Distinguished Guests

by Gwendolyn Whittaker, AMS Publications Coordinator & Peer Review Support Manager
In October 2015 an AMS delegation that included a number of AMS Publications staff and AMS Publications Commissioner Bob Rauber took part in a symposium in Tianjin, China, on  “The Latest Developments in Atmospheric Science and Meteorological Journals,” hosted by staff from the journals publishing program of the Chinese Meteorological Society (CMS).
The symposium was an opportunity for AMS and CMS staff to share information on their respective  programs, and to share ideas on the common challenges we face: attracting good manuscripts, supporting volunteer editors and reviewers, maintaining rigorous standards for peer review while making that process as efficient as possible, improving the production time to allow accepted papers to appear quickly, and keeping expenses as low as possible to allow a sustainable business model. There was agreement that such exchanges were extremely useful and should continue.
Despite their myriad other duties (the symposium took place during the CMS Annual Meeting), our hosts took marvelous care of the AMS delegation, including making sure we got to The Great Wall, had endless amounts of good food, and had a tour of the CMS campus in Beijing.
The AMS delegation left China looking forward to a chance to return the favor, and during the week of May 23 we had the pleasure of hosting two guests from CMS who attended the annual meeting of the AMS Publications Commission in Boston: Dr. Lan Yi, executive chief editor of CMS’s Journal of Meteorological Research, and Ms. Aidi Liu, executive chief editor of the Chinese Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (published by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences).


While the week’s activities did not quite reach the fever pitch of either society’s Annual Meeting, it was full enough. In addition to sitting in on the Publications Commission presentations and deliberations, Dr. Yi and Ms. Liu had in-depth meetings with AMS journals and BAMS staff on topics ranging from business models to technologies management to the strategies the various teams within AMS Publications use to manage productivity, priorities, and resources. AMS Librarian Jinny Nathans gave an overview of AMS’s involvement in ASLI (Atmospheric Science Librarians International) and gave a tour of AMS headquarters at historic 45 Beacon Street. She also described the project to digitize the entire run of BAMS (back to 1920) in commemoration of the AMS’s Centennial in 2020. While the formal meetings ended with lunch on Friday, the conversations continued during a boat tour of Boston Harbor.


It's definitely NOT a “rainbow cloud.”

by Tom Champoux, AMS Director of Communications
Working at AMS headquarters in Boston, several things become almost second nature to our daily work life.
One is that we work in an amazing location: on Beacon Hill, directly across the street from the beautiful Boston Common. The other is that AMS has quick access to some truly smart scientists and experts in nearly all areas of the atmospheric sciences.
These two aspects intersected when I went out for lunch one day on the Common. The sun was at its midday peak, and a high-pressure system was located to our west, which meant that we had a bright blue sky overhead. circumhorizontal arcIt was then that I noticed something I’d never seen before in my life: a single cirrus cloud, low on the horizon and drifting east, that was entirely rainbow colored.
It took me a second to realize I was seeing a very strange atmospheric phenomenon, and I did what most people would probably do: photographed it and sent it off to social media. I got lots of comments about this unique optical phenomenon, including some who said they thought it might be a sundog, cloud iridescence, or a solar halo.
I also asked several AMS members and staff to help identity what I had called a “rainbow cloud.” After some digging around, and much e-mail activity, the consensus was that this must have been a circumhorizontal arc. There is an AMS Glossary of Meteorology definition to match and also a Wikipedia page.
Circumhorizontal arcs are rare solar arcs that occur when certain atmospheric conditions are in place, including a high-altitude sun (with an altitude angle above 58°) and a cirrus cloud at or below 32° above the horizon. In this case, we speculated the cloud was a lingering airplane contrail.
The sunlight passes through the ice crystals in the cloud, bending (refracting) twice: first upon entering the side face of each crystal, and then upon exiting through the flat base of each crystal. As in a prism, the refractions separate the colors of the spectrum, with red on the top portion, nearer the sun, and blue/violet on the lower portion.
At Boston’s latitude, the brightest circumhorizontal arcs occur only around midday near the summer solstice—in other words, this was a perfect time to see this splendor. Although we only see a piece of it, the full arc would ring the sky, parallel to the horizon. (By contrast, halos ring the sun, with a separation of either 46° or, more typically, 22°).
Because the circumhorizontal arc is “horizontal,” it allows the contrail/cloud drifting along the horizon to maintain its vibrant colors much longer than it would if it were passing through the curve of a halo.
I was thrilled to have seen such an impressive anomaly during lunch, along with many other Bostonians who happened to look skyward. The evening news covered the story in depth because so many people had shared it on social media. I felt doubly fortunate as an AMS staff person to have so many experts able to help me understand what I’d witnessed.

Protecting Scientific Use of the Spectrum

by Ya’el Seid-Green, AMS Policy Program
There has been much talk recently about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceedings to sell the radio frequencies of 1675-1680 MHz, currently used for GOES data transmission, on the open market. A comment period on the proposal closes June 21st. More information can be found here.
The radio spectrum is a limited resource of great value both within and beyond our scientific community. The weather, water, and climate community uses radio spectrum to conduct scientific research, collect observations, and transmit data that contribute to oceanic, atmospheric, and hydrologic research, models, products, and services. Spectrum is also used to support mobile broadband networks, a sector with enormous growth potential and value for the United States economy.
The scientific community uses the radio spectrum in three distinct ways:

  • Passive remote sensing: Measuring the natural radio emissions of the environment and space (receiver only). Example: GPM Microwave Imager on the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission Core Spacecraft
  • Active remote sensing: Emitting radio waves and measuring the return emissions (transmitter and receiver). Example: Cloud Profiling Radar on CloudSat
  • Data transmission: Transmitting data from satellites and ground-observation stations. Example: GOES VARiable (GVAR) service on the GOES system satellites

Observations are made using ground-based, airborne, and space-based platforms to determine wind profiles, rainfall estimates, wave heights, and ocean current direction, among others. Further information on active and passive sensing instruments is available here: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/user-resources/remote-sensors.
With the advent and rapid growth of mobile commercial technologies, interference on and competition for the radio spectrum has increased. The signals of commercial terrestrial users of spectrum are often much stronger than the signals being measured or transmitted by the weather, water, and climate communities. This can cause radio frequency interference (RFI) that degrades or entirely destroys the data being collected and transmitted for scientific and operational uses.
In addition, there is pressure for federal agencies to relocate off certain spectrum bands to free up additional space for commercial users. In 2010, President Obama set a target of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband services. (See also, the Report to the President: Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth, available here.) The potential benefits to the U.S. economy from freeing up spectrum for commercial use are considerable. Mobile broadband is a rapidly growing segment of the economy, and in 2015 the FCC auctioned off the frequencies of 1695-1710, 1755-1780, and 2155-2180 MHz (collectively the “AWS-3” bands) for mobile telecommunication use for a combined $44.9 billion.
There are several challenges in understanding spectrum allocation policy. First, several different agencies are responsible for allocating and regulating spectrum: the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), within the U.N., allocates spectrum internationally; the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) manages Federal use of the spectrum; and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages non-Federal use of the spectrum. This bifurcated regulatory system can make decision-making and management of spectrum use challenging.
Second, given the diverse and complex sources of data that go into weather, water, and climate products, it is often hard for end users to understand how radio spectrum management issues may impact the products and services they rely on for creating value-added products or for making management decisions (see the joint letter sent to the FCC by the AMS and National Weather Association). Finally, it is often difficult to determine the value of scientific and operational uses of the spectrum. Because of this valuation problem, there is concern that earth science uses of the spectrum are not being taken fully into account in spectrum management decisions (see the National Research Council report, A Strategy for Active Remote Sensing Amid Increased Demand for Radio Spectrum).
Although the FCC proceedings regarding 1675-1780 MHz have received the most attention in our community recently, issues around spectrum allocation and management are only going in grow in scope and frequency as pressure on the spectrum increases. An AMS Ad Hoc Committee is working to update the AMS Statement on radio frequency allocations, and there are several bills under consideration in Congress that focus on spectrum management concerns. As a community, we must be prepared to communicate the importance of spectrum for earth observations, science, and services, and the resulting societal applications. We need to be actively engaged in exploring management strategies, policy options, and technology innovations that will allow the nation and the world to gain the maximum benefit from our use of the radio spectrum.

AMS Summer Policy Colloquium–An Investment in Your Future

One of the special, life-shaping mid-career experiences AMS offers is the  Summer Policy Colloquium in Washington, D.C. The AMS Policy Program is accepting registrations now for the 2016 Colloquium, held 5-14 June; don’t delay, because the slots fill up well in advance. Grad students (and faculty from minority-serving institutions) can apply for NSF support to attend. The deadline for those funding applications is 31 March.
Here we share the first-hand impressions of a graduate student who attended last year’s colloquium.
by Alice Alpert, MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 
My favorite moment was adding the “poison pill” amendment to the amended HR2380 to ensure that the opposing party could not vote yes on it. I doubt that real senators laugh as much as we did. “We” were the participants of the 2015 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium – scientists and federal agency employees studying weather, water, and climate. Every year, AMS hosts this 10-day intensive program designed to give attendees an intensive introduction to the policy process.
Over the 10 days, we learned about and engaged with science policy through talks by current practitioners and hands-on activities. Each day focused on a different topic, including an introduction to science policy; practical perspectives from executive, legislative, diplomatic, private, and nonprofit sectors; science communication; and executive leadership. Speakers from throughout the federal government and beyond described their personal career paths, discussed how they practice science policy, and dispensed nuggets of advice. Woven throughout the event were practical simulations, including a role-playing activity of the legislative process in which we amended a bill and negotiated for a final vote. In the end my senator’s poison pill was misguided, but the lesson was not lost.
There are many aspects contributing to the great success of the policy colloquium that together create an immersive and exhilarating learning environment. Instrumental to the experience is the leadership of the AMS staff, Bill Hooke, Ya’el Seid-Green, and Paul Higgins. They meticulously but flexibly plan the event, reach out to high-level public servants, listen carefully to feedback, and most of all show a profound respect for the participants.
Another key ingredient is the invited speakers from high levels of government. They provide concrete examples of what science policy is and what it means both in day-to-day activities and in larger abstract goals. From my own perspective, embarking upon a career in science policy from a PhD is difficult because there is no one specific path to take, and indeed it is hard to see any from within academia. The speakers in the SPC program, from a former Congressman to senior White House advisors to agency heads, provide examples of specific roles and make a future in science policy much clearer. They often started out with similar paths to those of the participants, and in many cases are actually colloquium alumni who launched a career from this program. Their words were inspiring and will remain with me in the years to come.
The last ingredient is the participants themselves, coming at a range of career stages from academia, federal agencies, and the private sector. Our range of backgrounds and experiences meant we could provide each other valuable perspectives. Many of us in academia feel like we do not quite fit in, and we are our own greatest resource in connecting with each other to create a pool of support. It was exhilarating to meet the people who I am sure will become my colleagues.
This program is an incredible investment both for the future of policy for science and science for policy. It develops the links to strengthen financial support for the work of the scientific community as well as enhances our ability to produce science that serves society.
Personally, I have planned to enter science policy since before I started my doctoral studies. I have been involved in student policy groups, participated in congressional visit days, done oh-so-many informational interviews, taken relevant classes, and researched policy fellowships. But all that did not illuminate the world of science policy in the way the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium did. I found role models, and discovered in myself a voice that I had never heard before. I return to my PhD research energized and eagerly anticipating a future in science policy.

Naming Winter Storms: Time for Community Cooperation

by Mary M. Glackin, Senior Vice President, Public-Private Partnerships, The Weather Company
Forecasts of hazardous weather have continually improved, particularly over the past few decades. It is oft-cited fact that 5-day forecasts are now as good as 3-day forecasts were 20 years ago. At the same time, the public has more choices than ever in how it accesses weather information. In particular, we are seeing explosive growth in the web, apps, and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet in the aftermath of a severe event, it is common to hear, “I didn’t know” either from public officials or the public at large.
It is this latter issue that the United Kingdom’s Met Office and the Irish Meteorological Service (Met Éireann) were seeking to address when they recently announced their plans to name storms this fall and winter. And to kick the campaign off, they are soliciting the public’s help in picking the names. After watching other country’s experiences, they believe naming significant storms will increase public awareness of severe weather and thus improve appropriate responses to warnings.
Several European countries name winter storms. For example, the Free University of Berlin’s meteorological institute has been naming them since the 1950s, and these names are adopted and used by the media and the German Met Service, Deutscher Wetterdienst. In the U.S. and elsewhere, very impactful storms become named by the media; think Snowmageddon in the Northeast (2010) and St. Jude Storm in the U.K. (2013). In the U.S., The Weather Company (TWC) began naming winter storms in 2012-13, citing the importance of communicating in social media–especially Twitter, which requires a hashtag. Rightly or wrongly, this effort was roundly criticized as having suspect science and for being a marketing ploy.
After three years experience at TWC, here is what we can report: Twitter alone provides an incredible reach where we routinely see more than one billion people receiving tweets using the storm name. Millions of tweets are sent using the hashtag from government agencies, school districts, utilities, businesses, and the general public. These hashtags also allow the NWS and others to find real-time weather data tweeted by citizens that can be used in nowcasts and other storm reports.
The criteria to name a storm are pretty simple: it must meet the National Weather Service winter-storm warning criteria, and it must be expected to impact at least two million people and/or 400,000 sq. km. We use a formal process and a committee of three meteorologists to review these criteria for each possible storm, and while we consider the criteria strict, the storm-naming committee still reserves the right to override the quantitative decision in certain circumstances. Some of the factors that may influence decisions to override the naming rules include the degree of historical significance of the event (e.g., accumulating snow in South Florida, a summer-season snowstorm, etc.); see more details here.  The U.K. is planning a similar system using their two highest warning levels, so names are only applied to the storms that present a significant threat.
What’s in a name? Well in this case, the name is the headline to attract attention to the threat. It is the beginning. It needs to be backed up with easy-to-understand information that details the threat to a specific locale and appropriate call-to-action statements. But, in this information-saturated world, this headline/hashtag is key. We need to recognize the importance of serving people in the way they find easiest to consume information vs. how we are most comfortable in delivering it.
Could we take this U.K./Ireland announcement as a call to the U.S. weather enterprise to come together to see how we could maximize the use of social media to improve the public response to severe weather events?  Twitter is here to stay, and it requires hashtags to separate the relevant information from an avalanche of incoming data. Hashtags are spilling over into other social media as well. It is easy to create a hashtag from a tropical storm name. If we could come together as a community to address this for winter storms, we’d no doubt learn a lot that could then be applied to significant weather at the local scale. The nomenclature could be something much different than what’s used in tropical storms or what we have been using.
What’s important is to lead as a community in this social media era. For our part, we are willing to share our experiences, transition our system, and/or help set up an enterprise-wide naming system. During major snow events, the reach on Twitter has been over a billion. What would our reach be with all of us working together feeding into the same system to keep people informed during these hazardous events? Are we ready to re-engage on this topic as a community?

A New Web Vision

by Tom Champoux, AMS Communications Director
You may have noticed that AMS rolled out a new website today, updating content and navigation in a brand new design. We hope you like it. This is a critically important step for AMS as we continue to improve the communication of our value to our members, to the greater weather, water, and climate community, and to society.
Many tens of thousands of people in our community work extremely hard to create and share knowledge to benefit society. Our website is a tremendously important vehicle in supporting that effort—engaging, informing, and inspiring people. It is a place for the entire community to connect, share, and collaborate. The redesign helps the website do all this by capitalizing on more up-to-date technology and creating a more modern online experience. website_screenshot1
The new look points the website in a new direction, as well. Immediately you’ll notice the shift in the homepage, which previously tried hard to be all things for all people, inevitably with limited success. The new home page focuses less on engaging members directly. Instead, we put more focus on educating all visitors about how AMS supports and strengthens this vibrant community. As a result, navigation is simpler and cleaner; there are more images to convey the excitement, dedication, and enthusiasm that is so apparent across the entire enterprise.
Throughout, the colors are more modern, and the look and feel better represent the tremendous passion and commitment of AMS members and their community.  We wanted to accurately capture that spirit in this new site, and of course make it is easy to find what’s new at AMS.
We felt the website would serve AMS best by

  1. delivering the AMS’s core assets;
  2. educating and inspiring audiences inside and outside the community;
  3. expressing the value of AMS to society at large; and
  4. creating community, bringing audiences together.

Those audiences extend far beyond our membership. While AMS has more than 13,000 active members, we reach a much larger and vibrant community that includes more than 28,000 Facebook and 10,000 Twitter followers. There are also thousands more volunteers, meeting attendees, presenters, authors, and many others who are deeply engaged with AMS and our work, but are not currently active members. These audiences span the career spectrum, from students to late-career professionals. We reach thousands of educators as well as all kinds of enthusiasts. We believe AMS has much to offer everyone and we wanted to be sure the website effectively showed all the ways we can help the community and society.
We’ll continue adding new content, updates, and information in the coming weeks and months to ensure that the AMS website remains a dynamic, engaging online experience for all audiences. We welcome your feedback and comments.

Is This Our Moonshot Moment?

by Douglas Hilderbrand, Co-Chair, AMS Board on Enterprise Communication
Have you ever imagined being a NASA scientist back in the 1960s – staring at the seemingly impossible challenge to send people to the moon and return them back to earth safely? And, doing it with the entire world watching? For the weather, water, and climate “enterprise,” that grand challenge might well be upon us.
Extreme events are now a fixture on the evening news, captured by miniature cameras and video recorders in our hands, and shared across our network via social media. Yet, heartbreaking stories of lives lost and communities devastated continue. Is this our moonshot moment? Physical science, social science, and technological advances have aligned to where the foundational warning process can take a giant leap forward from the time of lunar landings in the early 1970s to today’s smart phones.
On 4-6 August, leaders across government, academia, and industry sectors will come together at the AMS Summer Community Meeting on the campus of North Carolina State University to engage one another on how to modernize the end-to-end warning process. This summer’s theme, “For the Greater Good: Strengthening Collaboration, Consistency, and Trust to Support Informed Decision Making,” points to the ingredients that are needed to take a giant leap toward:

  • Improving how weather, water and climate threats are predicted and communicated
  • Enhancing information for risk management decisions through better expression of urgency and confidence
  • Supporting appropriate actions by the public

The value of weather, water and climate information is reflected in the decisions that are made, actions that are taken, and outcomes that result. I’m reminded of a 2011 quote from NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, who stated, “Conversation is the seminal technology of all societal change.” The SCM is an important step in bringing that conversation to the private, public, and academic sectors in an effort to help bring about meaningful societal change.
The 2015 Summer Community Meeting in Raleigh will help identify opportunities to collaborate, increase consistency and build greater trust within the enterprise and outward to the public as we take on our moonshot moment. The challenges that we face today may not be quite as dramatic as landing astronauts on the moon, but they are certainly as important with so many lives and livelihoods at stake.

Federal Funding for Research in Weather, Water, and Climate

by Paul Higgins, AMS Policy Program Director
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut funding for Earth system science and services. One bill cuts roughly 5% each from NASA’s Earth Sciences and the total NOAA budget. That same bill also cuts more than 16% from the total funding for NSF’s Geoscience and Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorates. In a separate bill, the House voted to cut more than 9% from Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (though the name can be misleading to some, BER houses the research most relevant to our community).
Both bills passed with support from nearly all House Republicans and opposition from nearly all House Democrats. So the cuts suggest that House Republicans do not think as favorably of the Earth sciences as the AMS community might like.
To become law, the Senate and the President would need to sign off on these cuts. That doesn’t appear likely at this time but the paths to agreement for any funding bill—which must be approved every year—are far too complicated to predict. The good news is that Republicans in the Senate (and Democrats in both chambers) appear more predisposed to fund weather, water, and climate research and the President pushed for increases in weather and climate research through his budget proposal earlier this year. The bad news is that the House, Senate, and President must all ultimately agree on funding decisions and even a compromise does not look like good news for our community.
Two contributing factors to the House funding bills are particularly noteworthy. First, the funding for Earth sciences is at least partially reflective of the differing views on how best to deal with the larger budget situation.
The Federal budget consists of two types of spending: 1) mandatory programs (e.g., Medicare and social security), and 2) discretionary programs. Discretionary spending is often further divided into defense and non-defense spending. Much of the funding for science (e.g., NSF, NASA, NOAA, DoE, and USGS) is in the non-defense discretionary (NDD) category.
The President’s proposed budget for NDD spending in FY 2016 of $526 billion exceeds by $33 billion the proposals created by Republican leadership in the House and Senate of $493 billion. Note, however, that even the President’s proposed budget remains roughly $15 billion (2.8 percent) below FY 2010 levels (assuming a rate of inflation of 1.7% per year). So the Federal budget for research (along with everything else) is under pressure even under the President’s higher numbers.
Some of this ties back to the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which made direct cuts to discretionary spending (e.g., funding for science) along with even deeper spending cuts through “sequestration”—automatic across-the-board cuts to both defense and NDD that took hold because Congress failed to agree to a more comprehensive deficit reduction plan (which would have involved a combination of tax increases and more targeted spending cuts). The sequestration cut to NDD is an additional reduction of about six percent.
This overarching budget situation (or conflict) is both a justification for cutting programs and politically expedient cover for those who want to make funding cuts for other reasons, which brings us to the second factor.
The second contributing factor to the House funding bills is the President’s aggressive efforts at climate change risk management. These efforts, which have increased over the last year or so, appear to have angered some, particularly in the House. That anger seems to be being expressed in funding decisions for all of the Earth sciences. At first look, that may not seem to make sense because climate science is a tiny fraction of the Earth sciences and climate change risk management is only tangentially related to climate science. However, the Earth sciences are somewhat easier politically and procedurally for members of congress to focus on than climate science would be alone.
No matter the cause, our community has a strong interest in helping Congress better understand the value of the Earth sciences to the nation and the world. AMS sent a letter to all members of Congress to raise awareness of our contribution (http://ametsoc.org/sss/letters_geosciences_support_may_2015.pdf) but similar efforts from individual scientists throughout the country will likely be needed if policy makers are to view the Earth sciences in a more favorable light.
Strong positive messages, such as those in the AMS letter, are most likely to convey effectively the importance of our science and services to the nation.
Weather and climate information helps society manage risks and realize opportunities associated with existing weather patterns and changes to the climate system (natural and human caused). The services that result can include weather forecasts and warnings, flood and drought prediction and monitoring, natural hazard preparedness and response, public health monitoring, disease prevention and control, assessment and management of fire risk, and decision support for water resources, agriculture, transportation, and other key economic sectors.
Thoughtful engagement with the policy process has the potential to help shift the focus in Congress to the critical role the Earth sciences play in advancing the national agenda. That would help secure the support and resources that our community needs to make critical information and services available.

Take This Survey and Help R2O

by William Hooke, AMS Associate Executive Director and Senior Policy Fellow
The AMS and its Policy Program invite you to take on-line survey on R2O: here are four reasons why you should.
Research-to-operations.” “R2O.” “Applied research.” “Development.” “Technology transfer.” A rich nomenclature has grown up to describe the process and activities by which people and institutions take basic scientific understanding – pure knowledge – and turn it into practical products and services that people want or need. Making the leap from Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic waves to the radio and then television. Conjoining Boolean algebra and understanding of semi-conducting materials to develop computers and smartphones. Seeing in Bernoulli’s equation the possibility of flight, and inventing the airplane. Discovering the equivalency of matter and energy; then going from E=mc2 to nuclear power – and so on. The process is often thought of as purely technical, but there’s also a social component to uptake of new ways of doing things – and more jargon: bridgers; translators; boundary organizations.
R2O is generic. It challenges every field of endeavor and every application: What good are lasers? Now that we’ve mapped the human genome, what does that tell us about health and disease? We can now locate ourselves on the surface of the planet to within a meter or so. Is that valuable? The photoelectric effect? Curious… but can we apply it to our advantage? Fullerenes are interesting carbon structures – but might there be commercial applications of buckyballs and buckytubes in either electronics or nanotechnology?
Meteorology provides its own examples. Computers can perform trillions of computations per second. How might we harness that capability to predict weather numerically? We can measure infrared and microwave radiances from space. Can we use that to infer ground, water, and atmospheric temperatures? Can we accomplish that well enough to put data into those numerical weather models? And what about radars for aircraft detection? Perhaps if we made them even more sensitive, they’d detect rain or snow. Or clouds themselves. Or the wind field within clouds. We’ve improved the physical aspects of weather forecasts (such as the severity of storms, their onset, motion, and dissipation); how can we apply social science to characterize weather impacts and help individuals and communities take effective action?
But R2O is not only pervasive. It is difficult. Vexing. Time-consuming. It can offer huge payoffs, but it’s also expensive. And it’s risky. For every success, there may be dozens, even hundreds of failures, dead ends. It’s complex, and sometimes feels more like an artistic endeavor than the basic science it feeds on. The difference between what works and what doesn’t is poorly understood. The R2O terrain is so difficult that it’s been referred to as “crossing the Valley of Death.[1]
Enough context. You’ll find the link to the AMS Policy Program R2O Survey here [2]. We’re hoping you’ll take time to contribute, for four reasons:
R2O matters. Simply put, it’s the key to realizing societal benefit from R&D. The International Council for Science (ICSU) has long argued that the greatest challenge facing 21st century science and technology is “the widening gap between advancing scientific knowledge and technology and society’s ability to capture and use them.[3] Without R2O the potential benefit from national investments in science is compromised. The world urgently needs scientific understanding of natural resources, natural hazards, and threats to the environment to be translated into action.
The survey has an important audience, and it will change behavior and outcomes. That starts with you. You’ll have access to the results, including others’ inputs, and they’ll have access to yours (without attribution, if you so desire). It will be impossible for you to participate in this survey without becoming more intentional yourself about the uptake and use of your work to make a better world. But it extends as well to national-level leadership. Congressional staffers and executive – branch policy officials are aware of this site and can draw ideas from it as they formulate legislation and allocate federal-agency resources on R2O, especially as it bears on forecast improvement, but not limited to that arena. The more thoughtful and detailed your participation, the greater will be your impact.
Diverse cases provide fuller opportunities for learning. R2O projects are much like snowflakes in that no two are identical. The efforts are not like laboratory experiments which allow stepwise dialing through different inputs and variables to divine generalizations. What’s needed, then, is a rich diversity of cases or narratives, a blend of success stories and failures, and ventures in between, that allow general principles to emerge. Look at the results to date and you’ll find citations to the Clean Air Act, development for weather information processing systems, dual-polarization radars, satellite instrument applications, and more. Add from your own unique personal experience and our community will grow that much wiser.
Your participation will shape future surveys. The AMS Policy Program, under the leadership of Dr. Paul Higgins, is not simply carrying out a one-off survey, but rather developing a platform for drawing on the full resources of our community to think through a range of complex, timely, and important issues. The survey website captures this aspiration:

… Through this site, the AMS Policy Program creates a platform for scientists to engage in the policy process by providing opportunities for them to share their subject matter expertise and inform decision making on important issues for the community. We have informed policymakers, including decision makers in the Executive and Legislative branches, about this site. They are aware of this site and can actively peruse it for a better understanding of the relevant and important community issues.
This site is open broadly to all members of the weather, water, and climate community. It creates a public forum for sharing experience and expertise in these specialty areas of the AMS. Periodically we will host surveys on policy relevant issues within these areas. Please visit this site regularly to participate in current surveys and view past survey results. We hope that you find this public forum as a useful resource for engagement and information!

So, please, participate in this survey. And along the way, help us improve the saliency and utility of the surveys to come. Let’s master this technique for adding to the store of human knowledge and making a safer, more sustainable world.
Thank you!

[1]Want to learn more? See, for example, these links, for biology, for cybersecurity,  and for Earth observations.)
[2] This particular survey has been formulated and is being conducted by Dr. Shalini Mohleji, a Senior Policy Fellow at the AMS.
[3]From a 2006 ICSU CSPR Assessment Panel report, Priority Area Assessment on Capacity Building in Science page 5.

AMS Summer Community Meeting

by Tom Champoux, AMS Director of Communications
Recently, severe thunderstorms rolled east across the greater Boston area that culminated in an EF2 tornado touching down in the city of Revere, just a few miles from my house.
As I watched the weather on TV that day, I noticed some new information provided by the meteorologist as he gave his severe weather updates. Not only did he show the storm’s path, size, speed, intensity, and time of arrival, but he also included the number of people who were in the line of the storm’s path – in this case more than 200,000 would be affected.
This drive to continually innovate the flow of information to the public—refreshing, improving, and updating services in the process—is ingrained in the character of our weather, water, and climate community. It’s a process driven by AMS members across the enterprise.
I was reminded of this repeatedly while attending the AMS Summer Community Meeting this week in State College, Pennsylvania. This year, the theme was “Improving Weather Forecasts and Forecast Communications.” More than 160 attendees from across the country, including leaders in government, academic, and private sectors, convened to discuss, collaborate, and consider ways of improving weather data being collected, retrieving usable information more quickly, and sharing the most accurate information with the public as quickly as possible. In extreme cases, people have to make critical decisions in a matter of minutes.
Discussions focused on how to better inform the public, ensuring their awareness and safety while decreasing false-alarm rates. During the meetings, it became apparent very quickly how important this topic is to the entire weather, water, and climate community, and that hosting these meetings is a vital step for AMS as we bring together key stakeholders to continue improving all aspects of the enterprise. This year’s AMS Summer Community Meeting not only included well-known weather agencies, organizations, and companies but also social scientists, emergency managers, risk analysts, educators, big data specialists, and broadcast meteorologists.
Discussions covered a wide variety of topics such as public perceptions of words like “likely,” “probable,” “possible,” and “certain,” to describe potential weather. Other panel talks included, “Improving Communicating of Forecast Uncertainty,” Communicating Forecast Confidence,” “Conveying Weather Risk,” and “The Weather Enterprise of the Future.” There were also talks about how various social media may hurt or help communicating accurate information.
A tour of AccuWeather Forecast Center headquarters here during the meetings showed how important these issues are to the entire company. I was impressed with their efforts to improve technology, data collection, analysis, and communications. Similarly, National Weather Services Director Louis Uccellini was on hand to talk about what the NWS is doing to address these issues.
The AMS Summer Community Meeting is unique because of the ideas that emerge there. It also is a reminder of how vital it is to bring everyone together. Ideas, information, and experiences are shared freely, and the conversations both inside and outside the meetings remind us all how committed everyone is to constantly improving the entire enterprise, whether they’re doing it independently in their separate jobs, like my local weathercaster, or together in valuable gatherings like the AMS Summer Community Meeting.