by Mary M. Glackin, Senior Vice President, Public-Private Partnerships, The Weather Company

Forecasts of hazardous weather have continually improved, particularly over the past few decades. It is oft-cited fact that 5-day forecasts are now as good as 3-day forecasts were 20 years ago. At the same time, the public has more choices than ever in how it accesses weather information. In particular, we are seeing explosive growth in the web, apps, and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet in the aftermath of a severe event, it is common to hear, “I didn’t know” either from public officials or the public at large.

It is this latter issue that the United Kingdom’s Met Office and the Irish Meteorological Service (Met Éireann) were seeking to address when they recently announced their plans to name storms this fall and winter. And to kick the campaign off, they are soliciting the public’s help in picking the names. After watching other country’s experiences, they believe naming significant storms will increase public awareness of severe weather and thus improve appropriate responses to warnings.

Several European countries name winter storms. For example, the Free University of Berlin’s meteorological institute has been naming them since the 1950s, and these names are adopted and used by the media and the German Met Service, Deutscher Wetterdienst. In the U.S. and elsewhere, very impactful storms become named by the media; think Snowmageddon in the Northeast (2010) and St. Jude Storm in the U.K. (2013). In the U.S., The Weather Company (TWC) began naming winter storms in 2012-13, citing the importance of communicating in social media–especially Twitter, which requires a hashtag. Rightly or wrongly, this effort was roundly criticized as having suspect science and for being a marketing ploy.

After three years experience at TWC, here is what we can report: Twitter alone provides an incredible reach where we routinely see more than one billion people receiving tweets using the storm name. Millions of tweets are sent using the hashtag from government agencies, school districts, utilities, businesses, and the general public. These hashtags also allow the NWS and others to find real-time weather data tweeted by citizens that can be used in nowcasts and other storm reports.

The criteria to name a storm are pretty simple: it must meet the National Weather Service winter-storm warning criteria, and it must be expected to impact at least two million people and/or 400,000 sq. km. We use a formal process and a committee of three meteorologists to review these criteria for each possible storm, and while we consider the criteria strict, the storm-naming committee still reserves the right to override the quantitative decision in certain circumstances. Some of the factors that may influence decisions to override the naming rules include the degree of historical significance of the event (e.g., accumulating snow in South Florida, a summer-season snowstorm, etc.); see more details here.  The U.K. is planning a similar system using their two highest warning levels, so names are only applied to the storms that present a significant threat.

What’s in a name? Well in this case, the name is the headline to attract attention to the threat. It is the beginning. It needs to be backed up with easy-to-understand information that details the threat to a specific locale and appropriate call-to-action statements. But, in this information-saturated world, this headline/hashtag is key. We need to recognize the importance of serving people in the way they find easiest to consume information vs. how we are most comfortable in delivering it.

Could we take this U.K./Ireland announcement as a call to the U.S. weather enterprise to come together to see how we could maximize the use of social media to improve the public response to severe weather events?  Twitter is here to stay, and it requires hashtags to separate the relevant information from an avalanche of incoming data. Hashtags are spilling over into other social media as well. It is easy to create a hashtag from a tropical storm name. If we could come together as a community to address this for winter storms, we’d no doubt learn a lot that could then be applied to significant weather at the local scale. The nomenclature could be something much different than what’s used in tropical storms or what we have been using.

What’s important is to lead as a community in this social media era. For our part, we are willing to share our experiences, transition our system, and/or help set up an enterprise-wide naming system. During major snow events, the reach on Twitter has been over a billion. What would our reach be with all of us working together feeding into the same system to keep people informed during these hazardous events? Are we ready to re-engage on this topic as a community?




A primary focus of this week’s AMS Summer Community meeting in Raleigh, NC, has been communication, particularly about how best to present information on weather, water, and climate threats to the public. So it’s not surprising that the meeting has generated plenty of activity on Twitter. Here are a few of the highlights:


A New Web Vision

July 24, 2015 · 0 comments

by Tom Champoux, AMS Communications Director

You may have noticed that AMS rolled out a new website today, updating content and navigation in a brand new design. We hope you like it. This is a critically important step for AMS as we continue to improve the communication of our value to our members, to the greater weather, water, and climate community, and to society.

Many tens of thousands of people in our community work extremely hard to create and share knowledge to benefit society. Our website is a tremendously important vehicle in supporting that effort—engaging, informing, and inspiring people. It is a place for the entire community to connect, share, and collaborate. The redesign helps the website do all this by capitalizing on more up-to-date technology and creating a more modern online experience. website_screenshot1

The new look points the website in a new direction, as well. Immediately you’ll notice the shift in the homepage, which previously tried hard to be all things for all people, inevitably with limited success. The new home page focuses less on engaging members directly. Instead, we put more focus on educating all visitors about how AMS supports and strengthens this vibrant community. As a result, navigation is simpler and cleaner; there are more images to convey the excitement, dedication, and enthusiasm that is so apparent across the entire enterprise.

Throughout, the colors are more modern, and the look and feel better represent the tremendous passion and commitment of AMS members and their community.  We wanted to accurately capture that spirit in this new site, and of course make it is easy to find what’s new at AMS.

We felt the website would serve AMS best by

  1. delivering the AMS’s core assets;
  2. educating and inspiring audiences inside and outside the community;
  3. expressing the value of AMS to society at large; and
  4. creating community, bringing audiences together.

Those audiences extend far beyond our membership. While AMS has more than 13,000 active members, we reach a much larger and vibrant community that includes more than 28,000 Facebook and 10,000 Twitter followers. There are also thousands more volunteers, meeting attendees, presenters, authors, and many others who are deeply engaged with AMS and our work, but are not currently active members. These audiences span the career spectrum, from students to late-career professionals. We reach thousands of educators as well as all kinds of enthusiasts. We believe AMS has much to offer everyone and we wanted to be sure the website effectively showed all the ways we can help the community and society.

We’ll continue adding new content, updates, and information in the coming weeks and months to ensure that the AMS website remains a dynamic, engaging online experience for all audiences. We welcome your feedback and comments.


by Douglas Hilderbrand, Co-Chair, AMS Board on Enterprise Communication

Have you ever imagined being a NASA scientist back in the 1960s – staring at the seemingly impossible challenge to send people to the moon and return them back to earth safely? And, doing it with the entire world watching? For the weather, water, and climate “enterprise,” that grand challenge might well be upon us.

Extreme events are now a fixture on the evening news, captured by miniature cameras and video recorders in our hands, and shared across our network via social media. Yet, heartbreaking stories of lives lost and communities devastated continue. Is this our moonshot moment? Physical science, social science, and technological advances have aligned to where the foundational warning process can take a giant leap forward from the time of lunar landings in the early 1970s to today’s smart phones.

On 4-6 August, leaders across government, academia, and industry sectors will come together at the AMS Summer Community Meeting on the campus of North Carolina State University to engage one another on how to modernize the end-to-end warning process. This summer’s theme, “For the Greater Good: Strengthening Collaboration, Consistency, and Trust to Support Informed Decision Making,” points to the ingredients that are needed to take a giant leap toward:

  • Improving how weather, water and climate threats are predicted and communicated
  • Enhancing information for risk management decisions through better expression of urgency and confidence
  • Supporting appropriate actions by the public

The value of weather, water and climate information is reflected in the decisions that are made, actions that are taken, and outcomes that result. I’m reminded of a 2011 quote from NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, who stated, “Conversation is the seminal technology of all societal change.” The SCM is an important step in bringing that conversation to the private, public, and academic sectors in an effort to help bring about meaningful societal change.

The 2015 Summer Community Meeting in Raleigh will help identify opportunities to collaborate, increase consistency and build greater trust within the enterprise and outward to the public as we take on our moonshot moment. The challenges that we face today may not be quite as dramatic as landing astronauts on the moon, but they are certainly as important with so many lives and livelihoods at stake.


by Paul Higgins, AMS Policy Program Director

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut funding for Earth system science and services. One bill cuts roughly 5% each from NASA’s Earth Sciences and the total NOAA budget. That same bill also cuts more than 16% from the total funding for NSF’s Geoscience and Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorates. In a separate bill, the House voted to cut more than 9% from Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (though the name can be misleading to some, BER houses the research most relevant to our community).

Both bills passed with support from nearly all House Republicans and opposition from nearly all House Democrats. So the cuts suggest that House Republicans do not think as favorably of the Earth sciences as the AMS community might like.

To become law, the Senate and the President would need to sign off on these cuts. That doesn’t appear likely at this time but the paths to agreement for any funding bill—which must be approved every year—are far too complicated to predict. The good news is that Republicans in the Senate (and Democrats in both chambers) appear more predisposed to fund weather, water, and climate research and the President pushed for increases in weather and climate research through his budget proposal earlier this year. The bad news is that the House, Senate, and President must all ultimately agree on funding decisions and even a compromise does not look like good news for our community.

Two contributing factors to the House funding bills are particularly noteworthy. First, the funding for Earth sciences is at least partially reflective of the differing views on how best to deal with the larger budget situation.

The Federal budget consists of two types of spending: 1) mandatory programs (e.g., Medicare and social security), and 2) discretionary programs. Discretionary spending is often further divided into defense and non-defense spending. Much of the funding for science (e.g., NSF, NASA, NOAA, DoE, and USGS) is in the non-defense discretionary (NDD) category.

The President’s proposed budget for NDD spending in FY 2016 of $526 billion exceeds by $33 billion the proposals created by Republican leadership in the House and Senate of $493 billion. Note, however, that even the President’s proposed budget remains roughly $15 billion (2.8 percent) below FY 2010 levels (assuming a rate of inflation of 1.7% per year). So the Federal budget for research (along with everything else) is under pressure even under the President’s higher numbers.

Some of this ties back to the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which made direct cuts to discretionary spending (e.g., funding for science) along with even deeper spending cuts through “sequestration”—automatic across-the-board cuts to both defense and NDD that took hold because Congress failed to agree to a more comprehensive deficit reduction plan (which would have involved a combination of tax increases and more targeted spending cuts). The sequestration cut to NDD is an additional reduction of about six percent.

This overarching budget situation (or conflict) is both a justification for cutting programs and politically expedient cover for those who want to make funding cuts for other reasons, which brings us to the second factor.

The second contributing factor to the House funding bills is the President’s aggressive efforts at climate change risk management. These efforts, which have increased over the last year or so, appear to have angered some, particularly in the House. That anger seems to be being expressed in funding decisions for all of the Earth sciences. At first look, that may not seem to make sense because climate science is a tiny fraction of the Earth sciences and climate change risk management is only tangentially related to climate science. However, the Earth sciences are somewhat easier politically and procedurally for members of congress to focus on than climate science would be alone.

No matter the cause, our community has a strong interest in helping Congress better understand the value of the Earth sciences to the nation and the world. AMS sent a letter to all members of Congress to raise awareness of our contribution ( but similar efforts from individual scientists throughout the country will likely be needed if policy makers are to view the Earth sciences in a more favorable light.

Strong positive messages, such as those in the AMS letter, are most likely to convey effectively the importance of our science and services to the nation.

Weather and climate information helps society manage risks and realize opportunities associated with existing weather patterns and changes to the climate system (natural and human caused). The services that result can include weather forecasts and warnings, flood and drought prediction and monitoring, natural hazard preparedness and response, public health monitoring, disease prevention and control, assessment and management of fire risk, and decision support for water resources, agriculture, transportation, and other key economic sectors.

Thoughtful engagement with the policy process has the potential to help shift the focus in Congress to the critical role the Earth sciences play in advancing the national agenda. That would help secure the support and resources that our community needs to make critical information and services available.


The 43rd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology and the Third Conference on Weather Warnings and Communication kicked off on Tuesday in the Raleigh Convention Center, attracting about 230 attendees. This annual meeting of meteorologists, social scientists, and other practitioners produced some exciting content and conference firsts.

Some of the AMS Communications Department staff sat down with presenters to talk about their research and presentations.

More videos with experts can be viewed on the AMS YouTube channel.

For the first time at an AMS conference there was a live stream of a panel discussion. Marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a panel of experts took part in the conversation about the deadly storm and how we can learn from it going forward.

If you missed it live, you can watch the video here. We did experience visual technical difficulties twenty minutes in but the video recovers at minute thirty.


Last week’s Google hangout on extreme precipitation touched on a number of different topics related to preparing for extreme weather events and the larger goal of building a Weather-Ready Nation. It’s noteworthy that one of the key themes that recurred throughout the hangout was “communication,” as a healthy discussion was evident on Twitter during the event. We’ve captured some of the highlights here, just below the full video of the hangout.



By the AMS Committee on Satellite Meteorology, Oceanography, and Climatology

Accurate forecasting and creation of weather products require large amounts of input data. Satellite data and imagery provide a large percentage of that time-critical information, including the basis of timely warnings of tornadoes and hurricanes, solar storm-induced electric currents, and the spread and concentration of volcanic ash clouds.

But the role of satellites in saving lives and preventing havoc from atmospheric events is not limited to originating essential data and imagery. Satellites make possible reliable and continuous transmission of data to the meteorologists who issue warnings, watches, and forecasts. For example, warning and water-management data from remotely located, geographically diverse terrestrial sensors in streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal areas are transmitted via the GOES Data Collection System. Thanks to satellites, these data get to first-responders and disaster managers anywhere in the country via the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN).

Many government agencies and the private sector have partnered on an NWS initiative called “StormReady®,” which requires multiple methods—including satellite transmissions—to receive NWS and hydrometeorological monitoring of data. Rapid and reliable communications leading to life- and property‐saving responses have never been better.

Unfortunately, the improvements made by the NWS StormReady® initiative may be threatened by recent and future radio‐frequency spectrum auctions prompted by the growing demand to share federal spectrum. Sharing between commercial broadband and sensitive satellite ground stations may be a source of radio frequency interference, which will disrupt weather product dissemination. For the first time, there is a real threat of these warnings not being received by first-responders because of potential interference caused by commercial broadband providers who will now share the same bands as StormReady® participants.

Private sector and federal users receive the imagery and science data from GOES/GOES-R satellites to guarantee data availability with rapid receipt time. If terrestrial infrastructure is degraded, the direct broadcast guarantees continuation of data.

As AMS Fellow Michael Steinburg put it at a recent webinar (see link at the end of this post): “On the one hand . . . we recognize the continued need to evaluate and optimize federal radio spectrum assignments and allocations as consumer electronics, mobile technology, and the Internet of Things experience explosive growth–sector growth that in fact results in significant growth for America’s weather industry, as new devices and platforms arise all over the world. On the other hand . . . this growth cannot put in jeopardy the core delivery methods that are used by governments and America’s weather industry to reliably collect, aggregate, and deliver foundational weather data because what those do is they provide mission-critical, lifesaving weather products. We cannot–as a Weather Enterprise united in our common goals of saving lives and improving the quality of lives for the world’s citizens–allow this to occur.”

The products developed from these satellites lead to the answers for the following questions:

  • “How many miles of coastal population should we evacuate ahead of landfall for a tropical storm or hurricane?”
  • “When does a severe storm forecast need to alter operations for the energy production or generation industry in a region under imminent threat for severe weather?”
  • “How does a mariner obtain the best possible data to enable ocean freight to safely arrive at our ports?”
  • “At what point do volcanic ash clouds, severe turbulence, or near-Earth radiation demand changes in the heading, altitude, and direction of a commercial or private aircraft to protect the safety of passengers and crew?”

Based on the results of the recent auction, which generated more than $40 billion in revenue, the temptation of government officials to focus more exclusively on the enormous revenue these auctions can create will be great. We, who provide the American people with reliable and accurate weather forecasting and warnings, along with the state and local disaster managers who rely on this information, must make our voices heard.

We urge you to be vigilant as recommendations are made for radio spectrum auctions, which may be shared between the nation’s weather satellites and commercial use. Your input to the Federal Communications Commission on the importance of meteorological products to industry segments will be necessary in the next few months to communicate the importance this spectrum plays in weather forecasting. Comments to the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology can be directed to

Two recent AMS-sponsored events discuss this situation in considerable detail. See and


Today at her keynote address to the AMS Washington Forum, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced that NOAA is forming five new alliances to help bring its vast data resources to the public. The partnerships with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM, Google, and the Open Cloud Consortium address the growing need for access to NOAA’s huge—and rapidly growing—environmental data resource.

That Secretary Pritzker’s announcement came at the opening of this year’s Forum is a testament to the sustained focus of these annual AMS gatherings in Washington, D.C. The Forum revisits recurring themes to build year-to-year unity—and progress—to the discussions. Last year, for example, the AMS Washington Forum participants focused on how data integration across disciplines and sectors drives the effectiveness of the weather, water, and climate enterprise. The Forum found that

Working across agencies and across sectors (e.g., health, energy) is becoming a new “normal” for solving problems. All agree the needs and demands for data, information and forecasts are continuing to change, so our enterprise must remain flexible and agile.

Though the context last year was more about the use of commercially provided data, this continuing Forum theme resonates with Secretary Pritzker’s announcement today. The new government-private sector partnerships are part of the overall movement toward “open government”–accessible, consistent data practices—that should enhance the flexibility and agility emphasized at the AMS Forum last year.

Forum participants also generally agreed last year that “while the private sector needs to take on a bigger role in the provision of weather data, the public and private sectors need more time to jointly determine the best path forward.” And indeed at that time NOAA was in an information-gathering phase preparing for the partnerships announced today. The agency issued a Request for Information (RFI) in February 2014 to see who might be able to help move NOAA data onto the cloud. Commercial partnerships would, according to the RFI, help pull together disparate NOAA sources and web sites and help people “find and integrate data from these sources for cross-domain analysis and decision-making.”

Data integration was not the only motivation. Being the main provider of its own data saddles government agencies with burgeoning information technology needs.

In a separate email news letter today, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan elaborated on the scope of the Big Data need:

Of the 20 terabytes of data NOAA gathers each day — twice the data of the entire printed collection of the United States Library of Congress — only a small percentage is easily accessible to the public.

The cloud was a way to alleviate this situation, as the RFI stated:

NOAA anticipates these partnerships will have the ability to rapidly scale and surge; thus, removing government infrastructure as a bottleneck to the pace of American innovation and enabling new value-added services and unimaginable integration into our daily lives.

Private sector cloud services have a history of meeting such challenges. The cloud services are able not only to store the huge quantities of data NOAA produces each day but also to provide opportunities for cloud-based applications. This means information processing is possible remotely so that each user does not need to have his or her own advanced infrastructure to move and manipulate vast troves of data. Thus, working in parallel with traditional NOAA data distribution channels, cloud services are expected to enable widespread use of Big Data and to drive private-sector development of applications.

The continued AMS discussions here in D.C. over Wednesday and Thursday will further amplify such continuing themes as Big Data, providing an especially rewarding venue for participants who can return year after year to the Forum.  For example sessions tomorrow on “Rail and Trucking” and “Information Needs for Water Related Extremes” hinge in part on data dissemination. Surface transportation was one of the panel topics last year, as well, meaning repeat participants this year will have an opportunity to update their earlier impressions and find out how opportunities in that field are progressing.

By reaching out to the innovators of the cloud, NOAA stated it was

looking for partners to incite creative uses and innovative approaches that will tap the full potential of its data, spur economic growth, help more entrepreneurs launch businesses, and to create new jobs.

That’s pretty much the same reason leaders of the weather, water, and climate enterprise return year after year to the AMS Washington Forum.


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Today’s Google hangout on “Women in Weather,” cohosted by AMS and the American Astronautical Society and presented by Northrop Grumman, featured an insightful and wide-ranging discussion about what it means to be a woman in the atmospheric sciences. But the conversation wasn’t just among the panelists–it was also active on Twitter. If you missed the live broadcast of the hangout, you can watch it below, and check out the sampling of tweets underneath the video.