Weathering the North Atlantic in a Rowboat

If you’re planning on rowing 3,300 miles across the North Atlantic Ocean in a 24-foot boat during hurricane season, you can imagine how important a reliable weather forecast would be. Cynthia Way, a chief learning officer at NOAA, is not just going to imagine making this journey; she’s going to do it. This week, she’ll set out from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Ireland with her boyfriend, James Caple, a software engineer. The journey will take three to four months, depending on weather and other obstacles they may encounter. If they make it across, they’ll be the first American pair to succeed in the endeavor.
“We want to challenge ourselves to do something amazing, something that is also scary and way out of our comfort zones and will stretch our capabilities,” Way says. And stretch their capabilities is certainly what they’ll be doing. The two will face the grueling physical challenge of constant rowing, sleep deprivation, and mental exhaustion. Way is pursuing a Ph.D., researching how immersion outdoor experiences help people reconnect with nature and is hoping this journey will give her an up-close perspective she’ll be able to utilize in her doctoral research.

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For his part, Caple has been planning and preparing for this trip since he read a news article about Roz Savage, a solo ocean rower, who in 2007 rowed across the Indian Ocean. Last year, the couple got in touch with Savage, who has been advising them on safety.  “It is a dream come true to have Roz as our expedition mentor after stalking her all these years,” says Caple.
While the challenges will be numerous, what Way fears most is the possibility of encountering bad weather. They’ll be provided with forecasts from a private weather service through satellite phones every three days.  Weather reports are crucial to planning. Rowing shifts may need to be altered based on inclement weather. If there will be minimal sun, Way and Caple need to cautiously manage their use of power, as all their power is generated by solar. Also, the couple needs to be alerted to upcoming weather forecasts for preparation in case of a hurricane and challenging winds or waves.  However, even if they’re alerted to rough weather ahead it will be difficult to change course far enough to avoid it.
When they do encounter rough weather—which is likely given the majority of their trip falls smack dab in the middle of hurricane season—the plan is to hunker down. Way and Caple will tie down everything aboard and employ a para-anchor, an underwater parachute that creates drag to stabilize the boat, then wait out the storm in the cabin. The boat is designed to roll back up if flipped over.
But what if they’re faced with a hurricane? Way and Caple say that staying with the boat is the safest option for both them and any potential rescuers. When faced with severe weather, they will deploy the para-anchor, alert their shore team manager, and seatbelt themselves in the stern cabin. If in life-threatening trouble, they’ll be able to activate a distress signal from radio beacons on their life vests, which would be picked up by a satellite and then transmitted to search and rescue authorities.
They plan to leave any time this week when a five-day stretch of decent weather will enable them to get to open sea safely. “In our society, it can be hard to even fathom stepping away from our office cubicles and daily routines,” says Way. “We want to show that it can be done—we want to inspire people to get out and do something great.”
You can track the team’s progress on their website and blog,, which they will update by satellite.

96th Annual Meeting One for the Record Books

New Orleans knows how to draw a crowd. The 96th AMS Annual Meeting brought together more than 5,000 members of the weather, water, and climate community for a week of activity in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Total attendance came in at a record-breaking 3,780, with the student conference drawing approximately 800 attendees. In the Exhibit Hall, there were 96 booths with close to 690 staff members manning them. Weatherfest brought in hundreds more from the New Orleans area on Sunday.
With so many members of the community in one location, there were innumerable opportunities to network, learn, and connect with friends and colleagues. Thanks to all who took part to make #AMS2016 such a success, and see you next year in Seattle!
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Broadcasters Gather in Raleigh to Talk Weather, Warnings, and Communication

The 43rd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology and the Third Conference on Weather Warnings and Communication kicked off on Tuesday in the Raleigh Convention Center, attracting about 230 attendees. This annual meeting of meteorologists, social scientists, and other practitioners produced some exciting content and conference firsts.
Some of the AMS Communications Department staff sat down with presenters to talk about their research and presentations.

More videos with experts can be viewed on the AMS YouTube channel.
For the first time at an AMS conference there was a live stream of a panel discussion. Marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a panel of experts took part in the conversation about the deadly storm and how we can learn from it going forward.
If you missed it live, you can watch the video here. We did experience visual technical difficulties twenty minutes in but the video recovers at minute thirty.

A Presidential Presence in Phoenix

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


Thinking–and Talking–about Climate Change and a New AMS Book

BAMS Editor-in-Chief Jeff Rosenfeld had the opportunity to talk with Bob Henson, author of the new AMS book, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change, at the 42nd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Olympic Valley, California, in June, where the book made its debut (you can watch the entire interview below). Originally known as The Rough Guide to Climate Change, this updated version is more comprehensive; according to Henson, it’s a one-stop shop for those looking for a little bit of everything regarding climate change. While there is plenty of fact-based science in the book, Henson also gives people ideas of what they can do on a practical level when it comes to combating climate change. When Rosenfeld asks if the thinking person will sleep better after reading the book, Henson’s answer is positive. He notes that while it’s a problematic issue, instead of simply worrying about it, we can all continue to understand it better in order to create the best possible future. Reading his book, which can be purchased online at the AMS Bookstore, is a great way to do just that.

Calling All Weather Campers

Are you a student looking for a camp that provides more than the typical summertime experience? Something that will excite you about meteorology and STEM careers?  Then weather camp might be the perfect place for you.
There are now more than a dozen summer weather camps for middle or high school students across the country (some are for commuters; others are residential). Along with hands-on experiences, campers can get a glimpse of the various careers associated with meteorology.
“These camps provide an amazing opportunity for students,” says Mike Mogil of How the Weatherworks, an organization that spearheads the camps. “The program works to broaden exposure to meteorology, the physics behind it, and more.  Observation skill building is a key component of many of the camps.Campers are engaged in hands-on activities, field experiments, seminars, tours of research facilities, and other opportunities that expand their knowledge in these areas.”
Programs are run by various groups, including local museums, colleges and universities, and even some student AMS chapters. The camps are designed to encourage all students (with an emphasis on reaching bright, underrepresented populations) to consider science and engineering education in college and to increase the pipeline of talented and focused students pursuing careers in these areas. Partial funding for camps is provided by NOAA and many local businesses.
“The camps are an incredible way to help kids enjoy learning,” comments Mogil, an AMS CCM and CBM who often presents at the AMS Annual Student Conference.. “In the atmosphere of the camps, even the teachers become kids.”
Deadlines for camp registration are quickly approaching. If you are aware of other weather camps not listed here, please share them in the comments section of The Front Page.
If you have any questions about the overall camp program, please contact Mike directly.
National camp page
Lyndon State College – Lyndonville, VT
Blue Hill Observatory – Milton, MA (Weather Programs)
City University of New York – New York, NY
2014 National High School Weather Camps
–           Jackson State University – Jackson, MS
–          University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, PR
–          Howard University, Washington, DC
University of Oklahoma – Norman, OK
North Carolina A&T, Greensboro, NC (Science & Engineering Camps)
Arizona State University and Arizona Science Center
Museum of Science – Miami, FL
Southwest Florida
Western Kentucky University – Bowling Green, KY
St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO
University of Nebraska – Lincoln, NE
Weather Museum – Houston, TX
Penn State University – State College, PA

Annual Meeting Session to Feature Solar Energy Contest Winners

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.

Going to the Source for Accurate Information

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.

Early-Career Professionals to Come Together in Atlanta

The Board for Early Career Professionals (BECP) was created in 2012 to better meet the needs of AMS members who have completed their degrees, landed or are pursuing their first job, and who are looking for opportunities to advance their careers through professional development opportunities, networking, and support through a variety of AMS-sponsored activities. At the 2013 AMS Annual Meeting in Austin, the BECP hosted the First Annual AMS Conference for Early Career Professionals.  It was attended by more than 50 upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and a cross-section of AMS members entering fields throughout the weather enterprise.
“Our inaugural conference in Austin was a resounding success and demonstrated the Society’s commitment to supporting early-career members,” says BECP chairperson Andrew Molthan.  “For 2014 in Atlanta, we have two outstanding conference chairs–Erik Pytlak and Matt Lacke–who have arranged a series of focused, interactive group and panel discussions targeting professional development. We’ll have great information and feedback from mid- and late-career members of all sectors, candid conversations on the topics you’re interested in, and a chance to interact with the AMS leadership team. It will be a great opportunity to network with your colleagues while bolstering your technical skills with other ‘soft skills’ required for success in the workplace.”
The Second Annual AMS Conference for Early Career Professionals will take place from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, 2 February 2014, as part of the 94th AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference will kick off with rotating group discussions led by professionals in the atmospheric sciences. The focus will be on what to do after getting that first job and what skills to consider developing. Topics will include how to keep a current job, how to get the next job, how to become a leader, and how to handle working with others.
The second half of the conference will include two interactive panel discussions. One panel with AMS leadership will discuss how the Society can benefit members who are beginning their careers in the atmospheric sciences. The second panel with other early- and midcareer meteorologists from the private, academic, government, and television sectors will discuss early-career experiences and offer advice on topics brought up by attendees.
Following the conference, attendees and other Annual Meeting participants are invited to attend the Fourth Annual AMS Reception for Early Career Professionals planned for Sunday evening.
For more details, visit the Early Career Professional Conference program online here. Additional information on the BECP can be found on Facebook, in the July 2012 issue of BAMS, and in Q&A articles with early-career professionals in recent issues of BAMS.

AMS Broadcast Conference Talks Now Available Online

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.