in his remarks opening the symposium. “In some ways it is the most important part of what we do.”

Smith and Pandya added some more thoughts on the value of the Education Symposium in a video interview yesterday:

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Non-traditional observations of weather conditions from smartphones, driverless vehicles, and other sensor-based platforms are exploding as technology improves and becomes cheaper. But the traditional infrastructure in place to gather observations can’t keep up with the mass influx of new data. WOW. That’s the Met Office in the United Kingdom’s solution to the problem. Its Weather Observations Website is not only up and running. It’s humming.

Since it was launched in 2011, WOW (http://wow.metoffice.gov.uk/) has seen more than 700 million observations submitted by more than 10,000 citizen scientists worldwide. WOW focuses on ingesting data from personal weather stations, Simon Gilbert, head of the Met Office observations partnerships, said in his presentation Monday morning at the 96th AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. This huge volume of data includes the entire 200-year climate record from Oxford University.

The success of WOW has encouraged the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, MetService in New Zealand, and KNMI in the Netherlands to implement their own portals into the website. Collectively, they have reported great success in extending their reach, primarily through “really effective partnerships” connecting the public with the private sector, Gilbert says.

A new version of WOW, the WOW Engine, is currently being developed as a more flexible and adaptable data management platform. Using application software to talk to hardware, it will be possible to quickly and easily ingest new sources of observational data, including complex metadata, which will be managed, stored, and visualized through a variety of channels. The metadata will comply with the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS) Metadata principles, allowing users to benefit from the potential for WIGOS to create a ‘”network of networks.”

Gilbert reports the use of WOW, which is supported by the UK Department for Education and the Royal Meteorological Society, is expanding in schools as well. Weather stations are being provided to schools, and teachers and students are being encouraged to submit data.

As traditional threshold-based weather warnings transition toward impact based warnings, the need to gather evidence of impacts will be critical. WOW contains this capability and soon will be available for mining data from social media and other live sources.

Harnessing the power of citizen scientists is potentially a game changer for meteorology as the increasing resolution of NWP models is not matched by a corresponding increase in the density of traditional observing networks. The citizen scientist with an app on their phone, or in their car or home, can provide supplementary observations that will provide useful additional detail to modelers and forecasters.

A key challenge is how to manage the balance between quantity and quality of the observations and to identify the most effective ways to use this kind of data, Gilbert says. He personally doesn’t think such crowdsourcing will replace funded observation networks. But even with WOW’s low-level quality control capability, the shear volume of data can be used to identify trends.

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