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.

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As society urbanizes, weather impacts are exacerbated in sometimes-unfamiliar ways. Case in point: the snow, ice, and cold that paralyzed much of the southeastern United States this week. More specifically–and more germane to AMS members attending this year’s AMS Annual Meeting–delays caused by gridlock in Atlanta were being measured in days, not hours, and thousands of people were stranded in schools, stores, their cars, and other places that weren’t their homes.

The timing of this unfortunate event is appropriate, given the Annual Meeting’s theme of “Extreme Weather–Climate and the Built Environment: New Perspectives, Opportunities, and Tools.” Even before this week’s events, the meeting was going to be buzzing with discussions about all aspects of weather and climate impacts in urban areas. In the wake of events of this week, that buzz may turn into a roar.

One topic certain to elicit a storm of interest is road transportation–the most visible of the vital, weather-prone infrastructure systems in any urban area. At the Ninth Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic Research, a session on Wednesday (4:00-5:30 PM, Room C107) titled “Observing Weather and Environment along the Nation’s Transportation Corridors” will feature a look at weather-observation sensors for cars, which offer “the potential of turning vehicles into moving weather stations to fill road weather observation gaps.” An equally salient presentation in that session will explore best practices for getting timely and accurate weather and climate information to transportation decision makers.

The 30th Conference on Environmental Information Processing Technologies will include a session on “Road Weather Applications” (Monday, 1:30-2:30 PM, Room C105). One talk will explore the Maintenance Decision Support System, which “blends existing road and weather data sources with numerical weather and road condition models in order to provide information on the diagnostic and prognostic state of the atmosphere and roadway.” Another presentation will analyze driver awareness during two 2013 winter storms in Utah to examine ways to improve communication of hazard information to the public.

The Second Symposium on Building a Weather-Ready Nation will have a session on “Innovative Partnerships in Public Outreach and Decision Support Services” (Tuesday, 3:30-5:30 PM, Georgia Ballroom 2). Included in that session will be an exploration of how the NWS and Federal Highway Administration are collaborating to improve communication and data sharing before, during, and after weather events that have a significant impact on transportation, public behavior, and emergency response. Another talk will take a broader view by examining ways to enhance nationwide environmental education and create a more weather-ready nation–a goal that this week’s events make clear remains of vital import.



For almost 20 years, the electronic journal Earth Interactions (EI) has been publishing interdisciplinary research pertaining to the interactions between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere in the context of global issues or global change. The diversity of EI‘s subject matter can by seen by perusing a list of its titles; a few recent examples include:

Case Studies of Tropical Cyclones and Phytoplankton Blooms over Atlantic and Pacific Regions

Effects of Topography on Assessing Wind Farm Impacts Using MODIS Data

A Spatially Distributed Model to Simulate Water, Energy, and Vegetation Dynamics Using Information from Regional Climate Models

The Ancient Blue Oak Woodlands of California: Longevity and Hydroclimatic History

The Influence of Loop Current Position on Winter Sea Surface Temperatures in the Florida Straits.

A joint publication of the AMS, the American Geophysical Union, and the Association of American Geographers, Earth Interactions has recently made some significant changes. While the journal will continue to be produced by all three organizations, as of January 1 the AMS has assumed all editorial responsibilities for it, from the submission process through to its publication. EI will set a flat publication fee of $1,200 for every article accepted for publication, with partial or full page-charge waivers available for those with funding limitations. And EI is now an open-access journal, meaning that all articles–past, present, and future–are available free of charge to all readers. This continues the Society’s commitment to providing widespread access to research published in AMS journals; research articles in the Bulletin are also completely open-access, and all other AMS journals provide open access to articles that are more than two years old.

EI was an early leader in making interdisciplinary research the focus of the journal, and providing open access to its articles is another example of the innovative spirit with which the journal is produced. The AMS and its publication partners hope these changes will help disseminate Earth Interactions research to the broadest possible audience, as well maximize the influence and impact of the journal. We invite readers to explore EI here, and authors can submit a manuscript by choosing the Earth Interactions link at this page.


The AMS Solar Energy Prediction Contest brought together participants from around the world to tackle the problem of improving solar energy forecasting.  The contest was held on Kaggle , a website for hosting worldwide data mining and machine learning contests.  Participants used a set of NOAA Global Ensemble Forecast System reforecasts as input for statistical and machine learning models that predicted the total daily solar energy at 98 Oklahoma Mesonet sites. Over the four-month span of the contest, 157 teams from six continents submitted over 2,500 sets of predictions. The winners were:

First Place:
Lucas Eustaquio Gomes da Silva (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) and
Gilberto Titericz Jr. (São José dos Campos, Brazil)

Second Place:
Benjamin Lazorthes (Toulouse, France)

Third Place:
Owen Zhang (New York, New York)

Top Student Winner:
Gilles Louppe (Liège, Belgium)

The first-place, second-place, and student winners will present their methods at a special session (Wednesday, February 5, 1:30-2:30 p.m., Room C204) of the AMS Annual Meeting. Specialists in renewable energy and data science as well as all interested attendees are invited to learn about the methods used in the contest and to discuss what value the contest results may provide for forecasts of renewable energy and other phenomena.

The contest is jointly sponsored by the 12th Conference on Artificial and Computational Intelligence and its Applications to the Environmental Sciences; the 22nd Conference on Probability and Statistics in the Atmospheric Sciences; and the Fifth Conference on Weather, Climate, and the New Energy Economy.

You can find more information about the contest here. The winners’ model approaches and codes are available here.


The AMS announced this week that Alexander E. “Sandy” MacDonald is the new AMS president-elect and will take over as the Society’s president in January of 2015.

Sandy MacDonald

MacDonald is the director of the Earth System Research Laboratory and the chief science advisor for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. His career has focused on advancing science and technology toward the improvement of services. His leadership role with NOAA dates back to the 1980s, when he led a group within NOAA’s research laboratories that developed and tested systems to bring data streams and models together for operational forecasters. He received the Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for his role in the development of the National Weather Service Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) model in 1993.

In 1998, he earned the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award after working with Vice President Al Gore to start the GLOBE program, a web-based initiative that promotes science education in classrooms across the world.

More recently, MacDonald invented Science on a Sphere®–a multimedia system using high-speed computers, advanced imaging techniques, and strategically placed projectors to display full-color animated images of satellite, geophysical, and astronomical data on a sphere–which is being placed in museums and science centers around the world. In 2007, he was awarded a Meritorious Presidential Rank Award for his invention. (Science on a Sphere exhibits will be the subject of a presentation at the upcoming Annual Meeting in Atlanta.) MacDonald has also led efforts within NOAA to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems to improve the accuracy of weather and climate predictions. He received a Distinguished Presidential Rank Award for his leadership of global modeling efforts at the Earth System Research Laboratory.

A native of Montana, MacDonald now lives in Boulder, Colorado.

The AMS also announced the results of the councilor elections and the Council’s selection of a fifth councilor. The new AMS councilors are Heidi Cullen of Climate Central, Steve Hanna, CCM, of Hanna Consultants, Susan Jasko of California University of Pennsylvania, Dennis Lettenmaier of the University of Washington, Michael Morgan of the National Science Foundation, and Wendy Schreiber-Abshire of UCAR’s COMET Program.



The September issue of BAMS included a special supplement, “Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective,” edited by Thomas Peterson, Martin Hoerling, and Stephanie Herring of NOAA and Peter Stott of the UK Met Office. This was the second edition of this annual investigation of the causes of recent extreme events. The supplement consists of short, concise studies by various author teams and thus serves as a demonstration of the latest methodologies for attributing specific events to longer term trends in climate. For their work on the report, Peterson, Hoerling, Herring, and Stott are lauded in this month’s issue of Foreign Policy magazine as “Leading Global Thinkers of 2013.”

Foreign Policy called the report “a breakthrough in climate science” for connecting extreme events like Hurricane Sandy to human-influenced climate change. The magazine praised the report’s four editors for “point[ing] problem-solvers in the right direction” on better understanding the causes of extreme weather and climate events. Upon learning about the honor, the four noted that the recognition highlights the value that studying extreme events can provide to global security and sustainability.

“It is clearly an acknowledgement that attribution of extreme events is an important scientific topic—that the results of event attribution research can help guide real-world, climate-smart actions,” Peterson told

The editors also noted that the tribute “honors the collective effort” of all climate scientists studying extreme events, and specifically the 18 different research groups that contributed to the BAMS report. Of course, extreme events will be a featured topic at the AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta in February, as the theme of the meeting is “Extreme Weather–Climate and the Built Environment: New Perspectives, Opportunities, and Tools.”

Foreign Policy‘s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013 are divided into 10 categories ranging from “the innovators” and “the healers” to “the artists” and “the decision-makers.” The coeditors of the BAMS report were cited in “the naturals” category. Others who made the list of 100 include Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis, the Mars Rover Team, Mark Zuckerberg, Shinzo Abe, and the IPCC. Foreign Policy will be honoring the 100 Global Thinkers at a special event this Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Watch for the third extreme-events supplement to be released with BAMS next September.


There is almost 4 million square feet of space in the Georgia World Congress Center–the home of the 94th AMS Annual Meeting. The meeting will feature more than 1,500 oral presentations, close to 1,000 poster presentations, about 100 exhibitors in the main exhibit hall, 45 special events, 36 conferences and symposia, and 18 town hall meetings.

That’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of  activity to keep track of. And we haven’t even mentioned the Student Conference, short courses, lectures…and of course, the most important number of all: approximately 3,500 attendees just like you.  annual app screenshot

The point is that there will be a lot going on at the meeting–so much that you could probably use a little help to keep track of it all. That’s where the new 94th Annual Meeting app for mobile devices comes in. It provides lists of sessions and events, abstracts of presentations, exhibitor information, and maps of the venue. It includes a scheduler that will allow you to set up your day-to-day calendar. It allows you to communicate with other attendees and it provides access to Twitter and Facebook activity. It links to news, photos, and videos related to the meeting that will be regularly updated. In sum, it does a lot to  help make your experience at the meeting more enjoyable and more convenient.

The app is now available for iPhones and iPads (search the app store for “AMS 2014″), Android devices (search the play store for “AMS 2014″), and Blackberry and Windows phones (point your browser to



by Keith L. Seitter, AMS Executive Director

Earlier this week, the Heartland Institute appears to have sent an extensive e-mail blast with what is more or less a press release for a paper that will appear in an upcoming issue of BAMS entitled “Meteorologists’ Views about Global Warming: A Survey of American Meteorological Society Professional Members” (in full disclosure, I am a coauthor on this paper).  A disturbing aspect of this e-mail is that it seems some effort was placed in making it appear to have been sent by AMS.  It was sent from an e-mail account with AMS in the name (though not from the “” domain) and featured the AMS logo prominently (used without permission from AMS).  Only in the fine print at the bottom was it clear that this apparently came from the Heartland Institute.  The text of the e-mail reports results from the study far differently than I would, leaving an impression that is at odds with how I would characterize those results.

If you got this Heartland Institute e-mail, or if you have read articles or blog posts related to this study, my suggestion is simple.  Rather than take someone else’s interpretation of the survey results, read the paper yourself and draw your own conclusions.  It is freely available here as an Early Online Release.

A difference between the AMS and some organizations is the transparency and scientific integrity with which we operate.  This survey was conducted to satisfy scientific curiosity on an important topic and the results are published for all to see.  This is the way science is meant to work.