By Shawn Miller, Chair, AMS Board on Enterprise Economic Development

Fellow stakeholders in the weather, water, and climate enterprise, as chair of the AMS Board on Enterprise Economic Development (BEED), I would like to invite you to participate in the 2015 AMS Washington Forum, April 21-23 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Building, 1200 New York Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.

Organized by the AMS BEED, the purpose of the annual AMS Washington Forum is to provide an opportunity for members of the weather, water, and climate community to meet with senior federal agency officials, congressional staff, and other community members to hear about the status of current programs, learn about new initiatives, discuss issues of interest to our community, identify business opportunities, and speak out about data and other needs.

The 2015 AMS Washington Forum will focus on end users of weather, water, and climate data, returning to the theme of past years’ User Forum events conducted by the AMS. As the enterprise evolves and adapts to changes in budgets and cost-sharing paradigms, heightened attention to the needs of its end users is key to success for all stakeholders. Particular attention must be given to key areas of industry, such as health and the various modes of transportation. The 2015 forum will promote dialogue between the enterprise and its end users toward that end. Several special topics are planned for interactive panel discussions, including an overarching theme session; hospital preparedness in the wake of extreme weather and climate events; weather data needs relating to rail, trucking, and marine transportation; and water resources and related user needs. The forum will also feature speakers on the topics of national/international water rights issues, the intersection between legal and science issues, and commercial weather satellites. Complementary to the session topics on specific user needs, senior leaders from agencies including NOAA, NASA, and other enterprise stakeholders will look ahead and provide updates on current programs and provide insights on new science initiatives and directions. We will also invite leaders from the Office of Management & Budget and the Office of Science & Technology Policy, and from Congress, who will discuss the latest weather-, water- and climate-related programs and legislative initiatives to better serve the American people.

Seating is limited for this exciting event, so preregistration is strongly recommended. Please watch the AMS_PSL list for announcements, or send an e-mail to Gary Rasmussen (grasmussen@ametsoc.org) to be added to the announcement list. Thank you for your time and attention, and I hope to see you in Washington this April!

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At the height of his fame, Archie Williams achieved greater public renown than pretty much any other meteorologist in history. He played a part in a revolution with a lasting impact on society seventy years later. He was a pioneer in another revolution that has yet to realize its potential.

Surprisingly, few meteorologists have heard his inspiring and unlikely story. Now is the time to tell it, especially because this is Black History Month. Archie Williams was one of the first African American meteorologists. His story must be known—a reminder of the perseverance and talent of pioneers as well as the cost of having so few African Americans in our science community. What follows is admittedly unusually long for a post in this blog. But the story is unusually compelling too: many readers will be interested going a step further and reading Williams’s full story in his own words. We encourage you to seek the oral histories from the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.

Archie Franklin Williams was born in Oakland, California, in 1915.  His paternal grandfather was a Spanish-American War veteran and his grandmother a storied leader of the black community. His father, a grocer, died when Williams was young; his mother worked as a cook for a family in San Francisco. They lived in a mostly white neighborhood within sight of the university campus in Berkeley. Nonetheless their means were quite modest, as was common in the Depression. Williams recalled,

Everybody was broke. You ate a lot of beans and stuff like that. I never missed a meal and I never went to school with holes in my shoes.

Racial discrimination reared its ugliness, as well—a swimming hole at a nearby amusement park didn’t allow blacks, for example, nor did some local restaurants and theaters. Boy Scouts were off limits as well, even though many of Williams’s white friends were in the local troops. These conditions rankled him but were small irritants compared to the limits he would encounter later.

Williams had typical pursuits, camping and fishing, building a wooden boat based on plans in Popular Science magazine, playing sandlot baseball. Plus he had won a local contest for his model airplane making—airplanes were a passion. And he liked to run races, eventually joining the track team in high school. Despite success in athletics—the quarter mile was his distance—Williams says he “fooled around a lot” in school, with poor grades to show for his attitude. After high school, he got a job as a golf caddy, but a friend suggested they try going to a junior college. The two young men decided studying might be cheap enough and better than menial work.

A Second Chance

This is where the Archie Williams story takes a turn toward the remarkable. Here was a typical kid, not serious about anything, not marked for greatness. Williams was the kind of indifferent student probably none of us would have expected to wind up in science. How many students give up because they drift through high school? Because they are the sons of grocers and cooks? Because they don’t look like the people who are in various professions?

Williams, however, made the most of his second chance at school. He decided he wanted to improve his lot and be an engineer. He also found a talent for school. He took trigonometry for the first time. Analytical geometry. Physics. Surveying. Subjects came easily. He got A’s. Within a year, Williams had taken enough courses to qualify for the University of California at Berkeley. It was 1935.williams1

At this point, Williams was also doing well in the small-stakes world of junior college track. But—here again this must seem amazing to us today—he had no thought, no chance, really, of sports as a ticket to college, let alone to notoriety.  “I was a nobody. Nobody recruited me…and I didn’t care because I was going to play in the physics lab.”

Berkeley’s track coach, Brutus Hamilton, was of the same mindset—he was an anachronism even then. He was a “father figure” who knew his athlete’s grades, not just their lap splits, by heart.

Hamilton was an exception in another way: There were maybe a few dozen black students at Berkeley at the time, and Hamilton must have known he’d lucked into a special one when Williams asked to be on the track and field team. At a time when many college coaches wouldn’t allow black athletes, Hamilton was open to anyone.

Athletic Glory

While Williams was succeeding in the engineering labs, he was progressing just as rapidly in the stadiums. Sports were an equal channel for his determination and skill. By the spring of 1936 the unknown quarter-miler had dropped three seconds off his best time. He was doing well enough to win the NCAA championships in Chicago. Williams was breaking records. That summer he qualified as one of nine African Americans to represent the United States in the Olympic Games—in Hitler’s Berlin.

The prejudices from the American sports world were, if anything, harsher than those shown to the team when they arrived in Germany. The government aside, the locals were curious:

 I think they wanted to see if the black would come off if they rubbed our skin. Jesse Owens might have been snubbed by Hitler, but he was a hero in the eyes of the Germans. They followed him around the streets like he was the Pied Piper.

Hitler had suspended many of his regime’s most odious rules during the games. The team, by contrast, offered only segregated room assignments for the African Americans and other non-white athletes.

Williams later told the Oakland Tribune,

As I recall, when I came back home . . . people asked me, ‘How did those dirty Nazis treat you?’ To which I always replied, ‘Well, over there at least we didn’t have to ride in the back of the bus.’ “

There was, however, no denying Williams, the world record holder, his position at the front of the 400-meter race. Despite his relative inexperience in top-flight competition, he won the gold medal. Listening to Williams describe the feat, however, you can sense he retained his humility:

Somebody once asked me, “How does it feel to be the greatest in the world?” I said, “What the hell are you talking about? How do you know I’m the greatest in the world? There may be some guy down there in Kenya being chased by a lion that broke my record before breakfast.” I said, “I just beat the ones that showed up that day.”

Teammate Jesse Owens outran all the lions: he won four golds. In all, the African American track stars won 13 medals. They toured Europe as goodwill ambassadors and returned home heroes. Ultimately Jackie Robinson, younger brother of one of Williams’s fellow Olympians, broke the color barrier in baseball and triggered a flood of African Americans into the sports limelight. But Archie Williams, Jesse Owens, and the Olympians of 1936 not only had embarrassed racial supremacists in Germany but also sent that initial–and very clear message–to fellow Americans. The revolution of opportunities in athletics began with these young men.

Sports would become a popular, powerful path to success for determined African Americans. There they were eventually welcomed to show their talents and compete unfettered. Thanks to the zealous Nazi propaganda to the contrary, Williams and his fellow African Americans had exercised an unprecedented power in politics and public opinion. They had achieved at an international scale.

But at home discrimination still kept them out of certain track meets, professional sports, and a host of careers at home. One of those forbidden careers in the late 1930s, as Williams discovered when back at Berkeley, was engineering. By this time his track career was suddenly over, due to hamstring injuries. What might be a crisis for a young, star athlete of today was not for the focused and capable Williams—he was at school to be an engineer. But the campus engineering societies were not open to African-American students.

When I went and signed up for engineering, my counselor said, “You’re crazy. Why don’t you be a preacher or a real estate man or something like that? You’re not going to get any job as a engineer.” I said, “Well, I want to study it, so just sign me up.” Then at the end they arranged interviews with General Motors, Lockheed, and other firms. And he did it, well, almost on purpose, just to show: “See what I told you.” They said, “Well, you have a nice record. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” I knew it wasn’t going to be, but I did it anyway.

On to Meteorology

No one would hire Williams to be an engineer, but ironically the Nazis intervened in his life again. Their relentless aggression would open yet another channel of achievement for African Americans–in science and aviation. Williams had participated in the campus ROTC training even though—ironically—he was not eligible for an officer’s commission even though he wanted to serve in active duty. Furthermore, in 1939, the year he graduated with his engineering degree, Williams was working at Oakland Airport doing maintenance in exchange for opportunities to take flying instruction through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Eventually he was rated as an instructor—and took students unofficially because African-Americans weren’t allowed to teach flying. His background would prove perfect for the occasion.

In 1941, Williams—who was one of the very few black flight instructors in the country—applied to train the first black military pilots at Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama. The new corps of African-American pilots would go on to distinguish themselves in battle as the Fighting 99th Squadron, over North Africa and later Italy and the rest of Europe. Williams’s days as a flight instructor were numbered, however, in part because of his scientific training.120222-F-AW123-003

Williams, still wanting to serve as a pilot, applied for a commission and ended up getting sent to UCLA instead, to the meteorology program. At the time the war broke out, there were only three university-level meteorology programs in the country. The Army Air Corps had only 62 weather forecasters by July 1940; the entire nation had fewer than 400. The war would create a demand for thousands of forecasters and observers—a demand that could only be met by swift, efficient training, and massive enrollment. By 1942 there were more the 1,700 cadets enrolled in the national program and 6,000 completed the training.

Retaining these trained meteorologists in the field was a major thrust of the expansion of the AMS after the war. Some of the Tuskegee weather officers pioneered in meteorology after the war: the first African American weather cadet, Wallace Reed, became the first African American meteorologist in the Weather Bureau. John Willis went into weather technology development at Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory. And Charles Anderson went on to be the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the field and taught for many years as a professor at the University of Wisconsin and North Carolina State University.

At age 27 Williams was considered too old to be a fighter pilot and qualify as an officer that way; so he was ranked a cadet in the weather school. After the course at UCLA, however, he was finally sent back to Tuskegee to serve as a lieutenant—a weather officer—forecasting and mapping the weather, and eventually again teaching introductory flying skills.

We would get up in the morning. Since you had training and weather, you would jump in that plane and check the weather. I used to go up and fly around and see how the weather was, call back and say, “It’s okay to fly.” [laughter] A couple of times we got up there and had to fly away to Birmingham; the weather was so bad we had to spend the night in Birmingham. But it was fun. It was great because I was doing what I liked to do.

Williams and his Tuskegee colleagues were paid considerably less than their white counterparts at other bases. Nonetheless, after the war, Williams was a rare qualified pilot with meteorology credentials and stayed with the air force (as did several others of the 14 total African Americans who graduated in the military weather officer training program). With Truman’s order to desegregate the air force came new opportunities. By 1950 Williams had added a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He flew missions over Korea as well as forecasted for the war from Japan. He made a career as meteorologist for a number of air bases, in New York, Alaska, and California, finally retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1965.

A Teacher’s Lesson

While athletics was progressively more and more attractive to motivated young African Americans, science and engineering, indeed weather forecasting, were slow to attract even highly trained people like Williams. Remaining true to his passion for education, Williams decided he might enjoy teaching as a post-military career. So he took teaching courses at the University of California-Riverside while finishing with the air force and then moved on to teach math and computer science for an affluent, largely white high school near San Francisco. From this position he also did some coaching and reached out with programs for underserved students in nearby schools.

A man who pulled himself up with a rare college degree, who was determined to study sciences, who helped open the floodgates for thousands of talented African American athletes in succeeding generations, who defied Nazi propaganda with Olympic gold, and who defied regulations so he could teach others to fly—such a man left dreams of engineering and experience in meteorology behind despite 22 years in the field.

Nonetheless, he had achieved lasting fame. And Archie Williams had changed the world…of sports, in particular. He opened doors for African American athletes. We all know that revolution turned out spectacularly.

The other revolution that Archie Williams and his fellow Tuskegee weathermen started–in science–is not yet a full triumph. As AMS Past President Marshall Shepherd puts it in his recent blog, preparing for a Black History Month episode of his talk show, Weather Geeks, this coming Sunday:

I actually know all of the current blacks with doctorates in meteorology. If I count them, I may actually have a finger or toe left.

Only two percent of AMS members are African Americans. In the race that Archie Williams wanted to win most of all—education and science—we have not yet reached the finish line.

 

 

 

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In his Dot.Earth blog post today about the impending blizzard in the U.S. Northeast, journalist Andy Revkin addressed pointed questions about storms and numerical modeling to eight “extreme weather watchers” (nearly all of them doubling as media figures these days). Some of them specialize in snow. Some in numerical forecasting. More to the point, all eight are men.

In light of the gender imbalance of his ad hoc expert panel, Revkin asked for reader assistance:

I know lots of highly-respected female climate scientists, among them Jennifer Francis, Judith Curry and Florence Fetterer. But most high-profile, storm-focused meteorologists seem to be men. Please weigh in with names and links to women in this arena to broaden the field of view!

The gender imbalances in atmospheric and related sciences—whether in operational, broadcast, research, or other aspects of the field—are real. A good baseline for more discussion about the situation is a recent article (soon in print, but already open-access online) accepted for the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.  Authors David MacPhee and Silvia Sara Canetto note that the atmospheric sciences have a particularly poor recorded of attracting and retaining women in academia. The survey of 34 graduate-degree granting institutions showed that women hold just over 17% of the tenure and non-tenure track positions, and only about 11% of the full professorships. Worse yet, the percentage of women in academic positions is not rising and not likely to rise in the near future.

The rate of women who were the lead authors of poster presentations at the recent AMS Student Conference in Phoenix was much higher—close to 40%. But the BAMS article and AMS membership surveys show that these proportions fall as students move on with their careers.

This failure to retain women in the field is being addressed in various ways, including targeted mentoring programs as described in BAMS not long ago as well as a more recent National Science Foundation funded initiative based at Colorado State University.

Not surprisingly, Revkin received some great suggestions for women experts from readers. The actual imbalance in the community, however, remains to be solved.

[Note: Updated 9:56 p.m.]

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At the Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AMS premiered a new series of TED-styled conversations called “23|5 Talks,” which brought together some of the leading voices in the weather, water, and climate community.
The first 23|5 Talk was given by Sheldon Drobot, who works at UCAR on providing up-to-the-minute weather information for drivers. On Monday, Sheldon spoke about the dangers of driving in bad conditions and solutions to these problems.

See the AMS’s YouTube page for other 23|5 Talks with Marshall Shepherd, Kristen Averyt, and David Kenny. Thanks for joining us in Phoenix and drive safely!

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Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) today celebrated their 10th year of honoring the best books in the fields of meteorology, climatology, and the atmospheric sciences at the ASLI Choice Book Award Ceremony at the Annual Meeting. Each year, ASLI chooses the best books based on nine criteria:  uniqueness, comprehensiveness, usefulness, quality, authoritativeness, organization, illustrations/diagrams, competition, and references.  oxygen_cvr2

The winner of the main award for 2014 was Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History, by Donald E. Canfield, published by Princeton University Press, which ASLI praised for being “a well-documented, accessible, and interesting history of this vital substance.”  There were also awards given in two other categories. The winner of the History award was The History of Global Climate Governance, by Joyeeta Gupta, published by Cambridge University Press, for “bringing together a history and summary that readers are likely to reference often.” history_global_climate  The top award in the Popular category went to Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future, by Adam Sobel, published by HarperWave, which was recognized by ASLI for “providing its readers with a detailed, clear understanding of the meteorological basis for Hurricane Sandy and the importance of our response to it.”

In the Science category, Honorable Mention awards were given to Dendroclimatic Studies: Tree Growth and Climate Change in Northern Forests, by Rosanne D’Arrigo, Nicole Davi, Gordon Jacoby, Rob Wilson, and Greg Wiles, and published by the American Geophysical Union, for “a clear summary of research from a renowned institution on this important topic”; and Air Quality Management: Canadian Perspectives on a Global Issue, edited by Eric Taylor and Ann McMillan, published by Springer Netherlands, for “bringing together expert views on many aspects of this topic from a Canadian perspective.” storm_surge Honorable Mention in the History category was given to Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, published by Princeton University Press, which ASLI described as “a book that makes this extreme event newly accessible through connecting literature, social history, and science.” And Honorable Mention in the Popular category was awarded to a title from AMS Books: Partly to Mostly Funny: The Ultimate Weather Joke Book, edited by Jon Malay with jokes from Norm Dvoskin, was praised by ASLI for being “a handy compilation of lighthearted humor about the weather and its place in our lives.”

After you’re finished reading the best of 2014, be sure to let ASLI know what you liked in 2015 by sending them nominations for next year’s awards; you can get more information here.

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For the 2015 AMS Annual Meeting, we’ve brought back The Buzz @ AMS, our “on the street” interviews with attendees. If you haven’t been to an AMS Annual Meeting before, these videos will help give you a perspective of what’s happening in the convention center. And if you’re here with us in Phoenix, maybe you’ll be the next one we talk to.

We hope you’ll check out our YouTube channel for the latest buzz from the meeting.

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Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, now says he doesn’t even remember exactly why he went to Bob Glahn’s office to talk that day. It was to continue a debate on some point or another,Glahn2

Uccellini told the audience in a keynote for the Symposium honoring Glahn this morning.

“But I do remember what happened when I walked into the office,” Uccellini said. “I actually walked in and he wasn’t there, and I saw he had this big anthology of Robert Frost. I’ve read two biographies on Frost, I have my own books and all. I just started paging through it.”

An inevitable connection was forged. For the next half hour the two meteorologists talked not about their views on modeling but about the art of a mutually revered poet. Glahn told Uccellini his favorite Frost poem was  “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Uccellini says

Bob assumed that because ‘Snowy’ was in the title that it was my favorite too. I disappointed him, but it’s really a fantastic poem, obviously, from a poetry perspective. The structure of it where the end of the third line in one stanza sets the rhythm and rhyming of the next stanza. Frost said he wrote this thing in about an hour. Came off the farm and this thing had been going through his head. Just blasted it down. You think it’s just about a nice walk in the woods or a ride in the woods and then you get to the last stanza and it just hits you with one of these dark aspects. This really is the basis of his poems.

A friend of mine sent me a book with all of Frost’s letters to his children, and I came across this phrase. I actually mentioned this to Bob once, about this particular phrase: ‘All poetry has said something and implied the rest. Well, then why have it say anything? Why not have it imply everything?’

This really struck for me because, as a scientist, this is almost a crime. You’ve got to have everything exact, what you mean—and this is just the opposite. For me poetry is a release valve and I was wondering why Frost’s poems captured Bob’s attention. I think it was for the same reason.

It was a powerful statement of the creative exactitude with which Glahn reshaped the way meteorologists forecast weather by combining numerical prediction with statistics and probabilities, using mathematics to express a human dimension to meteorological products.

And Uccellini’s favorite Robert Frost poem? “Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter.

Plenty of snow, of course.

[Above: photo of Bob Glahn by Sean Potter/NOAA/NWS]

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A Time for Geeks

January 7, 2015 · 0 comments

Four episodes of The Weather Channel program “Weather Geeks” were taped in the Exhibit Hall yesterday, bringing large, enthusiastic crowds that made the Annual Meeting feel more like an ESPN College GameDay event. Some were even inspired to write haikus. Here’s a flavor of the action:

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by Maggie Christopher, Valparaiso University

On Sunday students presented nearly 200 posters of their research in grad school and summer internships. With so many topics covered, the session covered a variety of perspectives—often multiple perspectives on similar questions.

For example, two students from different universities did individual studies of the socioeconomic factors in fatalities due to tornadoes. But while Shadya Sanders from Howard University compared two case studies, Omar Gates, from the University of Michigan, set one tornado case in a climatological perspective.

Sanders compared the Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, tornadoes in 2011. Sanders looked at the differences in death rates for race, age, gender, and housing structures in each storm. She found, for example, a high rate of death amongst women, which she said is unusual compared to other data she looked at. Women generally will take the suggested protective action when warnings are issued.

Sanders also noticed that in Tuscaloosa people aged 21-30 died at a higher rate, probably because the University of Alabama is located in the city of Tuscaloosa. By contrast, in Joplin, more retail business were located in the path of the storm, rather than houses.

Similarly, Gates studied the effect of tornado outbreaks as climate changes. He hoped to show the risk of tornadoes striking cities. He focused his research on Oklahoma, and specifically the May 3, 1999 tornado in Moore. Gates used reanalysis data with the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), and also utilized 2010 Census Data, which included demographic information such as gender, race, age, and housing units.

Using ARCgis, Gates put together risk assessment maps for vorticity, moist static energy, and wind shear. These maps were then put together, along with the actual storm track, to locate the highest risk of tornadoes for that day.

Even with different approaches, Shayda and Gates had similar goals for their work. Shayda held focus groups in both cities to see what kinds of warnings citizens would find most helpful. She wants to insure that warnings get out to everyone, and she hopes to continue her research throughout the rest of the United States. Similarly, Gates hopes that continuing to look at the socioeconomic effects of tornadoes will lead to watches, outlooks, and warnings that are easier for people to decipher, saving lives.

 

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Speakers at the Presidential Forum looked back, looked ahead, quoted Yogi Berra and Wayne Gretzky, and made attendees think about how far meteorology has come…and how far it could go in the future. Here are a few Twitter highlights:

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