The scars from Superstorm Sandy remain evident, even a year after it blasted the North Atlantic coast. In some areas, the cleanup and rebuilding continue in very tangible ways, while for others, the damage cannot simply be repaired with tools and lumber. And while the healing continues, so also does the effort throughout the scientific and emergency planning communities to understand exactly what happened—and to ensure we’re better prepared for the next storm.

At NCAR, scientists have been studying simulations of Sandy in the Advanced Hurricane WRF, NCAR’s hurricane-oriented version of the Weather Research and Forecasting model. Some of their research was discussed at August’s AMS Conference on Mesoscale Meteorology, and a paper detailing their work will be published shortly in Monthly Weather Review. Their key finding was that Sandy combined elements of many familiar phenomena that “hadn’t been previously shown to come together in such a way near a major coastline,” according to NCAR’s Bob Henson, who detailed the findings in this article. He wrote:

Strong winter storms at sea sometimes develop pockets of warm air within their cold cores—a process known as warm seclusion, first characterized by Shapiro and Daniel Keyser. However, in this case, the warm air being secluded was already present in Sandy’s inner core. This is the first time such a dramatic warm seclusion has been documented in a landfalling U.S. hurricane.

While Superstorm Sandy was a highly unusual phenomenon from a scientific standpoint, it also presented new and unique challenges in other ways; for example, its path through the northeast United States took it through heavily populated–and in some cases, particularly vulnerable–areas.  Sandy’s impact on the built environment makes it an especially appropriate example of the theme of the 2014 AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta. During that meeting, the lessons that Sandy reveals about future extreme events will be explored at a special conference titled “Superstorm Sandy and the Built Environment: New Perspectives, Opportunities and Tools.” This conference will focus on three complementary elements of the storm: prediction and preparedness; response and recovery; and, particularly, new perspectives, opportunities, tools, and imperatives for the future built environment. The broad range of topics to be discussed include storm evolution and prediction; communication about the storm through the media; impacts on lives, property, and infrastructure; and preparation and response. The complete schedule for the conference can be found here.

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The Front Page received the following note from John Nielsen-Gammon, Regents Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University; Texas State Climatologist; and a Fellow of AMS:

A Message To Fellow Physical Scientists

I’m part of a new journalistic endeavor called the Climate Change National Forum and Review.  The purpose of this web site will be to provide a public forum wherein scientists can discuss the latest research on climate change and share and debate ideas on aspects of climate change especially relevant to policymaking.  When the second phase kicks in, policy experts will join the discussion and compare the benefits and costs of possible responses.

I know what you’re thinking: “This sounds an awful lot like the IPCC.”  Well, it’s not.  Nor is it intended to replace the IPCC in any way.  It has a different purview and a different set of goals.

  • The IPCC is an international body. The CCNFR is focused on issues facing the United States.
  • The IPCC scientists are selected from nominees from various countries. The CCNFR scientists consist of anyone who contributes regularly and constructively to the discussion.
  • The IPCC produces reports every few years, whose summaries are edited and ratified by political representatives. The CCNFR web site is a living document, continuously updated to account for the latest science, and not subject to political interference.
  • The IPCC’s purview is anthropogenic climate change. The CCNFR’s purview is climate change in all its causes and manifestations.  Would it make sense to only adapt to anthropogenic climate change?
  • The IPCC reports are written by experts within their subject fields. The CCNFR will draw upon the expertise and experience of scientists from a wide range of fields, not just insiders.
  • The public gets to see the IPCC final report. The public gets to see scientists grappling with, understanding, and debating the issues.

For me, this last point is an important one.  The public can benefit tremendously from being able to see how scientists think and reason scientifically.  We ask them to trust our collective scientific wisdom without allowing them to see how we evaluate conflicting or flawed evidence and develop judgments.  Presently, the only extensive example of this available to the public is the set of emails from Climategate.

Why should you participate?  First, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of climate science.  Perhaps you’ve just taken the IPCC reports on faith, trusting the experts to do a good job.  Whether they did or not, you will be better able to articulate the issues and explain them to others after exchanging ideas, digging into some of the primary literature, and fleshing out any questions that might be nagging you in the back of your mind.

It should be obvious by now that you don’t need to be a climate scientist to participate, as long as you have a suitable technical background.  Indeed, we need at least some people who know relatively little about the state of the art of climate science, for their intellectual journey while participating in the CCNFR is similar to the journeys we hope dedicated lay readers will take.  Outsiders to climate science can better spot the unspoken assumptions and unjustified conventions.

Your learning will come through the course of online debate and discussion with other scientists.  As you probably know from personal experience, discussion with other scientists is often the absolute best way to come to grips with a contentious or controversial scientific issue.  Along the way, you will develop skills as a writer for an outside audience.

Finally, you will be doing a public service, simultaneously helping to educate the public about climate change and about science in general.

On the negative side, it requires time, though not a whole lot.  We’re only asking for participants to contribute new essays once a month, plus participate in some of the online discussions with other scientists.  Compared to starting your own blog, this is a relatively easy way to bring your ideas and judgment into public view.

Scientists who think they know everything about climate change are not welcome to participate.  If you’re an expert in a particular branch and want to broaden your knowledge, or even if this is something outside your expertise entirely so that you have a lot you want to learn, then come join us.

The link above that John provides is a beta form of the CCNFR web site. To facilitate your postings explaining, debating, and discussing climate science–and to keep the site tied to issues in the news and policymaking–the CCNFR hopes to provide a steady stream of news and statements culled even-handedly  from the media by a professional journalist.

As such, this is not only a time to consider getting in on the ground floor of a new public outreach project but also a time to consider making a donation. The CCNFR hopes to raise more than $60,000 to get a journalist on board soon.

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AMS Glossary Goes Mobile

September 26, 2013 · 0 comments

The AMS Glossary of Meteorology continues to evolve over time. Originally published in book form in 1959, with a second edition in 2000, the Glossary has more recently been available online for AMS members. Now, online and mobile versions of the Glossary are available to all.

The idea of an electronic, open-access, wiki-based version of the Glossary was presented to the AMS Council last fall by then-Publications Commissioner David Jorgensen, then-STAC Commissioner Mary Cairns, current STAC Commissioner Ward Seguin, and AMS Publications Director Ken Heideman. The Council approved the recommendation and appointed Cairns to a three-year term as chief editor of the new Glossary.

The online version was made freely available on the web earlier this year. With the launch of the mobile version last month, the Glossary is now even more accessible to students, young professionals, and others utilizing the newest technologies.

The electronic version of the Glossary has a convenient look-up interface and facilitates reader feedback. As chief editor, Cairns manages peer review of those suggested changes–including corrections and new terms–before they are approved. Initial response to the wiki aspect of the site has been very positive; a number of revisions and new terms have already been completed, suggesting that users are beginning to look at the Glossary as a “living document” that can regularly be revised, and therefore will remain up-to-date well into the future.

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It has been known by many names: the Yankee Clipper, the Great New England Hurricane, the Long Island Express . . . or simply the New England Hurricane of 1938. With fatalities estimated at between 500 and 700, it’s still the deadliest hurricane in modern New England history, and only Sandy last year was more costly (property damage from the ’38 storm amounted to almost $5 billion in 2013 dollars). Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the storm’s landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Long Island, and to coincide with that occasion, the AMS has just released a new book about the event: Taken by Storm, 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane, by Lourdes B. Avilés. (To order the book, visit the AMS bookstore.) The first book to detail the science of the storm, it also delves into the Great Hurricane’s significant societal impacts. In the preface, Avilés discusses her motivation for writing the book:

My goal has not been to retell the story that has already been told, although there has to be some of that too, but to take a somewhat interdisciplinary approach to weaving together different aspects–different stories–of the 1938 Hurricane. This includes what happened before, during, and after the event, in the context of the meteorological history of the storm and its associated destruction and devastation; casualties, survival, and recovery in the affected population; environmental and geological changes caused by the storm; the science of hurricanes and of early-20th-century meteorology; and, finally, the added perspective of other intense hurricanes that have affected and no doubt will again affect the region.

AMS Director of Publications Ken Heideman, who wrote the foreword to Taken by Storm, 1938, recently talked to Avilés about the hurricane and her new book; the complete interview is below.

 

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We’re nearing the halfway mark on the AMS 2013-2014 Solar Energy Prediction Contest. Right now the leaderboard is headed largely by teams that participate the most, but there’s still time to join in if you want to have a chance at a prize.

The 130-day contest opened on July 8 and closes on November 15. It is run by the AMS Committees on Artificial Intelligence Applications to Environmental Science, Probability and Statistics, and Earth and Energy, which began reaching out to a wider community of participants last year by hosting the contest on the website, Kaggle. More than 90 teams are trying their skill with statistical and machine learning techniques. The daily challenge is to predict incoming solar energy at a preselected set of 98 Oklahoma Mesonet sites that serve as a virtual solar farm.

Hopefully, the contest will show “which statistical and machine learning techniques provide the best short-term predictions of solar energy production,” say the organizers, Amy McGovern and David John Gagne II of the University of Oklahoma. “Power forecasts typically are derived from numerical weather prediction models, but statistical and machine learning techniques are increasingly being used in conjunction with the numerical models to produce more accurate forecasts.”

The contest website provides input numerical weather prediction data from the NOAA/ESRL Global Ensemble Forecast System (GEFS) Reforecast Version 2. Data include all 11 ensemble members and the forecast time steps 12, 15, 18, 21, and 24 provided in netCD4 files. There’s also a training dataset and a public testing dataset. Basically all you have to do is jump right in and see how well your methods work.

Teams identified as preliminary winners (based on mean absolute error, a common metric in the renewable energy industry) will submit their code to the judges after the contest for verification. The verified winners will make their code open-source, and will be honored (and expected to present) at the AMS Annual Meeting in February 2014 in Atlanta.

The prizes are sponsored by EarthRisk Technologies, Inc., and include $500 awarded to the winner, $300 for second place, and $200 for third. Each of the top three gets their abstract fees waived for the upcoming AMS Annual Meeting, and the top student forecaster gets both abstract fee and conference registration waived.

Daily solar energy data were provided by the Oklahoma Mesonet with the assistance of Jeffrey Basara of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. The GEFS Reforecast Version 2 data were developed and provided by Thomas Hamill of NOAA.

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by J. Marshall Shepherd, AMS President. Reprinted from The Mind of J. Marsh.

I had no intentions of writing anything about the Anniversary of my Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “Dream Speech” today. But as I sit here in the Tate Center of the University of Georgia eating breakfast and responding to emails from the Executive Director of the American Meteorological Society, a flood of realization came over me. Dr. King’s Dream is tangible for me and my career path.

King stated in 1963:

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

I am one of those little black boys. I grew up in a small town north of Atlanta called Canton, Georgia. It is home and I cherish it. Yes, it had (and has) as any place does, pockets of hate and narrow thinking, but my experiences reflected the aforementioned quote. I went to school with, played S.W.A.T with, played sports with, and interacted with white and black kids. I eventually went on to be the first African American Valedictorian at Cherokee High School. I don’t make this point to brag. I make the point because it presents a dilemma in how I view it. On one hand, I feel proud to have achieved a goal and hopefully inspired someone else to strive to achieve academically. On the other hand, over 25 years later, I may still be the only person that looks like me to have given that speech. Indeed, times have changed but there is still room for me to continue to dream for my kids or for cousins that may aspire to similar goals at Cherokee High School. 

But, I want to reflect on my personal career trajectory as a projection of King’s Dream forward. 
I was blessed to be the first (and only) African American to receive a PhD in meteorology from Florida State University. This presents the same aforementioned dilemma. It’s too far past 1963 for these types of “firsts.”  After a successful career at NASA, I returned to my home state of Georgia and am now the Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program and the Athletic Association Professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia. Only 2 years before Dr. King delivered his “Dream Speech,” the University of Georgia was integrated and allowed black students, and now I am teaching, advising and mentoring students of all races.

Another significant milestone and blessing came last year when my peers, the members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS, www.ametsoc.org), the largest and oldest professional society in my field, elected me to serve as President. To serve as the President of one of the more influential science organizations in this country is a privilege and honor. So back to the email I mentioned earlier from Dr. Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. I emailed Keith to inquire how many members of the AMS would have looked like me in 1963, the time of the “Dream” speech.  I guessed less than 10. Keith’s reply:


“Other than (Charlie) Anderson, I can only think of Warren Washington (not sure when he might have joined but probably close to then), and maybe June Bacon-Bercy (though she may have come on the scene closer to 1970), So, yes, almost surely less than 10, but probably not zero.” 

These numbers are not a reflection of the AMS, it is more of reflection of the times. However, in 2013, a relatively : ) young African American that has loved weather since 6th grade presides over this esteemed organization with contributions from all races, genders, and cultures. I am the 2nd African American to serve as AMS President. My mentor and recent National Medal of Science recipient, Dr. Warren Washington (https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/2890/warren-washington-receives-national-medal-science), was the first. 
I owe many aspects of my career to the AMS and Warren Washington. I received one of the first AMS Industry Fellowships, have been afforded opportunities to lead and inspire within the organization, and have experienced the scholarly community of a first-class organization. Warren Washington invited me as a young scholar to spend a week with him at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and gave me sage advice that I carry with me to this day and try to pass along also. Blacks are still underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers and my field is no exception. However, I offered some thoughts on how to overcome this in a recent Ebony.com article (http://www.ebony.com/career-finance/why-african-americans-may-be-left-out-of-the-21st-century-job-market-498#axzz2dGuk9Ktq). One of those suggestions is mentorship and I am grateful to Warren (another Alpha Fraternity brother, by the way) for life. I originally hesitated when approached to be put on the ballot for the AMS Presidency, but then I reflected on how I might inspire some boy or girl, irrespective of race.


There are so many other examples of my traceability to the Dream as the nation reflects on this anniversary, but I hope you see why I say that “I am one of those little black boys” in the Dream speech.

 

 

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When it comes to broadcast meteorology, it’s never too early to begin networking. Matthew Cappucci—15 years old and perhaps the youngest person to give a presentation at an AMS conference—kicked off his talk at the 41st Conference on Broadcast Meteorology by noting he’d be ready for the workforce in six years if anyone was interested. His presentation on gust-front waterspouts was met with an enthusiastic response from the broadcasters and personal accolades from Harvey Leonard, chief meteorologist at WCVB-TV in Boston, who joked that Cappucci could have his job in less than six years.

As notable as Cappucci’s research and presentation was, more impressive is the fact that his work with the local NWS office in Taunton, Massachusetts, has resulted in them adding additional statements to their severe thunderstorm and special marine warnings. His goal is to have other offices adopt the new warning criteria and also have broadcasters use these parameters in alerting the general public regarding threatening weather, including gust-front related waterspouts.

Cappucci’s talk can be found here, and the AMS website now has recordings of numerous great presentations from the conference that took place in Nashville in June.  The meeting featured recent research in climate change, communication, and educational programs; a few of the presentations that got the conversation flowing among attendees were:

  • James Spann, broadcast meteorologist in Birmingham, Alabama, relayed his personal experience on the generational tornado outbreak of April 27 2011, noting that despite excellent warnings, the loss of life was exceptionally high and unacceptable. Being on traditional television and radio and using social media isn’t enough, he says; broadcasters need to use it correctly to be effective.
  • Sheldon Drobot of NCAR presented the development and testing of the mobile alert warning (MAW) application, which blends traditional weather information with mobile vehicle data to get current weather conditions and provides them to users through web and phone applications. His paper on MAW has recently been accepted to BAMS and will be published in an upcoming issue.
  • The panel session on “Naming Winter Storms” included the NWS’s stance by John Ferree, Susan Jasko’s communication perspective on the power involved in naming, and Bryan Norcross on The Weather Channel’s decision to name the storms and how they went about it.

Norcross also spoke on the “Lessons from Hurricane Sandy on Evacuation Communications,” exploring how the threat might have been better characterized to convey the possible expected coastal effects and resulting danger.

And if you want more from Cappucci, he also wrote an article on Hurricane Sandy for a local paper, which can be read here.  Not bad for someone who still has two years of high school to complete.

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A market research report released this month predicts that vehicle fleet management solutions, involving both software and hardware, will balloon from a $10 billion to a $30 billion industry within five years. The Dallas-based company Markets and Markets cites not only growing numbers of planes, trucks, cars, and ships, especially in Asia, but also several trends that tap the expertise of atmospheric scientists: “The environmental concerns, CO2 emission reduction norms, and fleet operators’ need for operational efficiencies are expected to serve as major drivers for the fleet management market.”

The report echoes the message of another report issued just a month ago by the market research firm, Technavio, which touted double-digit growth in the global intelligent transportation systems markets through 2016.

This can only be good news for a weather community that is already essential to fleet management in the aviation and maritime industries, right? Well, maybe. Especially in the area of smart surface transportation, the opportunities are huge, but everything depends on yet-to-be specified, rapidly evolving markets and technologies. This is a formative moment in that market–a drive-by opportunity. The chance to embed meteorological priorities in this burgeoning field–specifically, equipping vehicles to report key environmental variables to the meteorological community–may pass by quickly. Hence, several years ago an AMS Annual Partnership Committee on Mobile Observations was asked to “articulate a clear vision for mobile data that captures the immense opportunities for these data to improve surface transportation weather services.”

The resulting report is available on the web (here). However, in case you don’t have time to read all 88 pages there, or if you missed the multiple sessions on transportation at this week’s AMS Summer Community Meeting, you have another option. Read the shorter version of the report, by William Mahoney and James O’Sullivan, in the July issue of BAMS.

The article, “Realizing the Potential of Vehicle-Based Observations,” stresses that the involvement of meteorology in intelligent vehicle systems is not a given—our community has to be engaged in the broader technological efforts that are already underway.

Whether this opportunity is acted upon or missed (at least initially) will depend greatly on the weather community’s technical understanding and eventual adoption of … unique datasets and their level of participation in connected vehicle initiatives within the transportation community.

The stakes are obvious, both in getting real-time weather information to drivers and in getting that data into the hands of the atmospheric science community. More than 7,000 people are killed, and more than 600,000 are injured, annually in weather related accidents on the road. Meanwhile,

the availability of hundreds of millions of direct and derived surface observations based on vehicle data will have a significant impact on the weather and climate enterprise. The potential improvements in weather analysis, prediction, and hazard identification should have a large positive effect on all weather-sensitive components of the U.S. economy and the capability to sense the lower atmosphere at finer scales than traditional observation systems, which will improve the detection and diagnosis of extreme weather events that affect lives and property.

It’s no accident, then, that meteorologists are eyeing your car as the observing platform for this future transformation. Mahoney and O’Sullivan detail some of the possibilities:

Vehicle-based air temperature observations could provide additional temporal and spatial specificity required to more clearly identify rain/snow boundaries; also, antilock brake and vehicle stability control event data could support the diagnosis of slippery pavement conditions. Even the most common components of the vehicle can begin to tell a story about the near-surface atmospheric and pavement conditions through the intelligent utilization of vehicle data elements, such as windshield wiper state, external air temperature, headlamps, atmospheric pressure, sun sensors, vehicle stability control, and the status of an antilock breaking system.

For all the benefits of vehicle-based observing networks, however, there are significant challenges. For example, Mahoney and O’Sullivan note, “Traditionally, near-surface weather observations have been generated by stationary platforms. Taking observations from mobile platforms, particularly passenger and fleet vehicles, introduces new dimensions of complexity.” In addition, among other obstacles:

Many of the normal concerns associated with dedicated weather sensors—siting, maintenance, and calibration—are exacerbated with mobile sensors, especially when large numbers are to be sited on a wide variety of vehicles driven by people with varying interest in those sensors. The best place to site a temperature sensor on a particular model of car may not be the best location for a pressure sensor, and the best place for a particular sensor on one model of car might not even exist on another model.

Beyond the hopes of placing dedicated weather sensors on cars, there are, of  course, existing engine sensors and weather-related vehicle behavioral data:

This type of information could be made available quickly without deployment of new sensors, it is considered to be the “low-hanging fruit” of mobile weather sensing. However, it presents some very challenging calibration issues and may ultimately not provide consistent enough information for weather applications.

There are also communications challenges: one intelligent transportation solution that is gaining traction involves direct, dedicated short-range vehicle-to-vehicle communications links between cars sharing the road. The weather community, by contrast, will require longer-range communications solutions to gather information from vehicles; somehow short-range, on-the-road links will need to be integrated with other options such as existing cellular networks creates new challenges .

Meanwhile, there are not just technical but also fiscal and institutional—perhaps legal and regulatory—barriers to successful implementation of the roadway network goals. The report emphasizes that there are solutions to these barriers, even though “a litany of barriers…may leave … the impression that mobile weather observing is too difficult, too costly, or otherwise too problematic to achieve on any useful scale.”

The institutional barriers make plain why improving forecast services for transportation was a vital one for consideration during the high-level considerations at the AMS Summer Community meeting, and by all of us in the weather and climate community. Mahoney and O’Sullivan show that the challenge of emerging roadway systems is an opportunity to shape development of the weather community and how it works:

Management of highways and the traffic they carry involves a large number of active participants, including the federal government, states, counties, municipalities, and regional authorities. In addition, the immature nature of road weather management offers numerous opportunities for entrepreneurial innovation, opening the door for commercial entities with potentially unconventional approaches to deploying mobile weather sensors and managing and exploiting the data from those sensors. At this point, it is not clear that, with all the various participants with their differing needs and agendas, the mobile weather observing enterprise is manageable in the normal sense of the word. In any case, there is no overall authoritative vision for the deployment, operation, management, and governance of mobile weather observing capability, let alone a high-level strategy, concept of operations, or implementation plan.

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by James Stalker, President and CEO, RESPR, Inc.

Editor’s note: Because this column has triggered much discussion in the community already, it is important to emphasize that all posts on this blog–guest columns or otherwise–present the opinions of the authors only. These blog posts do not represent official policy or views of the AMS or of its membership. What follows are an individual’s thoughts, and we hope that others in the community recognize, as does Mr. Stalker, the value of open discussion.

The U.S. weather and climate enterprise is exemplary to many nations of the world. And yet, it appears to struggle to maintain its edge—especially in economic development, job creation, and producing constant weather-readiness throughout the nation. While dwindling public funding may be partially to blame, the problem is deeper.

What systemic issues might be holding the enterprise back? Is there unhealthy competition between sectors?  Can we avoid a slowing rate of growth within the weather and climate enterprise? How can we make the enterprise more vibrant and help it stay vibrant? It is important to consider such questions, especially now as we prepare for the AMS Community Meeting this week in Boulder, Colorado.

Sectors and their objectives

Government, academia, and the private sectors all provide products and services to a fourth sector—the users. This user sector is the most important of all, and its members must far outnumber those of the other sectors in a healthy enterprise.

Each sector has a different mission. For example, government mainly provides timely weather and climate information to citizens in order to save lives and minimize property damage. The government sector, secondarily, provides weather and climate information to the academic and private sectors to indirectly support education, research, and economic development. Additionally, the government engages in research and educational efforts itself.

It is fair to ask whether or not the government sector adequately fulfills its primary objective. Huge gaps exist in the weather and climate information available in the public domain today, and there are inabilities to adequately customize data to meet the disparate needs of the citizens. However, the government sector does provide information critical to the academic and private sectors. The fact that the government sector seems to do better in achieving its secondary objective, relatively speaking, than its primary objective suggests that something does not work well.

The primary objective of the academic sector is to educate our future scientists and technicians. Secondarily, it offers products and services to the other sectors. Strengthened weather and climate datasets from a refocused government sector would improve the academic sector’s success in its primary and secondary objectives. A refocused government sector would similarly benefit the private sector in developing better value-added products/services for users. The beneficiary shareholders come from all walks of life, of course, but primarily it is the satisfied customers—the users—who keep the private sector alive and well.

Pathways for Products

Curiously, the “free” weather and climate data model of the government sector can potentially lead to the unsustainable situation in which product and service providers outnumber users. We see this by looking at the various pathways by which weather and climate data product and service providers interact with one another and reach out to the user sector.

Schematic showing various pathways amongst four sectors. Schematic showing various pathways amongst four sectors.

 

All the pathways shown above are currently utilized in one way or another. In the current weather and enterprise structure, Pathway 1, by which the private sector reaches out to the user sector, is competing against Pathways 2 and 3, where the government sector and the academic sector, to a lesser degree, offer “free” data products to the user sector. Even though the private sector provides value-added products, the user sector is made to believe that they can get similar weather and climate products from the government and academic sectors for free. Secondly, since the government sector is focusing on Pathway 2, its production of a strong foundational data for Pathway 1A receives minimal attention.

Even though Pathways 1 and 3 don’t necessarily compete with one another, at least not as apparently as Pathways 1 and 2, the academic sector could increase its effectiveness by focusing its scarce financial resources on education and academic research.

The status quo enterprise structure results in unnecessary road blocks for the enterprise as a whole.

The vitality of the enterprise would get a boost if the government sector reversed its priority of objectives and emphasized, instead, on providing critical weather and climate information to the private (Pathway 1A) and academic (indirectly to Pathway 1B) sectors. At the same time, the academic sector would make a positive contribution to the vitality of the enterprise by shifting focus on improving and providing weather and climate information through academic research to the private sector (Pathway 1B). Both Pathways 2 and 3 would become secondary objectives in the new sectoral coexistence illustrated here.

This suggests that a business model aimed at providing “free” weather and climate information, while appealing, is not sustainable and will lead to inferior products. This model puts the private sector at a severe disadvantage.

The whole weather and climate enterprise will have to realize this fatal flaw. The government sector should ask itself: “Would it be better to invest more of the taxpayer dollars in what the government sector does better than in what it does not do so well?”

With this adjustment, the private sector will become the chief provider of end-user products and services to the user sector directly. This would not necessarily mean the end of Pathway 2, however. For example, the government might wonder if some users would be unable to afford the value-added products/services provided by the private sector. In this case, instead of trying to produce end-user products/services itself, the government sector would be better off purchasing them from the private sector and making them available to those users who are in need of the value-added products/services. In other words, certain segments of users may receive value-added products indirectly from the private sector.

A Path to Consider

Leaders engaged in weather and climate products and services from the three sectors should get together and evaluate the merit of this adjustment of priorities. The government sector would share with the other sectors; its effort would be appropriately split between strengthening the foundational weather and climate information and directly reaching out to the user sector. An oversight committee, sponsored by AMS, could ensure continued implementation of this new adjustment within the weather and climate enterprise. This committee would come up with further adjustments to the enterprise structure.

It is necessary practice in business, government, and academia alike to continually reexamine priorities to ensure economic vitality in a changing society and changing markets. The weather and climate enterprise should be no exception.

 

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by Paul Higgins, AMS Policy Program Director

In June, President Obama gave a long-anticipated speech laying out his vision for climate change risk management. The centerpiece of the approach is to use the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. What those regulations will look like remains unclear, but the President’s intent to reduce emissions significantly, particularly from coal-fired power plants, is clear.

By all accounts, this wasn’t the approach the president wanted to take for climate change. He has said repeatedly and throughout his presidency that he favors a bipartisan solution that comes from Congress. After nearly five years and with the end of his second term approaching, the president appears to have concluded that the political divisiveness surrounding climate change makes congressional action unlikely.

How well the president’s approach will work is hard to know, of course, but it will be particularly interesting to see how this unilateral effort affects the politics of climate change risk management. There is a chance that the president’s plan will ultimately reduce the political divisiveness surrounding climate change, in part, because the approach itself is politically divisive.

Using the EPA to regulate emissions will not go over well with many in Congress. His opponents will likely find it easy to criticize, and score political points in so doing, on both philosophical grounds (i.e., based on a preference for less intrusive federal intervention) and because unilateral executive action is less democratic than including Congress in the creation of a new law. But the very fact that substantive arguments can be made for different approaches may provide an incentive for his opponents to develop and offer those alternatives. That could create an important opening that’s been largely missing for climate change over the last few decades.

Prior to the 1990, Clean Air Act Republicans and Democrats could more easily agree on an environmental problem yet disagree on the solution. Republicans tended to prefer market-based solutions while Democrats tended to prefer command-and-control regulation. Conservative philosophy convincingly won that debate because the market-based approach used in the 1990 Clean Air Act proved far superior as a tool for protecting the environment and maximizing the economic benefits of doing so.

Perversely, that philosophical victory for conservatives has made it harder for the two parties to agree on climate change risk management. There isn’t an easy way for the parties to distinguish themselves if they agree on the basics of the solution. Instead, the political incentive has been to disagree about whether there is a problem in need of a solution in the first place. Once the champions of climate policy coalesced on a conservative approach for addressing climate change, the choice for everyone else became too stark: go along with that approach or oppose climate policies altogether. If there isn’t middle ground and your opponent is for it, then few options are more politically effective than being against it.

Of course, the politics of climate change are, and will likely continue to be, challenging for other reasons, most notably because of the competing and incompletely reconcilable interests of those affected by policy options. But there is a wide range of potential solutions for helping to manage climate change risks. Critically, there is a policy option for virtually any political philosophy out there. For example, Congress could use a market-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously using every penny that the government raises through such an approach to reduce existing taxes on wages, corporate income, or capital gains. The reduction in taxes that would result would be a major victory for conservatives that many Democrats could plausibly go along with. Yet such options haven’t been developed or seriously considered.

That a broad range of potential risk management strategies hasn’t been developed and explored by policy makers is a major breakdown in our policy process. That policy deliberations (and public debates) about climate science are routinely at odds with the assessments of the relevant subject matter experts is a major failure of our national dialogue on the topic.

These failures have resulted, in part, because the political incentives for developing and exploring policy options have been too weak. By moving to circumvent the current political impasse to climate policy through a unilateral approach (particularly one likely to face sharp political opposition), the president may create a new opportunity for a broader consideration of options. If that happens, whether or not the president’s proposed solution is sufficient, he may help to depolarize the politics of climate change and spur the consideration of new and meaningful approaches to climate change risk management.

AMS Policy Program Director Paul Higgins’s perspectives, including this column, will be appearing regularly in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

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