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

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

When I was a teenager my interests were broad so my interest in science only developed through science courses I took at Exeter and Harvard, and I ended up my undergraduate career with a double major (chemistry and physics). I went into a meteorology program at MIT as a graduate student because I wanted a career more tied to nature. Unfortunately, I stumbled into doing theoretical studies that gave me little opportunity for the field work I had imagined. However, I had no end of opportunities to work on questions of great interest to me which kept me motivated to this day to continue in atmospheric science related research.

Who influenced you most in your professional life?

This is a difficult question as I am grateful to so many people who influenced my professional career. It would be easier to name “the hundred most”. However, in narrowing it down to one, I have to pick my thesis advisor Victor Starr, since his broad interests and approach to scientific research, as a generally enjoyable and relaxing activity, using theoretical reasoning and observations to reveal and interpret basic physical processes, was conveyed to me at a very impressionable age and so had a strong impact on all my future work.

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

I spent much of my career at NCAR, doing many things, and in the early seventies worked with Steve Schneider and others to develop an NCAR climate research initiative, and evolve many of the concepts used today involving climate forcing and feedbacks. That led me a few years later to my learning how to use General Circulation models and to a recognition that their land part was their weakest component, given its overall importance in the system. My consequent efforts to make a better such component model forced me to learn all I could learn about vegetation and leaves. To do this forced me to borrow concepts from many people and learn the need for extensive interdisciplinary activity to be able to make meaningful progress on such a model.

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

Making successful progress in research requires a lot of long hours and hard work so it must be fun for you to put in the effort needed.

Your work will have a much bigger impact if communicated and recognized by many people. You need to write effective papers and to give good oral presentations to have such impact and recognition.

What are your perspectives for future direction of our field?

I think young scientists are better able to answer this than I, so I only suggest a framework: the most important future directions will involve some combination of advancing basic science, responding to societal needs, and employing new technologies. I think at least two of these characteristics are needed for a future direction to be important.



Some AMS Annual Meeting attendees may have been surprised when Andy Revkin pulled out his guitar at the Presidential Forum on Monday. Maybe they didn’t know that Revkin is an accomplished songwriter and performer who has already recorded an album. But they certainly appreciated that singing about the perils of flash flooding in Colorado is a way for Revkin to show by example what he means when he writes:

. . .the gap between information and impact can also be substantially reduced (without a large financial cost) simply if more scientists and scholars, and their institutions, think creatively about ways to expand their communication circles and pathways.

Even for those of us who can’t croon, Revkin’s advice should not fall on deaf ears. This year’s meeting provides many examples of scientists with a penchant for creative communication. We’re thinking of, for example, the weather wordsmiths who came up titles like “Science with a Vengeance” and “Confessions of a Faculty Convert”; who came up with terms like “CubeOpera, ” “Consensus Gap,” and “Extreme Citizen Science.” Or who are willing to do this in a parked car to demonstrate the dangers of heat.

Qingcun Zeng is one of our many talented community members who can go the extra mile for creative climate communication. Zeng is one of the three newly anointed AMS Honorary Members who will be honored at tonight’s banquet (more on all of them, shortly, in this blog). His research interests have ranged from general circulation modeling to climate change, but his abilities as a poet and translator fit perfectly with the ongoing discussions here about thinking a fresh ways of talking about science and nature.

Here is a selection of his verse (the first two of the set of four shown in his elegant calligraphy and then in translation below). We hope it motivates you to do a little “extreme communicating” of your own:


Four Seasons in Beijing Suburb
Qing-Cun Zeng
1. Early Spring
Spring blooms just on the Equinox,
Tender yellow leaves of young grass appear over moist soil near creeks.
Northerly gusts blow away depressive russet flowers from high poplar’s branches,
While peach trees by the warm southern wall of houses,
are happily in blossom like glittering red dress.
2. Thunderstorm in Summer
Darkening sky and deep rumble of thunder stop my writing,
Suddenly appears heavy rain, rotating wind, followed by clear sky.
It is a wonderful moment to look around and see far into the horizon,
An endless vision of blue mountains and green fields.
3. Deep Autumn
Lotus leaves are harvested, with their broad roots for a delicious dish,
The golden color and fragrant smell of rice fields follow the cool westerly wind.
Innumerable high-flying cirrus arrays cast no shadows on the ground,
The majestic blue mountain ranges are ready to receive the tired setting sun.
4. Auspicious Snow in Late Winter
There was a lunar halo with faint moonshine last night,
Heavy snowflakes like innumerable goose plumes,
filling the sky the following morning,
As the snow begins to melt I feel even colder than during snowfall,
But my heart is warm with excitement about the prospect of a good wheat harvest.



Listening to interesting presentations from experts, encountering new ideas, chatting with old friends, and meeting new ones. This doesn’t have to stop in Atlanta: AMS local chapters provide the same networking opportunities and learning experiences all year long. Fortunately, the AMS Annual Meeting is a great time to find out more about them.

Local chapters have been a part of the American Meteorological Society’s framework almost from the beginning, with the first chapter formed in Boston in 1929. Whether you are a meteorology student or a professional, AMS chapters offer a superabundance of opportunities, from community outreach projects that further AMS goals, to engaging presentations from scientific leaders, to interactions with others in the profession. The likes of Louis Uccellini, director of the NWS; Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center; Ginger Zee, Good Morning America meteorologist; Bryan Norcross, Weather Channel meteorologist; and Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center have all captivated hundreds of members at local chapter meetings.

Local Chapters are active in many other ways. Members participate in

  • student-run television weather shows
  • collaborations with emergency managers to develop newspaper articles and storm safety tips
  • tours of local news stations and NWS offices
  • public school programs aimed at encouraging 
ethnically diverse 
students to pursue STEM degrees
  • mixers for networking with meteorologists in all sectors of the field
  • conferences such as the Annual Northeastern Storm Conference (which is in its 39th year)

This week at the Annual Meeting check out the Local Chapter poster display in Hall C3 and read about each chapter’s history and recent activities. You can also stop by the Local Chapter Booth at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall (Booth 415) and take a look at a map showing the locations of each chapter. With 64 regular chapters and 74 student chapters throughout the US and Puerto Rico, there is bound to be a local chapter near you.

If you are unable to attend the Annual Meeting this year, worry not. Visit the Local Chapter Website at http://www.ametsoc.org/amschaps/ for more information, the Chapter Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/amslcac, or contact the Local Chapter Affairs Committee at amschaps@ametsoc.org.



Congratulations to the Iowa State University chapter, the 2012-13 Student Chapter of the Year (above), and the North Florida chapter, the 2012-13 AMS Chapter of the Year (below).



Saving the planet is a cooperative effort, says William Hooke of the AMS Policy Program. It will also take some humility, scientific savvy, a willingness to act on limited information, and an understanding of when to approximate and when to be precise. It also means dealing with a world of chaos–in short, it means thinking like a meteorologist. Hence, Hooke’s newly released AMS book,  Living on the Real World: How Thinking and Acting Like Meteorologists Will Help Save the Planet.  real_world

“It’s very easy in management to think that what you’re doing doesn’t matter very much,” he says. But, like the atmosphere, the slightest fluctuations have a significant impact and managers in science should consider Lorenz’s butterfly effect. “The littlest thing that I do has ripple effects that expand out and change the world forever,” he says. “That’s an important thing for every one of seven billion people to embrace. Otherwise, we feel we get lost, we’re insignificant in the scheme of things.”

Hooke sat down with BAMS Editor in Chief Jeff Rosenfeld to discuss the book and the importance of collaboration in meteorological research and even management; the whole interview can be found here. Stop by to meet Bill and get a copy of Living on the Real World at the book signing event at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall during this afternoon’s poster session, 2:30 PM – 4 PM. Copies are limited, so it’s first-come, first-served, but the book will be released soon and available at the AMS Bookstore.


Wednesday afternoon, AMS Books will take a bow. Taken by Storm 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane, authored by Lourdes B. Avilés and published by the AMS, will receive an ASLI Choice Award in the historical category. taken_by_storm_cover  The book, which documents both the science of the storm and its social impacts, was recognized by ASLI for “its comprehensive account of this major storm, from its inception to aftermath.” (You can learn more about the book and see an interview with Avilés here.)

The winning title in the science and technology category is Mathematics and Climate, by Hans Kaper and Hans Engler, published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. ASLI lauded the book for “its accessible explanations in key areas where climate and mathematics meet.” mathematics_climate There was also an honorable mention in the historical category: Probing the Sky with Radio Waves: From Wireless Technology to the Development of Atmospheric Science, by Chen-Pang Yeang, published by the University of Chicago Press, selected for “its very thorough, technical history of radio waves and their importance to ionospheric science.”

This is the ninth year that Atmospheric Science Librarians International has recognized the best books in in the fields of meteorology/climatology/atmospheric sciences. The award presentation will take place Wednesday at 4:45 at the ASLI booth (#732) in the Exhibit Hall, and before that, from 2:45 to 4:00, Avilés will be signing her book at the AMS Resource Center in the Exhibit Hall. Stop by, meet the author, and purchase a copy of her award-winning book!



In 1959 the AMS published a tome that became the touchstone document for a generation. The Glossary of Meteorology served its purpose well. So well that a 41-member editorial board and over 300 labored for five years to ensure the quality of the expanded, refreshed second edition of that volume…in 2000.

A lot happened in the meantime in the atmospheric sciences, largely because this community emphatically does not update itself solely on 41-year cycles.

Quite the contrary. There’s this thing called the Annual Meeting, for example. Refreshing our knowledge, contacts, perspectives, and priorities is what an AMS Annual Meeting is all about. If you peruse the program this week, you’ll find that practically every session has some abstract or title using the word “update.”

None of these presentations approaches updates with more earnestness than in the world of forecasting, where the pace of update has earned the phrase, “rapid refresh.” That would be RAP, in the parlance of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction: the 13-km resolution, hourly-updated mesoscale system so useful in convective forecasting, energy load prediction, and aviation products, among other things.

This week is a good opportunity to rapidly update your understanding of what’s going on with the newest edition of the RAP (version 2) and the nested 3-km rapid refreshing “High Resolution Rapid Refresh” model nested within it. HRRR is getting implemented at NCEP this year.  Soon to follow are cloud microphysics enhancements and more. Eventually the rapid refresh pace will enter the world of ensembles, too. For more details get over to Room C203 today (Tuesday) at 2:45 PM to hear Stephen Weygandt et al. and then to the Georgia Ballroom 2 Wednesday at 11:15 AM to hear Stan Benjamin et al, and then again Room C203 for Patrick Hoffman et al.’s presentation on Thursday.

It seems only appropriate, then, to give credit to the Glossary for following the forecasters’ lead into the realm of rapid refresh. We no longer need wait 41 years for an update in defining the core terminology of scientific discourse. The Glossary has moved to the Web. Under the pioneering editorship of Mary Cairns, it takes about 50 days on average to peer review new definitions and terms. Then bingo, the word is officially published.

This week, in fact, while RAP is working on its updates, the Glossary came out with one of its own.  The word of the month—or at least in January—was the “polar vortex.” Here’s a peak at what “polar vortex” meant in 1959:

polar vortex–(Also called polar cyclone, polar low, circumpolar whirl.) The large-scale cyclonic circulation in the middle and upper troposphere centered generally in the polar regions. Specifically, the vortex has two centers in the mean, one near Baffin Island and another over northeast Siberia. The associated cyclonic wind system comprises the westerlies of middle latitudes.

As it turns out, observations were already showing that the polar vortex was not merely a stratospheric phenomenon. This was one of the major changes incorporated in the 2000 edition. But during the endless media mangling of the polar vortex during the recent cold snaps and snows, experts discussing the terminology found some problems with the way the second edition had formulated the definition. So…a proposal for a change was submitted to chief editor Cairns. Within a few weeks, the proposal was peer reviewed and resulted in a new definition posted 30 January 2014.

Cairns tells us the new definition removes an inaccuracy and was updated to eliminate ambiguity and define seasonal characteristics of the vortex evolution. There is also now new language specifically addressing a subdefinition for the “polar stratospheric vortex.” It reads:

A planetary-scale mid- to high-latitude circumpolar cyclonic circulation, extending from the middle troposphere to the stratosphere. The Northern Hemisphere vortex often features two centers—one near Baffin Island and the other over northeast Siberia—with analogous circumpolar asymmetry atypical in the Southern Hemisphere. The westerly airflow is largely a manifestation of the thermal wind above the polar frontal zone of middle and subpolar latitudes. The vortex is strongest during the winter in the upper troposphere and stratosphere when the pole-to-equator temperature gradient is strongest. The stratosphere component of the circulation may be referred to separately as the “polar stratospheric vortex.” In summer, the strongest westerly circulation is largely confined to the troposphere, and the polar stratospheric vortex reverses in the upper stratosphere because of solar heating during the polar day.

But enough with the polar vortex, right? Back to our own ongoing rapid refresh here in Atlanta.


In weather forecasting, the past is often a harbinger of the future. In a rapidly urbanizing world facing climate change, however, the future looks less and less like the past. With a theme of Building, Sustaining, and Improving our Weather and Climate Hazard Resilience, we’re facing this problem head on at the AMS Annual Meeting, nowhere more so than in tonight’s Presidential Town Hall Meeting (7:00–8:30 p.m., Room C111 of the Georgia World Congress Center).

The speakers include FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and an IPCC coordinating lead author, Donald Wuebbles—two key figures in communicating climate change hazards and adaptation. Helping all to visualize extremes in the weather will be NCAR’s Mel Shapiro—a master at telling a tale through stunning imagery. This time his tale is Superstorm Sandy, which crashed ashore in the Northeast in fall 2012 with deadly fury. Sandy exposed just how vulnerable our nation is to natural disasters. Storm surge flooding didn’t just wreck the beaches, our playgrounds at the shore. Seawater rushed inland, flooding airports and mass transportation routes and partially disconnecting the biggest city in America—and financial heart of the nation—from its neighbors. The price tag was enormous.

You’ll hear a lot at the Town Hall about how weather- and climate-driven disasters in America are costing us more and more. Multibillion-dollar weather disasters, once consisting solely of major hurricanes and extended drought, are becoming common—even from small-scale thunderstorms. With a climate that’s heating up–resulting in an increase in extreme weather, as Wuebbles will discuss–so too will we see an increase is such megadisasters.

Wuebbles’ playbook on Monday will be the fifth assessment report (AR5) of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Wuebbles was coordinating lead author of the Working Group 1 section, which was released in full form last week. He says he plans to overview its findings with “an emphasis on our state of understanding of severe weather events under a changing climate.” The presentation will include a preview of the U.S. National Climate Assessment to be released in April.

Wuebbles, who is an atmospheric science professor at the University of Illinois, will also report from a series of NOAA workshops evaluating attribution science (in BAMS here, here, and here), which currently supports making useful projections on some but not all types of severe-weather events. Projections of heat waves and cold spells as well as heavy precipitation events are now possible, and “meaningful trends in floods and droughts” are also discernible by region in the United States. Confidence in an increase in hurricane intensity as the climate warms is also growing. But forecasts of how climate change will affect severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, which in recent years have broken into the billion-dollar disaster range, remain out of reach for now, Wuebbles says, but he adds, “By the next assessment we may be able to make stronger statements.”

Even without the financial burden, today’s weather disasters are becoming debilitating. Look no further than last week’s shutdown of Atlanta due to a well-forecast snowfall. It shouldn’t have happened—particularly since the city went through the same thing just three years ago (January 2011), only with a slightly heavier snowfall. No one thought it could happen again, but it did.

Our ability to successfully communicate is challenged most when disaster strikes. That’s where Fugate comes in. As the top emergency manager in the nation, his job is to organize meaningful and rapid response, which relies on successful communication.

The key is to organize lines of communication beforehand, so when the weather becomes extreme, the avenues of information will remain open. But there are other forms of disaster response. Fugate sees resilience to disaster through increasing adaptation as the way forward in a changing climate. By reducing the risk, he believes we can manage to recover more quickly from extreme weather events. Most importantly, in his view, is to turn victims of disaster into what he prefers them to be called: survivors. He encourages neighbors and communities to get better at coming together when disaster occurs and to help each other overcome the odds and survive.

As AMS Associate Executive Director Bill Hooke explains in Sunday’s Living on the Real World column, there are many levels of disaster response, and all of them “need to be mastered.” When disaster strikes a community, its residents probably will look to the top command-and-control such as FEMA to make things right. But at the other end of disaster response is personal responsibility. Each of us has the task before us to take action to improve our situation. We can wait for disaster to strike, but better would be to plan now how to adapt and make ourselves resilient to weather and climate hazards so they won’t turn into catastrophes.


It’s been more than 40 years since Ted Fujita introduced his renowned Tornado Damage Scale – the Fujita Scale. And nearly a decade has passed since top tornado scientists first collaborated with structural engineers to create the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale for rating tornado winds more accurately based on advances in our understanding of the variety of damage they inflict. Now, an effort is underway to tweak the EF Scale further – and the National Weather Service is looking for input from AMS meeting attendees this week.

The effort stems from the observations and analysis of recent violent tornado events: the massive tornado outbreak across the South in April 2011; the violent (EF5) Joplin, Missouri tornado of May 2011; and the Newcastle-Moore, Oklahoma EF5 tornado of May 2013. Survey teams were able to use more than two dozen “damage indicators,” such as wood-frame homes, strip malls, and schools—each further categorized by multiple “degrees of damage”—to gauge tornadic winds. But questions and even discrepancies arose among the survey teams as they scoured the wreckage of entire neighborhoods.

Oral and poster presentations throughout this week at the AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta share information about the damage surveys, findings from reports such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) technical investigation of the Joplin tornado and FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team Report on the Spring 2011 tornadoes, as well as thoughts for improving the EF-scale:

All of these represent on-going thinking about the EF Scale and how to refine it.

If you’d like to get involved, NWS is hosting an open discussion of the EF Scale to acquire feedback on its strengths and deficiencies. Space is limited so sign up today.


“I’m a god. I’m not “the* god. I don’t think…”–TV meteorologist Phil Connors, in Groundhog Day

Your alarm buzzed, you woke up and looked at the clock and then realized this was not an ordinary Sunday. There’s a good chance you are in Atlanta, but that’s not the only reason it feels special today. Rather, it is because you are not just anyone: you are a person in the atmospheric or related sciences about to enjoy a rare opportunity to spend this recurring February prognosticators’ headache called “Groundhog Day” together with a few thousand of your closest colleagues.

This god-like feeling is only possible because the AMS meeting schedule bumped the annual gathering into February 2—a rarity, indeed. (On the heels of the recent, not-in-70,000-year Thanksgivvukah, the scheduling deity is on a roll!)

But is that why you feel like a god? Here are some other possible explanations for the wings on your shoes and the trident in your suitcase:

  • Punxsutawney Phil has done a live forecast on an early morning wake-up slot once a year since at least 1886. That’s impressive longevity, even for a rodent, but real meteorologists work all time slots—morning commute, midday, evening drive, evenings and weekends in markets way bigger than the Nielsen ranked 101st in the country. Gary England, Roy Leep, and others have done that and more—calling rare snows and terrifying tornadoes for 40-plus years in the same major market. What’s four decades in groundhog years?
  • Phil is scared by his own shadow. This week we’ll hear our scientists talk about the value of reconnaissance data they collect by flying inside hurricanes (e.g., Yonghui Weng’s talk Wednesday, 11 AM in C204). We’ll hear about the risks they take chasing tornadoes (such as Jennifer Henderson’s poster S168 tonight in Hall C3).  They even endure “poison ivy, nettles, brambles, goatheads, ticks, wasps, and other biting or stinging insects” because maintaining precise automated weather stations in the woods is a passion (and for a passion about the accuracy of mesonets, try, for example, James Kyle Thompson’s poster 64 on Monday 2:30-4 PM).
  • Wouldn’t a real god simply change the shadow instead of turn and hide? David Themens and Frederic Fabry’s presentation on Thursday (4:45 PM, C203)  can perform that miracle, indeed. Looking for high resolution data to constrain temperatures and humidity in convective forecasts, they point out that “while satellite-borne instruments may reach the required horizontal resolution, it is not clear whether they can retrieve the needed information low in the atmosphere over land, especially if the scene is partly cloudy.” Low sun? Cloudy? Shadow time! Punxsutawney Phil stops right there, but not Themens and Fabry. They’re scientists. Like gods, they have a workaround, so they solve the problem by suggesting simple microwave radiometers that gather data close to the horizon.

Oh, and did we mention that science is very cool these days? The alarm just buzzed, the Sun just rose over western Pennsylvania, and the realization just came over us again that we’re expecting over a thousand people to visit us here at the Georgia World Congress Center (Hall C3, noon – 4 PM). They’re going to be dazzled by technology, experiments, talks, and demonstrations of gee-whiz atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic mastery-of-the-universe science at WeatherFest.

Some of those kids look up to brainy scientists of weather, hoping to become one some day.  Isn’t that godlike enough, even it’s only one day a year?


Use Your Words

February 1, 2014 · 1 comment

In the halls of Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center this week you can say “drought.” You can say “polar vortex” if you please (add some spice and make it “circumpolar“ if you wish).

You will say a lot of things at this 94th AMS Annual Meeting and chances are you won’t get a sidelong glance because you’ll be doing what scientists always do: talk passionately about what words mean and what pixels, patterns, and numbers say.

Out on the street, however, perhaps this is not the place. You may not remember, but amidst a droughty 2011 Georgia was where the governor terminated the state climatologist’s office without warning while they were using the “D” word uncomfortably often. This little scientific wound opened again during the snowfall that became a traffic crisis and finger-pointing exercise this past week in Atlanta. Turns out, it is nice to have a designated expert on hand when—should we say, before?–the weather turns on you.

John Knox, Marshall Shepherd (who are both University of Georgia faculty), and Bill Hooke (of AMS’s Policy Program) have been actively exploring the the flow of scientific information to and from decision makers. But we’re about to get into a week of intense information flow of our own—mostly within our scientific community—so it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the value of words and finding a time to exchange them properly. This week is our biggest opportunity to talk freely.

In the greater society we are basically retreating from to be here in Atlanta amongst friends and colleagues, words get twisted, become loaded, and generally turn into obstacles. The kerfuffle over the meaning of “polar vortex” has been a classic example this winter. Scientists are forced to shovel up the mess.

This is obviously not a problem in Georgia alone. In California arguments over whether or not to embrace the “D” word reached the highest levels of government this past month.  Of all the arguments to and fro about whether Governor Jerry Brown ought to declare a drought emergency for the state midway through the rainy season, one of the most telling was this:

As Governor Brown considers declaring a drought emergency, perhaps he should look to his own citizens as his audience. A drought declaration would not only draw the attention of federal officials. It would also serve as a wake-up call for Californians, underscoring the crisis at hand. It’s time we get serious about water conservation in the long term. A drought declaration could be the first step to real, sustainable lifestyle changes that keep both our water use and our water crises under control.

Sometimes indeed it takes an act of politics to get people to use an important word like “drought”. By contrast, here in Atlanta all we need is for a few thousand scientists to agree on a time and a place.  The “D” word is everywhere. On Sunday evening a team of Purdue faculty and students show a poster (Hall C3) on thermodynamic soundings in a recent drought. On Tuesday (4:30 PM, C213) Ekaterina Altman of the University of South Carolina discusses the role of indices in drought management. And so on. You might even be sick of the “D” word by the end of the week, but not if Mark Shafer of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey has his way on Thursday (C107, 11 AM):

We’ve been talking about the Southern Plains drought for 3 years now. What is left to be said? Plenty!

Use the “D” word. Let “PV” pass through your lips—whether or not you mean polar vortex or, more likely, potential vorticity. Let the words fly.

{ 1 comment }