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

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.


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


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.


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 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.

{ 1 comment }

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.


by Anupa Asokan, AMS Education Program

From my past life as an educator, I’m used to misconceptions. In fact, I welcome them as an opportunity for a more impactful “teachable moment.” In the outdoor setting where I once taught marine science, this was usually centered around sharks, which thanks to sensationalist media and works of art like Jaws, I often had the opportunity to spout out some random fact about how you are more likely to die from a falling coconut and hopefully allay the fears of every child forced to listen to me. Now, working with the AMS Education Program, my teachable moments are focused less on sharks and much more on the word “meteorology.”

My first encounter with the word was as a young child watching my local TV meteorologist. Every evening, Bill Quinlan would tell me about the weather. I vividly remember being in awe of the fact that he would be focused on something out in the ether and yet somehow knowingly point at the correct spot on that magical, wondrous, colorful map behind him. If you, a fellow nerd of all things weather, are reading this, you probably have a similar account from your childhood, but as it turns out, the association between meteorology and the weather isn’t something that every person stumbles upon in their lifetime.

Representing the AMS at various conferences and events, I’ve been shown many alleged “meteorites” from people hoping to confirm the extraterrestrial origin of their favorite rock. Most recently, the AMS Education Program participated in the Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., last month. This is a truly amazing production and a dream come true for teachers and lovers of science alike, and we were offering a fun, weather-inspired activity: making clouds in a bottle.

The exhibits were separated into sections by topic. The Earth science section had a cool graphic of a cloud, rain, and a lightning bolt. . . but for some reason it didn’t have us. Instead, we were in the space section–“Astronomy and Space Exploration,” to be exact, represented by a picture of a little rocket. Now don’t get me wrong, it is always cool to be near NASA, but where does this disconnect between meteorology and the weather come from? Certainly, the “meteor” in meteorology has always caused some confusion, and  you could say we “fit” in space—forecasting technology and space weather have roots in the study of the atmosphere. On the other hand, meteorology exists if not to tell us the impact of the atmosphere on our day-to-day lives here on Earth.

So there we were, set up in “space” with our bottles and aerosols, ready to create some clouds and conveniently provided with the perfect teachable moment for 325,000 visitors to Science Fest. That is why we were there, after all, because who else is going to teach the world what meteorology really is, but those of us who love everything that it represents, Earthly or otherwise.


Are you a student looking for a camp that provides more than the typical summertime experience? Something that will excite you about meteorology and STEM careers?  Then weather camp might be the perfect place for you.

There are now more than a dozen summer weather camps for middle or high school students across the country (some are for commuters; others are residential). Along with hands-on experiences, campers can get a glimpse of the various careers associated with meteorology.

“These camps provide an amazing opportunity for students,” says Mike Mogil of How the Weatherworks, an organization that spearheads the camps. “The program works to broaden exposure to meteorology, the physics behind it, and more.  Observation skill building is a key component of many of the camps.Campers are engaged in hands-on activities, field experiments, seminars, tours of research facilities, and other opportunities that expand their knowledge in these areas.”

Programs are run by various groups, including local museums, colleges and universities, and even some student AMS chapters. The camps are designed to encourage all students (with an emphasis on reaching bright, underrepresented populations) to consider science and engineering education in college and to increase the pipeline of talented and focused students pursuing careers in these areas. Partial funding for camps is provided by NOAA and many local businesses.

“The camps are an incredible way to help kids enjoy learning,” comments Mogil, an AMS CCM and CBM who often presents at the AMS Annual Student Conference.. “In the atmosphere of the camps, even the teachers become kids.”

Deadlines for camp registration are quickly approaching. If you are aware of other weather camps not listed here, please share them in the comments section of The Front Page.

If you have any questions about the overall camp program, please contact Mike directly.

National camp page

Lyndon State College – Lyndonville, VT

Blue Hill Observatory – Milton, MA (Weather Programs)

City University of New York – New York, NY

2014 National High School Weather Camps

-           Jackson State University – Jackson, MS

-          University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, PR

-          Howard University, Washington, DC

University of Oklahoma – Norman, OK

North Carolina A&T, Greensboro, NC (Science & Engineering Camps)

Arizona State University and Arizona Science Center

Museum of Science – Miami, FL

Southwest Florida

Western Kentucky University – Bowling Green, KY

St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO

University of Nebraska – Lincoln, NE

Weather Museum – Houston, TX

Penn State University – State College, PA





{ 1 comment }

Time is running out to submit nominations for more than two dozen AMS awards in the atmospheric and related sciences. The deadline for submission is Thursday, 1 May.

Each year the American Meteorological Society seeks the nomination of individuals, teams of people, and institutions for their outstanding contributions to the atmospheric and related sciences, and to the application of those sciences. That means recognition of achievements not only in meteorology but also oceanography, hydrology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry, space weather, environmental remote sensing (including the engineering and management of systems for observations), the social sciences, and other disciplines.

Twenty-five AMS awards, such as the Carl Gustaf-Rossby Research Medal—meteorology’s highest honor—and the Jule G. Charney and Verner E. Suomi medallions, are available to scientists, practitioners, broadcasters, and others. And every year, you, as AMS members, make the nominations and ultimately determine whose amazing achievements to honor with these prestigious awards.

Descriptions of the AMS awards, including links to the nomination procedure, are available on the AMS website. All nominations must be submitted online.

Sharing the May 1 deadline are nominations for AMS Fellows and Honorary Members. The advancement to Fellow is one of the most significant ways the Society honors those AMS members who, over a number of years, have made outstanding contributions in academia, government, industry, and more.

Submitting a nomination takes little of your time but potentially rewards a colleague enormously.

For those nominations we have received and those to be submitted by Thursday, the AMS thanks you.

Awardees and Fellows will be recognized at the 2015 AMS Annual Meeting.


by Ellen Klicka, AMS Policy Program

Very exciting developments are about to unfold at the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC) at Florida Atlantic University: Ocean current energy developments.

Florida-CurrentSAt this week’s AMS Washington Forum, Dr. Camille Coley, Associate Director at SNMREC, will discuss the process her center is pioneering to get the nascent marine hydrokinetic industry off the ground and into the water, so to speak. Coley’s remarks are expected to touch on the realms of technology commercialization, environmental impacts, the federal regulation landscape, public-private partnerships, and the national energy agenda.

Leaders from the weather, water and climate enterprise are gathering for three days in Washington, DC, as they do every April, to discuss pressing issues, identify business opportunities and forge stronger relationships with federal policy makers. Due to the challenges marine hydrokinetics faces, the field serves as an informative microcosm of the multidisciplinary, multi-sector issues the AMS community shares. Such multifaceted explorations are typical of Washington Forum sessions.

Coley says harnessing offshore renewable energy sources could improve U.S. energy security. The oil price spike of the mid-2000s revived the U.S. Department of Energy’s original 1970s interest in what was then a fringe area of science involving the conversion of kinetic energy from ocean waves, tides and currents.

Resource assessments showed Southeastern Florida as a potential goldmine of ocean current resources, and the SNMREC was born in 2007. Wave and tidal energy technologies have seen a slightly clearer path from research to deployment because the action occurs near the shore in waters regulated at the state level, where establishing procedures can be a more nimble process than at the federal level. Currents strong enough to generate energy are found on the Outer Continental Shelf at least 12 miles offshore, in federal waters.

Nearly five years ago, SNMREC began working with the Minerals Management Service, now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), to obtain the first lease ever to be granted to install turbines on the Outer Continental Shelf. Both SNMREC and BOEM charted new territory as they took each step. In addition to applying for the permit under an interim policy set in 2007, BOEM conducted an environmental assessment and ensure compliance. The assessment surveyed areas of planned development for possible negative impacts on sea turtle, manatee, shark, deep water coral and other marine species populations. The Navy, NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA all weighed in. Sensors and cameras have been installed to monitor the condition of the turbines and observe any approaching marine life.

The center expects the final green light this month and hopes to have pilot turbines in the water this year.

Coley notes lessons learned for future applicants seeking a BOEM license. Even with funding boosts from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, tight federal budgets have created challenges for public investment in research, development, pilot deployment and environmental impact checks. Private ocean current energy developers can’t obtain venture capital until the technology is proven. According to the Department of Energy’s Technology Readiness Level scale, which measures the maturity of technologies for application, ocean current energy scores a 4 on the scale from 1-9. Private financiers generally consider investing in technologies at level 8. Where will the money come from to drive ocean current energy up four more points? It’s the classic chicken and egg dilemma that could strand this emerging industry in the “valley of death” unless policy makers intervene.Ocean-Current-TurbinesS1

According to Coley, a federal renewable energy standard, combined with loans or tax credits for marine hydrokinetic energy development, would create demand and a secure market for additional renewable energy capacity.

The credits could be analogous to the production and investment tax credits already established for wind power. Incidentally, the Senate Finance Committee is aiming for this week to begin its consideration of how and whether to extend a bevy of temporary tax breaks that lapsed at the beginning of this year, such as the wind production tax credit (PTC) and other clean energy incentives. To date, no federal incentive bills have been introduced to encourage development and commercialization of marine hydrokinetics.

Coley also recommends a reevaluation of the regulatory process to assist timely project development and ensure appropriate attention to environmental and community safeguards. She says future ocean current permit applicants would benefit from increased collaboration among public and private entities, including the electricity industry, research engineers, aquatic scientists, environmentalists and community stakeholders.

Coley will participate in the Washington Forum’s Water-Energy Nexus panel Thursday, April 3 from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm. Can’t make it to DC? Follow the conversation with the hashtag #AMSWF or join the AMS Washington Forum LinkedIn group.


Here’s the third of three posts from Xubin Zeng (Univ. of Arizona) and Peter Lamb (Univ. of Oklahoma), who congratulated Robert Dickinson, Brian Hoskins, and Qingcun Zeng for joining them in the ranks of AMS Fellows by asking a few questions by email. This is the interview with Dr. Zeng:

How did you decide to choose atmospheric science or a related field as your profession?

I was born in a peasant family, grew up in the countryside, and personally experienced the strong impact of climate and weather on the agriculture and human life. When I was a student in the Physics Department of Peking University in the 1950s, several meteorological disasters occurred in China, and there was an urgency to develop meteorological service and research. The university and professors suggested us, at least some of us, to study “atmospheric physics”. Thus I chose atmospheric sciences for the future profession. Meantime, the first success of numerical weather prediction was very exciting; therefore I decided to choose numerical weather prediction as my first subject for research.

Who influenced you most in your professional life?

I am very lucky having very kind parents, excellent teachers and supervisors, and many good friends, as they all strongly influence my life. I can’t express how grateful I am to them.

By precept and example, my parents instilled in me the values of fundamental morals and hard work. My teachers, especially Profs. Y.-P. Hsieh, T.-C. Yeh, and E. A. Kibel’, taught me both the research subjects and methodology. Professors Yeh and Hsieh were important members of the Chicago School, while Prof. Kibel’ was a founder of the Petersburg-Moscow School. Their ideas as well as Chinese philosophy converge in my mind, creating new ideas. Professor J. Smagorinsky showed me how to run a research center when I was a visiting senior scientist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). Taking this as an example, I established a center of numerical modeling in our institute (IAP/CAS).

Which accomplishments are you most proud of in your professional life?

From a developing country (China), I have been thinking more about how China can learn from and catch up with developed countries in atmospheric sciences. My overall contributions to atmospheric sciences are small. Two pieces are worth mentioning here.

Since 1960s, I have paid special attention to the fundamental physio-mathematical problems, such as the well-posedness of governing equations with proper initial and boundary conditions, the internal consistence of the models written in both the differential and numerical forms, as well as some general features and laws in the rotating fluid dynamics. Some results have been applied to the designs of numerical weather prediction and earth system models in China. These work has also attracted some mathematical scientists to this field.

I have also been gradually involved in the new field of the global change and sustainable development since mid-1980s. I proposed a theoretical framework, the “natural cybernetics”, to try to unify the prediction and regulation of regional atmosphere-environment as a problem of system engineering. This would combine massive observations and practical experiments with mathematical models and numerical modeling. I am looking forward to the future progress in this area by the young generations.

What are your major pieces of advice to young scientists in our field?

Carefully observe and deeply think.

What are your perspectives for future direction of our field?

We have seen the close confluence of atmospheric Sciences and other branches of Earth Sciences with the goals to deeply understand and properly utilize the Earth environmental systems. The weather and climate predictions remain an important subject in the future. In addition, the studies on problems related to planning human activities in order to properly utilize and correctly regulate the natural atmospheric-environmental systems have just started, and should be strengthened.