Eulerian Weather, Lagrangian Lives

by Alan E. Stewart, University of Georgia

It is clear that Covid-19 will be with us for a while. So will the weather, however. We’ve been through flooding in Michigan in mid-May; an outbreak of 140 tornadoes from Texas to Maryland in April; a deadly and destructive derecho in Iowa; hurricane landfalls in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida; and massive wildfires in the West. In other words, the weather, as always, just is—it exists and occurs as a series of events that intertwine with the activities and challenges of our daily lives. Here, I would like to borrow from dynamic meteorology and apply the concepts of the Eulerian and Lagrangian perspectives to discuss our experiential journeys through the weather and Covid-19. I also will query what this means for how we cope when severe weather threatens us during this pandemic.

From the Eulerian perspective, we depict the current weather or make a forecast for a given space (county warning area, city, state, region) for a time (6 hours, 12 hours, and so on). We concern ourselves with what will occur inside the grid boxes of a model—what is the flux of weather into and out of the area? Similarly, when we look out of the windows of our life-spaces we see and experience the weather. And what is so striking about what we see is that most of the time the weather seems within its usual seasonal limits—climatologically speaking. The weather is often pleasant. It seems not to have gotten the message about Covid-19.

How could it? The weather just is. Some people have told me that during the pandemic, the closures, and the quarantines, the weather is about the only thing that has remained normal in their lives—and this has provided some degree of comfort. But with a wildfire or a hurricane, this can change quickly. Some of the same states that are threatened by hurricane landfall already have been ravaged by Covid-19.

We can think of peoples’ paths through the meteorological and nonmeteorological events in their lives with the Lagrangian perspective—metaphorically speaking. Life is a journey, a narrative, a path or a force that moves forward in time; sometimes the trajectory changes unexpectedly. The Lagrangian perspective involves the accumulated experiences of the weather through the eyes of the perceivers— individual people. Such Lagrangian living with or “under” the weather builds a corpus of weather experiences that subtly or sometimes significantly changes peoples’ subsequent responses to the weather . All of us are, to varying extents, products of what we have experienced, including the Covid-19 pandemic. So many people—in Michigan, Iowa, California, Louisiana, and elsewhere—have experienced life with both Covid-19 and disaster and displacement.

In dynamic meteorology we learn to use both the Eulerian and Lagrangian perspectives; we segue between the two to build a fuller understanding of the atmosphere. What might we learn and what questions arise when we juxtapose my uses of these perspectives? These are timely questions to consider as we deal with hurricanes, winter storms, and other weather threats during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trust of Message Sources: During the Covid-19 pandemic, different state and federal agencies often have issued confusing, sometimes contradictory reports and recommendations about the virus. How have peoples’ experiences of this messaging affected the ways that they may receive and act upon forecasts, watches, and warnings for severe/extreme weather? How might weather-related messages from local emergency managers or health departments be received? To what extent has the trust in the weather enterprise been affected by pandemic-related messaging?

Risk Perception and Tolerance: People have dealt with multiple risks thus far during the pandemic: health, economic/financial, social, and psychological, among others. Have the experiences of these risks affected how people perceive additional risks from thunderstorms, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes? Because people may have successfully survived an infection with Covid-19, does this affect how they perceive their risks to natural hazards? Do some people feel lucky? Because people may be more desperate for work or to keep a job, might they take additional risks to do their jobs during bad weather? Might some businesses take extra risks in bad weather to build a competitive advantage—to make up for past losses?

Preparation: As word of the pandemic spread, people in many places stocked up on consumables for daily living, leading to shortages of some items. Given how the pandemic has unfolded in different parts of the country, are people still prepared? Have they exhausted those supplies and are people fatigued from stocking up? Are suppliers ready for further waves of Covid-19 and/or a major hurricane landfall? Has stocking up and preparing made people more ready for severe weather? Is there a new appreciation for being prepared for the unexpected?

Sheltering in Place: Some severe weather events involve sheltering in place. Given the extensive sheltering in many places in the spring because of Covid-19, would some prefer to shelter in place rather than risk Covid-19 exposure elsewhere? Alternatively, would some be less likely to shelter in place because they are fatigued from it?

Evacuation Planning: Important questions involve what happens when evacuations are necessary: For example, how can the spread of Covid-19 infection be limited? Are separate shelters needed for those who are infected? How does social distancing work in the close quarters of a shelter? Are more shelters needed? Do the existing shelters have a supply of face masks and other personal protective equipment?

Interdisciplinary social and atmospheric science points to an ever-motivating realization: Often it is not simply a matter of providing a timely and accurate forecast, but it is what people do with the information they have that affects the outcomes. This is unsettling because it is often out of the direct control of the weather enterprise—much as epidemiologists and physicians cannot control how people deal with the risks of Covid-19. Efforts to communicate effectively, educate, and persuade stakeholders about the weather take on great importance. Forecasts and warnings are absorbed by people who have experienced the varying and cumulative effects of Covid-19. Being mindful of this reality may help us to better prepare people and communities.




The Volunteer Power behind Peer Review

by Tony Broccoli, AMS Publications Commissioner

The peer review process is essential for high-quality scientific publication. Most readers of BAMS are aware of this simple fact, but we often hear questions about the many volunteers who take part in the peer review process. What is the difference between editors and associate editors? How do we choose chief editors? To answer these and other questions as part of this year’s Peer Review Week, I will provide a quick look at the roles of volunteers who make the peer review process work.


When a manuscript is submitted to one of the 11 technical journals published by AMS, it is examined by the chief editor of that journal. (Two AMS journals, Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology and Journal of Climate have two co-chief editors.) If the manuscript meets basic standards of clarity, language, and content, the chief editor will assign an editor to handle it. The handling editor’s area of expertise will typically be consistent with the topic of the manuscript.

The next step for the handling editor is the selection of reviewers for the manuscript. Reviewers are also chosen on the basis of their expertise because they are being asked to make a technical assessment of the manuscript under consideration. Most manuscripts are assigned to two to three reviewers, who are expected to return their reviews in a specified length of time.

Once the reviews of a manuscript have been received, the handling editor is responsible for evaluating them and deciding the outcome of the peer review process. The editor may decide to 1) accept the manuscript without revision (this is quite rare); 2) require minor revisions that will be judged by the editor without further evaluation by the reviewers; 3) require major revisions, after which the revised manuscript will typically be subject to another round of evaluation by the reviewers; or 4) reject the manuscript as unsuitable for publication. In making a decision, the editor is not simply tallying the recommendations of the reviewers, but instead using the reviews to make an informed judgment about the manuscript.

Thus the scientific publication process depends critically on many people who generously donate their time. Reviewers are at the heart of the peer review process; this army of volunteers provides a critical evaluation of each manuscript and offers suggestions on how it can be made stronger. Reviewers who have a history of providing excellent and timely reviews are often invited to become associate editors, who agree to provide more frequent reviews, review manuscripts on short notice, and advise the editors of challenging or difficult cases.

Editors are frequently chosen from the ranks of associate editors who have performed their duties with distinction. Successful editors have certain attributes: they are excellent scientists, they have good judgment, and they have superior time-management skills. Each of these attributes is important for making sound decisions about manuscripts, communicating with authors and reviewers, and managing the unrelenting stream of incoming manuscripts in a timely manner.

Experience and accomplishment in per- forming the duties of an editor are among the primary considerations in identifying candidates for chief editor. Although this may be the most visible position among the volunteers who contribute to the peer review process in AMS Publications, it is by no means the most important. Reviewers, associate editors, editors, chief editors, and the AMS staff who work with them are all crucial to the scientific publishing enterprise. Regardless of which of these roles you occupy, you are making an important contribution to an essential element of scientific research.

To get involved, please follow this link to the AMS publications website.

State of the Climate: It’s All Connected

Today’s publication of State of the Climate in 2019 marks the 30th annual release in this series of supplements to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The report is not just a service for immediate use as the latest status report on climate. It’s a resource that people worldwide will use throughout the year, and indeed as a reference through the coming years. The report, now online only, is meant to stand a test of time as a bedrock of other reports and decisions.

SOCcover2Despite the rapid pace of writing, editing, and reviewing, this is obviously not the first (or last) assessment of 2019’s climate. So we still often get asked—why now? Why release in August 2020 a comprehensive, validated check-up on the health of our planet’s climate in 2019 August, instead of in January, when it’s still hot news?

Co-editor Jessica Blunden of NOAA addressed the question a number of years ago, with a helpful look behind the scenes of State of the Climate. You can appreciate, first of all, the amazing job she and coeditor Deke Arndt (also of NOAA) do to pull this all together so fast—they’re coordinating the work of more than 500 authors and chapter editors from 61 different countries. So naturally, at first glance, churning out this report in only a matter of months is a managerial triumph–a testament to international cooperation:

The production of this document really does “take a village”; without the dedication and hard work of every single one of the people who contribute to this process, the quality and scope of the report would not be possible. Each year the number of authors tends to increase as we add new information to the report.

SOCauthormap2In just the past decade alone Blunden and Arndt have added 150 authors and 13 additional countries. Why so many authors?

The authors are asked to contribute based on their expertise in a specific field. For our Regional Climates chapter, which is comprised of annual summaries for countries around the world, the authors are often affiliated with a specific country’s official meteorological/hydrological agency and provide analysis based on data from that agency. it’s not just any process of coordination. State of the Climate is an elaborate scheme to make a scientifically worthwhile document:

The development of the report is quite rigorous, with writing, two major peer-review processes, technical editing, layout, and approval. After the calendar year has ended, authors are given about six weeks to develop their content and provide an initial draft that is reviewed by the chapter editors.

Then the chapter editor has the draft reviewed by two or three scientists with expert knowledge in that field. Generally, we allow one to two weeks for this review to be completed and another one to two weeks for the authors to make revisions, as needed, and for the chapter editors to prepare the new version for a formal, external review.

The external review process involves anonymous peer reviews, and BAMS allows three weeks for these reviews to be completed. The authors and chapter editors then have two weeks to make revisions based on these comments and submit the final draft for approval.

Then there’s editing and layout and so on . . . as Blunden summarizes:

This document takes the time to provide the most accurate information available on the state of the climate system.

But the time isn’t actually about writing and reviewing; it’s the comprehensiveness of 429 pages and a bazillion references (no, we didn’t count them). A report that started as a 30-pager gets bigger and more precise with each iteration, because the value increases:

The longer a data record is and the larger the area it covers, the more useful it is for putting a particular climate indicator into context, for example comparing one year to another, or detecting trends over time. Today we are fortunate to have technologies and capabilities that were not available to us decades ago, such as satellite observations, but to use all those observations for climate research means combining observations from multiple sources into a single, seamless climate data record, which is neither fast nor easy.

With both satellite and direct observations, it is important to reconcile data discrepancies and inaccuracies so that the climate records are correct, complete, and comparable, and this painstaking process can take years. For our report, a high-quality dataset is ready for inclusion only after its development processes and methodologies have been scrutinized through peer review with published results. That way readers of the State of the Climate reports can depend on detailed journal articles if they want to understand the details of a data record.

The process of creating a climate quality data set and then having it evaluated by other scientists through peer review is so challenging, no more than a few are added to the State of the Climate report each year.

So the State of Climate is a testament to a complex process, with complex, interrelated data sources that cry out for the reconciliation and comparison that makes the report unique. And of course, all about a climate that is nothing if not the paragon of complexity.

As Deke Arndt explains about Earth’s climate (in a webinar to watch before using State of the Climate): “If the Earth didn’t spin, and we didn’t have day and night, it would be very simple.”

That sums up the reason the State of the Climate is not simple . . . or small, or fast. It is all connected.




The Observationalist


Editor’s note:  Whether you’re in isolation or reemerging, we hope this guest column feels like a perfectly meteorological way to reconnect with the world. Read Mike’s full blog post here and more of his photos here. Above: Corona and wave clouds.

by H. Michael Mogil, CCM, CBM

First there wa“The Mentalist,” the hit CBS series that focused on Patrick Jane’s (played by Simon Baker) ability to use his mind to find clues, piece them together and, in the process, mess with the minds of others.

Now comes “The Observationalist,” played by yours truly.

I didn’t assume the role. Rather, Joseph Williams Jr.  assigned it.  Williams was a counselor and science assistant at Howard University’s summer 2009 weather camp and I was the camp’s director. Williams caught me “observing everything around me—bricks on walls, sidewalks, people, and especially the clouds.”  Shortly after giving me my alter ego, Williams started becoming an observationalist himself.  He told me that he had never looked up to see the clouds (even though he was a graduate chemistry major).

In fact, developing keen observational skills is what most detective shows and movies are all about.  The key questions are: “What do you see?” and, more importantly, “What DOESN’T fit?” What doesn’t fit is typically out of place for a reason (usually, but not always, related to the crime).

I don’t solve too many mysteries in real life (although I do get involved a bit as an expert witness in event reconstruction for weather-related lawsuits).  But as a practicing meteorologist, I have to always look for weather-related clues in the clouds, radar and satellite images and even computer model weather forecasts.

In a similar sense, my wife and I operate a math-tutoring center in Naples, FL.  Here we emphasize that solving math problems is much like solving a crime.  What information is there, how do the pieces fit together, who did it (a.k.a., the answer)?  The numbers have patterns that beg to be discovered.  My goal is to have everyone be better observers.

Most other professions require keen observational skills (although they are often not emphasized). Football quarterbacks have to be consummate observers to scan the field and find an open receiver. Artists have to “see” their world in order to paint it.

But one doesn’t need a career to be an observationalist. Just look at patterns in our natural world. For example, I love the banded patterns in many cloud types and the patterns within flower heads and waves at the beach. Take me on a road trip through the Desert Southwest and I am in awe at the rock formations that grace the landscape.

And, I ALWAYS grab a window seat on the airplane. After all, it is the closest I will ever come to being an astronaut, so why not observe the Earth as most others do not?

I am not sure where and when I became an observationalist. But, I know I was already one at nine years old (that’s back in 1954). I recall watching from my New York City apartment window as several hurricanes blew past. I also watched winter cloud lines march southward down the Hudson River. These observational experiences clearly pushed me over the brink and into a weather career.

Yogi Berra really nailed it when he said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” You really can!

© 2011 H. Michael Mogil (updated 2020)

Red Proverb at Morning, Meteorologists Take Warning

Sunset4_IMG_0813 copy

Weather proverbs can be useful indicators of real correlations observed over the centuries, but they can also show unwelcome persistence. The phenomenon is well known: for example, a December 1931 BAMS article referred to a Columbia University study that revealed most high school students had heard the proverb, “When squirrels gather an unusual supply of nuts, it indicates a severe winter”—and 61% of them believed it.

Efforts to confirm or debunk proverbs are also an old tradition. As recorded in the October 1896 Monthly Weather Review, members of the Meteorological Society of France discussed the merits of the popular proverb: ” When it rains on St. Medard’s day it will rain for forty days unless fine weather returns on the day of St. Bernabe.” They found no confirmation of the saying in their data.

In recommending W.J. Humphrey’s 1923 book sorting proverb fact from fiction, Robert deCourcy Ward of Harvard University wrote in BAMS,

There have been several such collections, but there have been practically no serious attempts to separate the “good” from the “bad” proverbs. Many proverbs are merely the relics of past superstitions. Many are useful in one climate and of no use in another land into which they have been imported. Most of our own proverbs came from Europe, or even still farther away, and do not fit into our climatic environment.

Along comes an unusually thorough verification study of Polish weather proverbs in the July 2020 issue of Weather, Climate and Society. Lead author Piotr Matczak (of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland) and colleagues set their article in the context of the recent, increased interest in integrating traditional knowledge with scientific findings in order to enrich overall climate databases.

The authors searched through 1,940 sayings, mostly looking for if-then logical structure (such as “hot July leads to January frosts”) that suggested predictive power, and narrowed the list to 28 specific enough about temperature to be verified by decades of weather data from observing stations in and around Poland. In many cases, this meant turning subjective descriptions into quantitative categories. For instance, “If Saint Matthew (February 24) does not melt ice, peasants will long puff to warm their cold hands]” was recast as a test: the correlation of maximum air temperature on February 24 below 0°C to mean air temperature for the following two weeks below 0°C.

This proverb proved to be the most accurate of the bunch, fulfilling its predictions 83% of the time. The rest of the sayings were–not so much fantastical as just plain unhelpful. Only 16 of the 28 proverbs showed any forecast skill, and usually quite low skill, which wasn’t necessarily unexpected, since many of the proverbs were essentially extended range forecasts that wouldn’t have been skillful even with modern techniques. Three proverbs, like “If the Marek day (April 25) is threatening with the swelter the Boniface (May 14) freezes” never predicted accurately in the data record. Most of the time the predictive condition occurred, the predicted consequence did not occur (false alarm ratios for most proverbs greatly exceeded 50%).

Including the St. Matthew’s day prediction, only three verified more than 43% of the time: “When Zbigniew and Patrick (March 17) are freezing people’s ears, two more Sundays of winter freezing and snows,” and another for St. Matthew’s day: “If the Matthew day is warm there is a hope for spring.”

There were some interesting shifts in the proverbs’ success rate however that may warrant follow-up research. They did better earlier in the record than in later years, and better in eastern Poland and formerly Polish lands further east. Matczak et al. note,

following the Second World War, Poland was displaced by some 200 km westward, with the population displaced accordingly. Thus, the proverbs may refer to the climate of areas that are more eastward when compared with the current borders of Poland, that is, the areas nowadays in Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine.



When Hurricanes Become Machines…or Monsters

Officially, the Atlantic season is almost upon us. The season of tropical storms and hurricanes, yes, but more to the point, the season of heat-seeking machines and relentless monsters.

At least, that’s the metaphorical language of broadcast meteorologists when confronted with catastrophic threats like Hurricane Harvey in Houston in 2017. A new analysis in BAMS of the figures of speech used by KHOU-TV meteorologists to convey the dangers of this record storm shows how these risk communicators exercised great verbal skill to not only connect with viewers’ emotions, but also convey essential understanding in a time of urgent need.

For their recently released paper, Robert Prestley (Univ. of Kentucky) and co-authors selected from the CBS-affiliate’s live broadcasts during Harvey’s onslaught the more than six hours of on-air time for the station’s four meteorologists. The words the meteorologists used were coded and systematically analyzed and categorized in a partly automated, partly by-hand process. No mere “intermediaries” between weather service warnings and the public, the meteorologists—David Paul, Chita Craft, Brooks Garner, and Blake Matthews—relied on “figurative and intense language” on-air to “express their concern and disbelief” as well as explain risks.

As monster, the hurricane frequently displayed gargantuan appetite—for example, “just sitting and spinning and grabbing moisture from off the Gulf of Mexico and pulling it up,” in Paul’s words. The storm was reaching for its “food,” or moisture. The authors write, “The use of the term ‘feeder bands’…fed into this analogy.” Eventually Matthews straight out said, “We’re dealing with a monster” and Craft called the disaster a “beast.”

When the metaphor shifted to machines, Harvey was like a battery “recharging” with Gulf moisture and heat or a combustion engine tending to “blow” up or “explode.” Paul noted the lingering storm was “put in park with the engine revving.”

Other figurative language was prominent. Garner explained how atmospheric factors could “wring out that wet washcloth” and that the saturated ground was like “pudding putty, Jello.” The storm was often compared to a tall layered cake, which at one point Garner noted was tipped over like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

In conveying impact risks, the KHOU team resorted frequently to words like “incredible” and “tremendous.” To create a frame of reference, they initially referred to local experience, like “Allison 2.0”—referring to the flood disaster caused by a “mere” tropical storm in 2001 that deluged the Houston area with three feet of rain—until Harvey was clearly beyond such a frame of reference. Then they clarified the unprecedented nature of threats, that it would be a storm “you can tell your kids about.”

The authors note, “By using figurative language to help viewers make sense of the storm, the meteorologists fulfilled the “storyteller” role that broadcast meteorologists often play during hurricanes. They were able to weave these explanations together with contextual information from their community in an unscripted, ‘off-the-cuff’ live broadcast environment.” They conclude that the KHOU team’s word choices could “be added to a lexicon of rhetorical language in broadcast meteorology” and serve as a “a toolkit of language strategies” for broadcast meteorologists to use in times of extreme weather.

Of course all of this colorful language was, perhaps, not just good science communication but also personal reality. Prestley et al. note: “The KHOU meteorologists also faced personal challenges, such as sleep deprivation, anxiety about the safety of their families, and the flooding of their studio. The flood eventually forced the meteorologists to broadcast out of a makeshift studio in a second-floor conference room before evacuating their building and going off air.”

As water entered the building, Matthews told viewers, “There are certain things in life you think you’ll never see. And then here it is. It’s happening right now.”

The new BAMS article is open access, now in early online release.


The Perils of Rime Mushrooms

Mountain climber Dmitry Golovchenko captured tremendous video of the February 27 collapse of a “rime mushroom” atop Patagonia’s Cerro Torre. These are bulbs of massively accumulated rime—built up in the freezing of moisture in winds pounding at the peak over time. The mushrooms increase the difficulty of this infamous climb of more than 3,000 meters, but never more so than when their precariousness increases in summer—just when conditions might otherwise seem calm enough for climbing. Here is the video via an Instagram from patagoniavertical, the site of Rolando Garibotti, who co-authored a BAMS article on these infamous mushroom features:


View this post on Instagram

CERRO TORRE – Escarcha escrachadora / Crushing rime. . Esto sucedió el 27 de febrero a las 11:25am. Si hubiese habido cordadas en la Via dei Ragni, las consecuencias hubiesen sido gravísimas. El video y las fotos las tomó @golovchenko.dmitry, el conocido alpinista ruso. . Los factores que influencian la rotura de los hongos de escarcha son desconocidos, pero parece probable que se comporten como un manto de nieve, y que la combinación de gravedad, calor y humedad, puedan llevar a este tipo de ocurrencias. Esta temporada hay mucha escarcha, que con el calor veraniego, y lluvia en altura, pueden haber sido el disparador. No sabiendo cuales son los factores que afectan las capas profundas de los hongos, es difícil hipotetizar un protocolo, pero parece razonable evitar periodos con la isoterma zero por encima del pie de vía (2300m), o periodos posteriores a lluvia en altura. . Del link en nuestro perfil se puede bajar un artículo sobre la formación de la escarcha en la montaña, publicado en el boletín del American Meteorological Society, escrito por Dave Whiteman, con ayuda de quien escribe. . . . This happened on February 27th, at 11:25am. Had there been any parties on the Ragni Route, the consequences would have been serious. The video and images were shot by @golovchenko.dmitry, the well-known Russian alpinist. . The factors that influence rime mushrooms to result in break off are not known, but it seems plausible that they behave in part like a snowpack, and that the combination of gravity, heat and moisture can result in events like this one. This summer there is ample rime, which combined with heat, and rain at higher altitudes could have lead to this. Not knowing what factors affect the deeper layers of rime mushrooms, it is difficult to hypothesize a protocol to minimize exposure, but avoiding periods with the freezing-line above the base of the route (2300m) would be a wise first step. . Link in our profile to an article about rime formation in the mountains published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, written by Dave Whiteman, with help from yours truly. . #rime #cerrotorre #patagonia #chalten

A post shared by Patagonia Vertical – guidebook (@patagoniavertical) on

In their BAMS article, David Whiteman and Garibotti introduced rime mushrooms, well known to alpinists, but not previously to many meteorologists:

Rime mushrooms, commonly called ice mushrooms, build up on the upwind side of mountain summits and ridges and on windward rock faces. These large, persistent, rounded or bulbous accretions of hard rime range from pronounced mounds to towering projections with overhanging sides….[They] form when clouds and strong winds engulf the terrain. Supercooled cloud droplets are blown onto subfreezing surfaces and freeze rapidly, making an opaque “hard” rime with air trapped between granular deposits. The mushrooms are most frequent and best developed on isolated summits and exposed ridges in stormy coastal areas.

They showed the distribution of these mountain features around the world.

mushroomsThanks to Dr. Whiteman’s Univ. of Utah colleague Jim Steenburgh for bringing the video to our attention via social media. Jim’s own newly published BAMS article features the often well-rimed sea-effect snows of Japan and their similarities to lake-effect snows in the United States. The article explains how the heavy snowy accumulations of crunchy graupel (loose, rimed, large icy particles) in lowlands of the Japanese coast can be quite avalanche prone, too.

What a Launch!…and More GEMS to Follow

Nothing quite like watching lift-off…here’s the video sequence from Arianespace showing the flight of the rocket carrying South Korea’s GEMS satellite instrument into space earlier this week.

GEMS–the Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer–is a centerpiece of the Asian contribution to a triad of geostationary satellite missions watching air quality in some of the most pollution-prone urban centers of the world. The other similar missions to be launched are Sentinel-4 over Europe and TEMPO over North America.


The image above superimposes the field of view for each of the satellites over an image of nitrogen dioxide concentrations averaged over the 10 years 2005-2014 from the Ozone Mapping Instrument aboard NASA’s Aura satellite. Aura is part of the “afternoon-train” or A-train of international satellites focused on anthropogenic aerosols. But these satellites pass over any given spot on Earth the same time each day.

With GEMS, such information is now going to be 24/7 for Asia. As a geostationary eye on air quality, the new South Korean satellite watches meteorology and atmospheric chemistry continuously. In addition to GEMS, which uses spectrometers to track ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, aerosols, ultraviolet index, and other health-related factors in the atmosphere, the satellite includes meteorological and ocean color sensors. This gives a synergy to Earth observing at faster sampling rates and higher resolution over the region, advancing investigations of air pollution for a large portion of the world’s population.

The push for geostationary satellite monitoring of air quality that led to the launch of GEMS has been long in the making. In an article 8 years ago in BAMS, W.A. Lahoz explained that geostationary satellites give

an improved likelihood of cloud-free observations …with continuous observations of a particular location during at least part of the day. This “stare” capability …makes it very effective for the retrieval of the lowermost troposphere information for capturing the diurnal cycle in pollutants and emissions, and the import/export of pollutants or proxies for pollutants.

You can read more about the new capabilities in the BAMS article on GEMS by Jhoon Kim (Yonsei Univ.) and colleagues. The article, appropriately, posted online within an hour of the launch of the satellite.

BAMS cover outline 2This is actually a twin launch: The GEMS article is among the first of the new-look BAMS in AMS Journals Online. You’ll find highly readable typefaces with a simple layout easier for scrolling on screen. You’ll also note that we’re starting to publish articles as soon as they’re ready for launch, rather than waiting for them to collect into issues in print.

Also about to launch into the mail is a whole new approach BAMS is taking to print as well. The magazine is much more dense with important and exciting new information. The printed features (mirrored as well in the digital edition for AMS members) are short, highly accessible versions of the peer-reviewed research articles. We’re expanding our focus on new and important articles to relay the authors’ thoughts—in their own words—about their work and the challenges they’re solving in their next articles as well. This blog and AMS social media will reflect such thought-provoking new BAMS content in all sorts of ways—for reading, listening, and watching.

So GEMS is our partner in launch: a new era of air quality monitoring for Asia is paired with a new era of communications for AMS. As they say in the media..stay tuned, more to follow!

In Celebration: American Weather Enterprise Collaborating to Protect Lives and Property

By Mary M. Glackin, AMS President-Elect, and Dr. Joel N. Myers, Founder and CEO, AccuWeather

In his acclaimed book, The Signal and the Noise, noted statistician Nate Silver examines forecasts of many categories and finds that most forecast types demonstrate little or no skill, and most predictive fields have made insignificant progress in accuracy over the past several decades.  The one exception, Silver concludes, is weather forecasting, which he singles out as a “success story.” We quite agree.

The benefit of improved weather forecasting on human activity over the last 60 years cannot be overstated. As we approach in January the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization dedicated to the advancement of meteorological science, it seems a fitting time to celebrate all that we have accomplished for the protection of life and property and the substantial benefits to people and business and contemplate the challenges ahead and the path forward to conquer them.

With technology and human knowledge increasingly transforming both weather forecasting and our relationship with it, our success will rest squarely on our ability to embrace transformational change and to recognize and welcome opportunities for collaboration between key facets of the weather enterprise – academic, government and the private weather industry.

The publicly funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a critical role in supporting the entire infrastructure of weather forecasting, which government organizations, such as the National Weather Service, the U.S. military, and privately held organizations rely on. This infrastructure includes observational systems, maintenance and support of numerical weather prediction models, and providing life-saving weather warnings.  Warnings, arguably, are the biggest payoff of weather forecasting with lives and property on the line.

The NWS analyzes and predicts severe weather events and issues advisories and warnings to the general public for their safety and protection. Warning services provided by NWS have improved over the decades. By design, NWS weather warnings cover a broad territory, intended for the widest possible public audience in a region.

While all government weather warnings reaching the public are produced by the NWS, increasingly in today’s digital age they are tailored and delivered almost entirely by private weather providers through news broadcasts and free, advertising-supported mobile phone apps and other digital sources of convenience.  The greatest challenge the weather enterprise faces is ensuring these life-saving weather warnings reach the greatest number of people potentially impacted by hazardous weather with enough advance notice to take proactive steps to remain safe and out of harm’s way. When seconds count in a weather-related emergency, this partnership example significantly extends the reach of the government for greater public safety.

What some may not realize is that when severe weather threatens, companies, such as AccuWeather, pair a deep understanding of client operations with their team of meteorologists to provide vital services, such as custom site and operation specific weather warnings, to clients tailored to their risk thresholds.

recent Washington Post article mistakenly conflated warning services provided by NOAA with custom warning services provided to private clients.

In fact, with example after example, there is no doubt private companies, such as AccuWeather, which has received many AMS accolades for its warnings and expertise, can and do provide valuable warnings and services to private clients. It was unfortunate that a comment said on the fly was taken out of context. Both AccuWeather and AMS view the incident in this light and are continuing to build on their shared history of partnership. AccuWeather works closely with NOAA and NWS to make sure communities and businesses have the best information and warnings they need to stay safe. This partnership has never been stronger.

In fact, there has been a long history of cooperation between the public and private weather sectors.  National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS), including the NWS, readily source data and intellectual property from private companies to support their mission of saving lives, protecting property, and enhancing the national economy.  This trend is likely to continue in the world of shrinking government budgets and resource allocation.  In turn, private companies leverage technologies, such as the many forecast models provided by NMHS, as the foundation to their own products and services.

As we look ahead to the next 100 years, many challenges impacting the future of the weather enterprise loom large, such as cost and financial pressures, the hyperbolic increasing rate of the capture, storing, processing and analyzing of data, emerging challenges of health and climate change and new accelerating technologies and platforms in the digital age, some of which we cannot yet even conceive.

These sectors of the weather enterprise have their own advantages and efficiencies and together we can most certainly succeed in furthering meteorological advancement if we capitalize on each other’s strengths and work cooperatively and decisively to achieve our larger mission of safety and protection.

All partners in the weather enterprise –government, commercial and academia —  in addition to the support and stewardship of important professional organizations, such as the AMS, the National Weather Association and the American Weather and Climate Industry Association – are essential to meteorological progress, and the sum of our value to the public and business can be far greater than the individual parts.

In the last six decades, each component of the weather enterprise has learned to better understand and appreciate one another and to communicate more effectively and to respect the important contributions of each in the true spirt of cooperation. The greatest example of this is the AMS-championed Fair Weather Report, a study funded by the federal government to generate more harmony across the entire weather enterprise.

Since we began our careers, we have had the privilege of seeing amazing progress in our ability to provide more specific, more accurate, and more useful weather forecasts and warnings, which extend further ahead and have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage.

With even more and better collaborations between the various facets of the weather enterprise, there is no question the public and our nation stand to benefit from greater safety and better planning. We look forward to continuing our work together to bring about more exciting innovations and enhancements to advance public safety.

Editor’s note: Mary M. Glackin is President-elect, American Meteorological Society. She was formerly the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a Senior Vice President of Science and Forecast Operations at The Weather Company (IBM). Dr. Joel N. Myers is Founder and CEO of AccuWeather

Peer Review: A Foundational Component of Our Science

by Keith L. Seitter, CCM, AMS Executive Director
This week we join many other scientific publishers celebrating Peer Review Week to highlight the importance of high-quality peer review in the scientific process. The process of peer reviewing research results has been an indispensable component of the modern scientific enterprise: when scientists talk about having reached a consensus in some area of research, they mean that there is a consensus in the peer-reviewed literature. This week gives us an opportunity to focus on the importance of peer review while also recognizing the dedication of researchers around the world who make considerable commitments of time to ensure its continued success while usually receiving little or no explicit credit for those contributions.
When a researcher submits a manuscript presenting research results to a high-quality journal like those AMS publishes, the editor of the journal selects several experts in relevant specialties to review of the manuscript. These experts make sure the author(s) have carried out their experiments, observations, and/or analysis following sound practices and that their conclusions can be justified from the data and analysis they have provided. In their reviews, these experts identify weaknesses or flaws in experimental design or reasoning and suggest additional research and analysis that might be required, as well as other ways to improve the paper.
The editor collects these peer reviews and determines if the manuscript can be made suitable for publication. If the science is flawed and the paper cannot be made acceptable with a reasonable amount of additional work, the paper is rejected. More than one in three manuscripts submitted to AMS journals are rejected. The editor’s decision is provided to the authors, along with the full set of reviews with the names of the reviewers removed (unless the reviewer chooses otherwise), along with the editor’s decision. If the paper has not been rejected, the authors follow the guidance of the editors and reviewers to revise the paper, which then may face additional peer review under the editor’s direction. If the paper can reach the point that the editor is satisfied with the quality of the work, the manuscript is accepted for publication.
Peer review, even when implemented in the rigorous manner used by AMS, is not perfect, of course. Occasionally important research is initially rejected in peer review, or fundamentally incorrect research survives peer review to publication only to be shown later to be incorrect. Peer review done well, however, greatly reduces the chance of publication of poor or incorrect science, and experience has shown that overall the process is extremely successful. That is why scientists depend virtually exclusively on results presented in rigorously peer-reviewed journals and why major scientific assessments—like the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—rely on peer-reviewed literature from well-established, high-quality journals like those published by AMS.
Astute readers will have noticed that I refer to “high quality journals” multiple times above. It is important to make that distinction because there are journals vying for authors’ papers (and the income they provide) that do not put the time or expense into doing peer review with the rigor employed by the AMS journals. Authors, and the scientific enterprise itself, are best served by those journals that invest the resources needed to do the peer review to the highest standards. AMS journals enjoy membership in the elite group of such high quality journals that serve the atmospheric and related sciences.
Let me close with note of appreciation for those who maintain the very high standards of peer review for the AMS journals.  While the professional staff at AMS does a wonderful job of ensuring smooth and expedient reviews, as part of a positive author experience that is among the best in scientific publishing, it is the volunteers who serve as chief editors, editors, associate editors, and reviewers who dedicate the time and energy to maintain the AMS journals as world-class publications. And the reviewers especially deserve credit given that their efforts are, by design, mostly done anonymously for the collective good of science. All of us owe these dedicated individuals our thanks.