A Time for Geeks

January 7, 2015 · 0 comments

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


by Maggie Christopher, Valparaiso University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


New videos from the Annual Meeting in Phoenix continue to be posted on the AMS YouTube channel. So far you’ll find interviews with new AMS Fellow Jack Williams, on weather in the media; AMS Associate Executive Director William Hooke, on the state of the weather, water, and climate community; and UCAR President Tom Bogdan, on space weather science developments at the meeting this week.

More interviews with you and your colleagues, from poster sessions to hallway conversations, will be appearing on the channel throughout the meeting, so keep talking!


There have been many thoughtful questions raised throughout this weekend’s AMS Student Conference, but one question posed at the communications breakout session on Saturday proved particularly challenging for the panelists. A student asked, “How do you educate the public that doesn’t have access to television or social media? How do we educate the homeless about severe weather events?”

Here were the responses from the panelists:

Marshall Shepherd, Univ. of Georgia: I think you’re hitting on a key question. The homeless question…that’s tough. These are the people who aren’t watching, necessarily. That really involves grassroots efforts. TV stations can be involved in galvanizing and organizing. So, for example, I teach a class at the University of Georgia on urban climate, and one of the projects I ask students to do is look at tornado sirens in the Athens/Clark County region. One of the things we found was that the way the tornado sirens were distributed, there were significant parts of the population—particularly those who were underserved or lower income—who didn’t even have sirens where they lived.

So I think there’s a whole notion of increased social sciences and environmental justice and all types of issues that we all have to be aware of and address.  I don’t know the answer to that question you asked, and I think there’s an opportunity.

Ginger Zee, ABC News: I’ve done four stories on that same thing of the sirens, because there’s no federal law, state law, no county law in any state that says there has to be one. I grew up in Michigan and we had them in every single town. It’s amazing to me that there are places that don’t have them, especially in places that really need them but don’t. Requiring outdoor warning systems—I don’t know if that’s going to happen; it’s not going to be funded.

I think the community outreach part is probably your best bet. You guys remember in Virginia this year, there was a camp with a bunch of kids outdoors and a long line of storms on the ground for three hours. It’s amazing to me that they still didn’t have warning. That can’t go on.  There was one kid who died. That shouldn’t have happened, because once they got indoors they were safe inside. If that was a fire and they didn’t have a smoke alarms, we would not be having the same discussion. They would have been sued like crazy.

Weather has grown…our ability to forecast has grown and now the whole policy part of it has to catch up. I think that will take time.

Keli Pirtle, NOAA: The National Weather Service works with local emergency managers to help prepare communities through the Storm Ready program.  I would hope that a shelter, like a homeless shelter, would have a NOAA Weather Radio. That’s a hope more than a reality, I’m afraid.  We can encourage people—churches, nursing homes, schools—to have multiple ways to receive information, to have a plan. A homeless person on the street, they’re in touch with others. I would hope the network on the street would get them the information, but it’s certainly an area where we desperately need to improve.

Jorge Torres, KOB-TV: And I agree with that. At our station, we’re partners with the Red Cross, and with the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico, which helps feed the hungry because New Mexico is, I believe, the number one state in the country for childhood hunger. So we do have outreach programs with the lower-income communities. But that’s not in the form of weather [information] mostly, it’s in the form of talking to them. I do think you bring up a good point that those who don’t watch us, can’t watch us. They’re the ones who deal with the elements much more—the homeless especially—than the rest of us because we have a roof over our head and they don’t.

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At the Annual Meeting each year, past, current, and future AMS presidents come together. In Phoenix today, incoming AMS president Alexander “Sandy” MacDonald takes the reins from outgoing president Bill Gail.

“I hope to make the best use of my years of experience to bring the government, commercial, and academic communities together,” MacDonald comments. “I feel that my theme for next year’s meeting, ‘Earth System Science in Service to Society,’ weaves the many parts of AMS into a common core.”

For MacDonald, that experience is considerable: namely, 43 years at NOAA, with a diverse list of contributions to the science of weather and climate. One of them—his Science On a Sphere® —will be showcased at the kickoff of the meeting in Phoenix. The multimedia system displays full-color animated images of satellite, geophysical, and astronomical data on a sphere. It’s in more than 110 museums and science centers around the world and is now educating millions of people a year about many aspects of our planet.

MacDonald notes that “AMS is unique in bringing together the effort of understanding our Earth and the people who use that information to make life better.” (MacDonald’s career and plans as president are profiled in the upcoming January issue of BAMS.) 

Following MacDonald in the leadership queue is Frederick Carr, who serves as AMS President Elect this year. Similarly to MacDonald, Carr’s plans as AMS president in 2016 include facilitating synergies and partnerships among all components of the atmospheric science community.

“I am honored and excited to be elected AMS President and look forward to helping the AMS provide leadership and support to the academic, public, and private sector members of the Society,” Carr says. “My current thinking is that the theme of the 2017 Annual Meeting will be ‘Observations Lead the Way,’ meaning that in all aspects of our related disciplines, from improving forecasts to making data-based policy decisions, obtaining and making best use of increased observational capabilities will best move our science forward.”

Fred has spent the past 37 years as a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, and served as the director of the School of Meteorology for 14 years (1996-2010) as the program doubled in size and moved into the National Weather Center. His expertise straddles both observational meteorology and numerical weather prediction. He takes pride in both having made significant improvements to NCEP’s numerical models in the 1980s and ‘90s and in the professional success of his students. He has served the AMS in many capacities, including as editor or associate editor of three AMS journals and as councilor (2001-04). He currently serves as cochair of the UCAR Community Advisory Committee for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and on the UCAR Board of Trustees.

“I welcome all members of the AMS, from students to honorary members, to contact me if they have any suggestions for how the AMS can better serve them as we move forward to the 100th anniversary of AMS,” Carr notes. MacDonald echoes that sentiment, encouraging member input at the upcoming Annual Meeting as well as throughout the year as the Society’s Centennial approaches.

AMS Presidents present, past, and future: (left to right) Sandy McDonald, Bill Gail, and Frederick Carr AMS Presidents current, past, and future: (left to right) Sandy MacDonald, Bill Gail, and Frederick Carr


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Time to Bloom

January 3, 2015 · 0 comments

They say Phoenix has made the desert bloom. Indeed, flying into this city or looking out the hotel window reveals an impressive display of urban ingenuity over the timeless harshness of desert climate.

Plenty of papers at this AMS Meeting will examine the pitfalls of this urban oasis–its heat waves, droughts, floods, lightning, and dust storms.

Yet, the meeting will repeat this desert flowering in a microcosm. A day ago this building, the Phoenix Convention Center, was empty. Teeming with people from any number of conferences but empty of water, weather and climate experts…people like you. Now it’s rapidly filling up with a whole community–thousands of your colleagues and their work and ideas. You will hear about new projects, the latest technologies, concerns and hopes for future research and services, ideas for new businesses. You bring your expectations, fill up with ideas, and then leave Phoenix brimming with possibilities.

Arizona, it turns out, is a good place to fill up. In fact there are few more spectacular places to do so. Just as Phoenix bloomed from practically nothing, the Grand Canyon, of all places, recently bloomed from arid to wet, suddenly sloshing with fog. It filled with meteorology. You can, too–the results will be just as spectacular.



A breakout panel at Saturday’s Student Conference emphasized the importance of communication in meteorology. Panelists Ginger Zee of Good Morning America, Jorge Torres of KOB-TV in Albuquerque, Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia, and Keli Pirtle of NOAA discussed what it means to be a meteorologist in the modern world of social media, apps, and soundbites.


The 2015 AMS Student Conference must be off to a great start already. NOAA’s Deke Arndt already made a stir with a striking analogy about the relative meanings of weather and climate. Clearly the gloves are off and the discussion is moving fast. Now is the time to let your guard down and take in as much as you can!


The App Is Back!

December 29, 2014 · 0 comments

The 95th AMS Annual Meeting in Phoenix begins this weekend. Are you concerned that you won’t be able to keep track of everything going on at the meeting? Do you want to be certain that you don’t miss any presentations, exhibits, or special events? Are you looking for some help with organizing all of your plans for Phoenix? We have a solution for you: the AMS 2015 mobile app! mobile app On it you can find lists of exhibitors, sessions, Town Hall Meetings, and even individual authors making presentations. With the app, you can access helpful documents (including maps of the Phoenix Convention Center), keep up with social media activity, watch videos from the meeting, and get shopping, dining, and entertainment suggestions for the Phoenix area. There’s even a “locate me” feature in case you get lost in the convention center–which could be a common occurrence with so much going on!

The app will also provide real-time alerts and information from the meeting’s organizers. And maybe best of all, it includes a personal scheduler that allows you to keep track of your day-to-day plans so that you don’t miss anything.

You can do all of this with just a few clicks on your mobile device, whether it’s an iPhone or iPad, Android device, or Blackberry or Windows phone. And it’s free! So what are you waiting for? Download the app today by visiting this page (and get some tips for using the app here).