Where can you hang out with two former AMS presidents, the Washington Post weather editor, a Weather Channel meteorologist, and a grad student specializing in the latest geoinformatics technology and converse about extreme weather and the technology taking forecasting into the future?

Surely one answer is the next AMS Annual Meeting, in Phoenix, where the buzz is going to center on “fulfilling the vision of weather, water, and climate information for every need, time, and place.” Extreme weather will feature early and often in that week-long marathon of conversation.

That’s not coming up until January, however. If you’re looking for a singular opportunity to rub shoulders with the experts now, this Thursday brings a great opportunity.

Northrup Grumman, along with co-hosts the AMS and the American Astronautical Society, is presenting a Google Hangout on Air Thursday September 18th at Noon Eastern Time that might be just the conversation to you started thinking about the meteorological future. The Hangout will bring together leaders in the AMS community discussing challenges in forecasting and preparing for extreme weather. Like the Annual Meeting in Phoenix, the conversation will revolve around advances in science and technology that allow delivery of better information to protect life and property.

The participants bring a potent mix of perspectives and expertise: National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini, Univ. of Georgia professor Marshall Shepherd, Weather Channel meteorologist Maria LaRosa, geoinformatics specialist Amanda Mitchell, and Washington Post weather editor Jason Samenow. Both Shepherd and Uccellini are AMS past presidents. The moderator is Laura Delgado Lopez of the Secure World Foundation, whose expertise is space policy and Earth observing systems.

You can tune in to this one hour live streaming digital event at www.northropgrumman.com/extremeweather. Join the conversation on Twitter and send weather questions ahead of time to be answered during the Hangout using #ExtremeWx.

Overcoming Extreme Weather

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by Tom Champoux, AMS Director of Communications

Recently, severe thunderstorms rolled east across the greater Boston area that culminated in an EF2 tornado touching down in the city of Revere, just a few miles from my house.

As I watched the weather on TV that day, I noticed some new information provided by the meteorologist as he gave his severe weather updates. Not only did he show the storm’s path, size, speed, intensity, and time of arrival, but he also included the number of people who were in the line of the storm’s path – in this case more than 200,000 would be affected.

This drive to continually innovate the flow of information to the public—refreshing, improving, and updating services in the process—is ingrained in the character of our weather, water, and climate community. It’s a process driven by AMS members across the enterprise.

I was reminded of this repeatedly while attending the AMS Summer Community Meeting this week in State College, Pennsylvania. This year, the theme was “Improving Weather Forecasts and Forecast Communications.” More than 160 attendees from across the country, including leaders in government, academic, and private sectors, convened to discuss, collaborate, and consider ways of improving weather data being collected, retrieving usable information more quickly, and sharing the most accurate information with the public as quickly as possible. In extreme cases, people have to make critical decisions in a matter of minutes.

Discussions focused on how to better inform the public, ensuring their awareness and safety while decreasing false-alarm rates. During the meetings, it became apparent very quickly how important this topic is to the entire weather, water, and climate community, and that hosting these meetings is a vital step for AMS as we bring together key stakeholders to continue improving all aspects of the enterprise. This year’s AMS Summer Community Meeting not only included well-known weather agencies, organizations, and companies but also social scientists, emergency managers, risk analysts, educators, big data specialists, and broadcast meteorologists.

Discussions covered a wide variety of topics such as public perceptions of words like “likely,” “probable,” “possible,” and “certain,” to describe potential weather. Other panel talks included, “Improving Communicating of Forecast Uncertainty,” Communicating Forecast Confidence,” “Conveying Weather Risk,” and “The Weather Enterprise of the Future.” There were also talks about how various social media may hurt or help communicating accurate information.

A tour of AccuWeather Forecast Center headquarters here during the meetings showed how important these issues are to the entire company. I was impressed with their efforts to improve technology, data collection, analysis, and communications. Similarly, National Weather Services Director Louis Uccellini was on hand to talk about what the NWS is doing to address these issues.

The AMS Summer Community Meeting is unique because of the ideas that emerge there. It also is a reminder of how vital it is to bring everyone together. Ideas, information, and experiences are shared freely, and the conversations both inside and outside the meetings remind us all how committed everyone is to constantly improving the entire enterprise, whether they’re doing it independently in their separate jobs, like my local weathercaster, or together in valuable gatherings like the AMS Summer Community Meeting.

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By Anupa Asokan, AMS Education Program

For many of us who have dedicated our lives to studying, protecting, and loving the ocean, Jaws and Shark Week are two of the primary reasons why. I always look forward to that wonderful week in August where I can be guaranteed endless hours of the deep blue and beautiful toothy creatures. And Jaws . . .what else can I say but: “amazing!” So why do some of us find these pieces of sensationalism inspiring, while others cite them as a reason to fear the ocean? The short answer is: those of us who know, know better.

Most of the events and creatures that become the subject of horror movies and sensationalism are far-fetched and/or products of the human imagination. Deep down we all know that we’re not going to encounter a zombie walking down the street. The ocean, on the other hand, is already a much less familiar environment, and sharks are very real.  We tend to fear the unknown, and if all I knew of the ocean was shark week, I’d be scared too. A swim in the ocean could very well lead to an encounter with a shark. But just as we’ve all walked the streets sans a zombie attack, many of us have also had countless swims/dives/snorkels/surfs/paddles and returned to shore unscathed. I’m not saying a face-to-face encounter with the Landlord (aka the great white shark) wouldn’t make me shake in my wetsuit, but the truth is that more shark attacks don’t happen than do happen.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there have been 767 documented shark attacks since 1580. These are unprovoked bites only (because if you mess with something that doesn’t have hands to fight back, I think you’re asking to get bit). Less than 20% of these bites were fatal. Let’s put this in perspective, shall we? I will round up, and that is still only an average of 2 bites a year. Which means you are 23 times more likely to die from a lightning strike, 136 times more likely to die from sun/heat exposure, and almost 30,000 times more likely to die of the flu. I can even make this more fun. More people also die each year from falling coconuts, vending machines, falling airplane parts, and playing soccer in England. Few–if any–of us are afraid of sunshine, tropical plants, or snacks, but sharks unfortunately have acquired a very bad reputation.

Yes, sharks are stellar hunters. They’ve had over 400 million years to perfect their predator status in the ocean. Yes, sometimes they get confused and think humans are delicious, blubbery seals, but they’re definitely not prowling the seas looking for people to snack on. They are truly amazing creatures that are a crucial part of a delicate and intricate food web, and they’re in trouble. Their numbers are declining so rapidly that I feel fortunate to have had any encounters whatsoever with these beautiful animals.

So to all the meteorologists out there, take this as a cautionary tale from us marine scientists. Twister could very well be your Jaws and Tornado Week would be a great tribute on The Weather Channel to an incredible phenomenon (oh wait, it already exists!). Let’s not let the world panic at the sight of every cloud in the sky. Let’s put people in the know. Let’s be powerful educators and effectively preempt the fear-mongering.

reefshark

Photo Credit: Anupa Asokan

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BAMS Editor-in-Chief Jeff Rosenfeld had the opportunity to talk with Bob Henson, author of the new AMS book, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change, at the 42nd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Olympic Valley, California, in June, where the book made its debut (you can watch the entire interview below). Originally known as The Rough Guide to Climate Change, this updated version is more comprehensive; according to Henson, it’s a one-stop shop for those looking for a little bit of everything regarding climate change. While there is plenty of fact-based science in the book, Henson also gives people ideas of what they can do on a practical level when it comes to combating climate change. When Rosenfeld asks if the thinking person will sleep better after reading the book, Henson’s answer is positive. He notes that while it’s a problematic issue, instead of simply worrying about it, we can all continue to understand it better in order to create the best possible future. Reading his book, which can be purchased online at the AMS Bookstore, is a great way to do just that.

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The 2015 AMS Annual Meeting in Phoenix is less than six months away. AMS President Bill Gail and 2015 Annual Meeting Organizing Committee chairs Andrea Bleistein, Andrew Molthan, and Wendy Schreiber-Abshire recently sent out this reminder that the deadline for submitting abstracts for the meeting is fast approaching:

Have you submitted your abstract for AMS 2015 yet?

Yes? Then you know that we’ve got something for everyone with over 30 conferences and symposia featuring almost 300 topics!

No? Don’t worry–there’s still time to submit your abstract before the deadline of 1 August!

This year’s theme is: Fulfilling the Vision of Weather, Water, and Climate Information for Every Need, Time, and Place

View the Call for Papers here: http://annual.ametsoc.org/2015/index.cfm/call-for-papers/

Submit your abstract online here: https://ams.confex.com/ams/95Annual/oasys.epl

Even if you don’t plan to present in Phoenix, we hope you make plans to join us in January. Check out our website to learn more about all the exciting things going on at AMS 2015!

We can’t wait to read your submission and look forward to your participation,

Bill Gail, AMS President
and
Andrea Bleistein, Andrew Molthan, and Wendy Schreiber-Abshire
2015 Annual Meeting Organizing Committee Chairpersons

Meeting Logo

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By Jim LaDue, NWS Warning Decision Training Branch

For more than four decades, the go-to for rating tornadoes has been the Fujita Scale, and in the last eight years, the Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF Scale. Soon, scientists and NWS field teams will have a new and powerful benchmark by which to gauge the extreme winds in tornadoes and other severe wind events.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has approved the EF Scale Stakeholder Group’s proposal to develop a new standard for estimating wind speeds in tornadoes. This standard will allow, for the first time, a rigorous process to improve not only the EF-scale but to adopt new methods to assign wind speed ratings to tornadic and other wind events.

The intent is to standardize methods. According to the ASCE blog, “The content of the standard would include improvements to the existing damage-based EF scale to address known problems and limitations.” ASCE went on to state that the data used for estimating wind speeds would be archived.

The EF Scale Stakeholders Group, composed of meteorologists, wind and structural engineers, a plant biologist, and a hydrologist, held a series of meetings over the past year to discuss methods available to provide wind speed estimations.  The consensus among the group is that many methods exist in addition to that used in the EF Scale today.  These include mobile Doppler radar, tree-fall pattern analysis, structural forensics, and in situ measurements.  The group also discussed ways that the EF Scale could be improved through the correction of current damage indicators and by adding new ones. The outcome of these discussions is available online.

The new standard will be housed under the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) of the ASCE.  Users of the standard include but are not limited to wind, structural, and forensic engineers, meteorologists, climatologists, forest biologists, risk analysts, emergency managers, building and infrastructure designers, and the media.

Interested parties are encouraged to apply to the committee, selecting Membership Category as either a General member with full voting privileges or as an Associate member with optional voting capabilities. Membership in ASCE is not required to serve on an ASCE Standards Committee.

The online application form to join the committee is available at http://www.asce.org/codes-standards/applicationform/.

The new committee will be chaired by Jim LaDue and cochaired by Marc Levitan of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. For more information or questions about joining the committee, please contact us at james . g . ladue @ noaa . gov and marc . levitan @ nist . gov.

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by Anupa Asokan, AMS Education Program

Most of us recognize that the ocean is a driving force behind our weather and climate, but it is so much more than that. Comprising the majority of our planet, this environment was once thought to be limitless and infallible. While much of our hydrosphere remains to be explored, we’re quickly learning how vulnerable this chunk of our planet really is. Issues like ocean acidification and marine debris may pop up in our news feeds every now and then, but our daily activities have significant implications as to the health of this global ecosystem we rely upon for oxygen, food, transportation, and recreation, to name a few.

Working as a marine science educator in an outdoor setting, I was fortunate enough to share my love of this wonderful environment with children from all over the country. For many coming from inner-city schools or midwestern states, this snorkeling adventure would be their first and perhaps only encounter with the ocean. The goal in creating this positive ocean experience wasn’t just a cool story to tell mom and dad back home, but to instill a connection and sense of ownership for this fragile environment. At the AMS Education Program, we might not have the opportunity to put students first-hand into a kelp forest or coral reef, but we do provide teachers with the tools they need to bring the lessons these environments bear directly to the classroom. It seems odd to compare snorkeling through a kelp forest to teaching a teacher the fundamentals of oceanography, but the key here is awareness. Whatever the approach, ocean literacy can be a powerful a tool, because knowing is, after all, half the battle.

In a more global effort to encourage just that, World Oceans Day was born. Sunday, June 8th marked the 12th year of this worldwide ocean celebration. Like Earth Day every April, this annual event is intended to create awareness and hopefully encourage stewardship for the environment. This year, thousands of organizations in 70 countries arranged events to honor the ocean. From beach cleanups to film festivals to paddle-board races, there were opportunities to participate in just about every corner of the globe. For those without a local event, social media offered another avenue to join in with ocean selfies and photo contests. Many events even extend through the entire month of June, and you may also find regularly scheduled events occurring throughout the year. Even if you don’t live near water, there are some simple things we can all do to celebrate and protect the ocean year-round:

  • Pick up trash and use less plastic
  • Make responsible seafood choices
  • Watch what you put down your drain
  • Join or volunteer with a conservation organization

As a SCUBA diver, avid snorkeler, and lover of all things ocean, I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying everything that it has to offer. Whether you share my passion or are terrified of the deep blue, live near a coast or are landlocked, none of us lives a life the ocean hasn’t impacted. So let’s all give a little something back to Mama Ocean, not just on June 8th, but perhaps the other 364 days of the year, too.

Photo credit: Anupa Asokan Photo credit: Anupa Asokan

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If you attended the joint AMS conferences—on Applied Climatology and on Meteorological Observation and Instrumentation—held in the shadow of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains last week, you encountered the rich diversity of presentations encapsulating the topics that preoccupy specialists these days.

You heard lessons learned from using familiar tools of the trade, the latest news about new technology, ways of observing drought, impacts of El Niño, and principles of wildfire management.

There was much advice about communicating to the public about climate change, and about the scientific basis presented by the National Climate Assessment. You heard advice from the folks at Climate Central. You delved into how to handle information delivery in the duress of extreme events.

If you’ve moved on to California this week for the AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology at Squaw Valley, you enter a different world, right? From the dark, craggy jumble of Precambrian sediments, granite, and gneiss, you’re now surrounded by the pale glow of Sierra Nevada granite. And from scientists focused on research, now you’re in the realm of communicators bringing science to mass media.

So, you’ll hear lessons learned from using familiar tools of the trade, the latest news about new technology, ways of observing drought, impacts of El Niño, and principles of wildfire management.

There will be much advice about communicating to the public about climate change, and about the scientific basis presented by the National Climate Assessment. You’ll get some advice from the folks at Climate Central.  You’ll also delve into how to handle information delivery in the duress of extreme events.

Déjà vu? Copy-and-paste error?

No. For all the specializations and variations in interests that collectively constitute the American Meteorological Society, there’s a lot in common between even the seemingly disparate branches. The roots in science grow into all sorts of permutations. The mountains may shift, but that’s a mere backdrop for the constancy of meteorology and related sciences flourishing across the land.

Enjoy your meetings.

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With this year’s Atlantic hurricane season getting underway, seasonal forecasts are collectively calling for a quieter-than-usual year in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. With busts in these forecasts as recent as last year, however, is this actually reassuring news?

Mark Powell, a NOAA hurricane researcher who is now working with Florida State University’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, was quoted in a recent Palm Beach Daily News article saying such forecasts, which typically are made before the start of the six-month season, “just don’t have any skill this early.”

They practically don’t. The major players of Atlantic hurricane season forecasts—NOAA, Colorado State University (CSU), and the private British forecasting firm Tropical Storm Risk (TSR)—stipulate that there is only a small increase in skill with pre-season forecasts (i.e., how much better such forecasts are) compared to climatology in foretelling the number of named storms that will form in the Atlantic basin from June 1 to November 30. Supporting this, a talk by Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center presented at the 29th AMS Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology stated that NOAA’s May forecasts for anticipated numbers of storms and hurricanes are only slightly better than what climatology showed had occurred in the previous five seasons. Forecast skill does increase as the season nears its peak months: August, September, and October, which is when 70 percent of tropical storms and hurricanes form.

But even these “better” mid-season forecasts can be wrong. In 2013, early predictions for an active season remained high as September neared, yet the actual number of named storms (13) and especially hurricanes (just 2) fell short of most forecasts, which had been collectively predicting a blockbuster season with at least seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The long-term average number of named storms and hurricanes is 12 and 6, respectively. There wasn’t a single major hurricane sporting winds greater than 110 mph last year, when climatology said there should have been at least three. In a blog post at the end of last year’s season, Jeff Masters of WeatherUnderground.com detailed the reason the forecasts failed: the large-scale atmospheric circulation, which can’t be predicted more than a week or two out and isn’t part of seasonal forecasts, was not conducive to tropical cyclone formation.

In 2012, however, it was, and the opposite occurred. The number of named storms peaked at 19—not only well above average but also the third highest number of storms on record in a single season. Ten of these went on to become hurricanes, exceeding most seasonal forecasts including NOAA’s, which had called for an average Atlantic hurricane season prior to its start. CSU had projected in June of that year a relatively quiet hurricane season with 13 named storms and only 5 hurricanes. With twice that many hurricanes forming, the season blew the forecast out of the water, making it CSU’s worst bust in decades of predictions. Until 2013.

This year, however, hurricane season forecasters feel the chance of the development of El Niño by the fall is much higher than it was in 2012—70 percent this summer increasing to 80 percent by fall, according to NOAA’s 9 June El Niño status statement—which lends significant weight to the lower hurricane predictions.

Historically, El Niño stifles Atlantic hurricanes. The enormous slug of warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures along the Eastern Pacific equator, which defines El Niño, imparts a shift in the atmosphere’s circulation that drives unusually strong winds at high altitudes across the tropical Atlantic Ocean during the season. The induced wind shear—a difference in both speed and direction between the surface and aloft—suppresses not only tropical cyclone development but also formation, tearing apart hurricane seedlings before they can organize.

Research in recent years (Journal of Climate: 2009, 2013), however, has shown that a very different effect can result from El Niño’s half-brother – an anomalous warming in the tropical Pacific that pools in the central rather than the eastern part of the ocean basin. When this occurs, as it did in 2004, it can actually amplify the Atlantic hurricane season. That year, four hurricanes—three of them major, including Charley with 150 mph winds—slammed Florida. There were 15 named storms that year.

No forecasters expect a repeat of the devastating 2004 hurricane season. But, already we’ve had a record eight hurricane seasons without landfall of a major hurricane in the United States nor any category hurricane striking Florida. The last one was Wilma in 2005, which hit as a major hurricane.

Whether or not forecasts are accurate this early in the season, the old adage still applies: it only takes one hurricane in your area to create disaster. So be prepared.

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by Tom Champoux, AMS Director of Communications

When I was in the fourth and fifth grade, my father visited my class on Science Day a number of times. I remember his visits vividly because he would always bring unique and interesting items with him–things no one else’s dad brought, like weather maps and rock samples. He once even brought in a grainy, amateur film that showed the volcanic island Surtsey being born off the coast of Iceland in the mid-1960s.

I also went with him many times to work, hanging out in his office while he taught class. There, my siblings and I would always find some interesting science toy or activity to play with and learn from. It was during these years that I learned so much about Earth and space science, and it served as the foundation for my love of science that has lasted a lifetime.

Officially my father was an Earth science and geology professor at a small community college in northern Massachusetts, but he also taught meteorology, and later even added algebra and computers.

This week, AMS released a new policy statement on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and reading through it I was reminded of my exposure to science in grade school. I was reminded too of the power of science to excite and engage school children in ways other subjects can’t.

In the new AMS Policy Statement, AMS supports maintaining Earth systems science as an integral part of STEM education–both to provide all students with a basic understanding of the Earth system as well as to create a pipeline of students who will become America’s future scientists and researchers.

The Earth system affects all of us, every day–from severe weather to rising seas, from solar radiation to plate tectonics. Because so much of what we experience every day is part of a very large and complex system, it is critical that all students learn about that system and the relationship between all areas of Earth science.

Most scientists can vividly recall the time or even the moment when they fell in love with science. Like me, many were school-age when it happened. There’s an inherent excitement in science–in looking through a telescope or microscope for the first time, or in creating models of volcanoes or posters showing the lifecycle of common frogs. Children want to understand science and engage in it, and it’s vitally important that we provide every opportunity to do just that.

Tomorrow’s challenges in understanding and explaining water, weather, and climate will be solved by today’s students. And those scientists of tomorrow will need their peers to be a receptive and knowledgeable public capable of utilizing science to solve society’s challenges. Providing all students with the best possible understanding of how the Earth works, and how humans function on it, will be vitally important to people everywhere.

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