In the Field: Understanding Canyon Fires

A Research Spotlight from the 14th Annual Fire and Forest Meteorology Symposium, 2–4 May, 2023

The California Canyon Fire controlled burn moves upslope. Image: San José State University

Wildfires in complex terrain like canyons are known to be particularly dangerous. Canyon fires often “blow up” or “erupt,” exploding suddenly with intense heat and spreading rapidly—and too often causing fatalities among firefighters. In the ninth session of the 14th Fire and Forest Meteorology Symposium on 4 May, Maritza Arreola Amaya presented initial results from the California Canyon Fire experiment, a controlled burn that was intensively documented to help better understand the behavior of canyon fires.

In this experiment, conducted in Central California’s Gabilan Range, a fire was ignited and monitored by a large team who placed sensors around the fire site and monitored the blaze from the ground, from the air with balloons, drones and helicopters; from meteorological towers; and with vehicle-mounted instruments including Radar, LiDAR (“light detection and ranging,” which uses laser light pulses to build three-dimensional images), and SoDAR (“sonic detection and ranging,” which uses sound waves to measure wind speed at different heights). The fire was lit near the bottom of the canyon in steep terrain of chaparral and sparse oak trees. It moved quickly up the canyon, the first time a fire of this size has naturally done so while under intense monitoring.

Flame attachment and v-shaped spread of the California Canyon Fire controlled burn. Image: CAL FIRE

The fire spread up the walls of the canyon in a “v” shape. It clearly exhibited eruptive behavior including flame attachment—in which hot gases rising from the fire downslope heat the unburned fuel further up the slope, leading to an intense, quickly spreading fire front. A highly turbulent, rotating plume of smoke emerged, and air was rapidly entrained into the fire, where temperatures reached nearly 800 degrees Centigrade (1472 Fahrenheit).

While some instruments were destroyed by the flames, researchers at San Jose State, the NSF-UICRC Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center, and more are eagerly analyzing the data collected to help improve understanding and modeling of dangerous canyon fires.

“Working on this one-of-a-kind canyon project was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Seeing the experiment that took so long to organize and set up finally come to life was amazing. It involved countless hours setting up complicated instrumentation so that ultimately the behavior of a wildfire on canyon terrain could be analyzed for the first time naturally moving up a large canyon. I know that this successful experiment will play a big part in future investigations involving wildfires on complex terrain and the danger they bring to firefighters.”

Maritza Arreola Amaya

Meeting registrants can view the recording of this session here. Recordings become publicly available three months after the meeting.

For a real-life example of a fatal canyon fire and the weather conditions that worsened it, see our post about the Yarnell Hill Fire.

About 14Fire

Meteorology and wildfires are intimately interconnected—and wildfires are becoming increasingly severe and frequent in many parts of the United States. From local residents and firefighters on the ground to planners and insurers, to people hundreds of miles away breathing wind-driven smoke, society relies on our ever-improving ability to understand and forecast the atmospheric conditions relating to wildfire. The American Meteorological Society’s 14th Fire and Forest Meteorology Symposium brought together researchers and fire managers to discuss the latest science.

The U.S. Budget in 5 Minutes: A Primer for Scientists

The U.S. Capitol Building on a banknote

By Katie Pflaumer, AMS Marketing Communications Manager, and Paul Higgins, AMS Associate Executive Director for Policy

The federal budget is the cornerstone for much of the scientific funding in the United States. Directly or indirectly, federal funding impacts the work of almost all AMS members and those in related fields. But do you know how it works? Even if you’re not attending the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium this coming week, you can still get a sense of budget basics with this quick guide from the AMS Policy Program.

Science, Policy, and the Budget

Scientific insights can influence policy and help improve it—this is one major way that science matters to society, whether we’re determining how to manage reservoirs or what we are going to do about climate change. But however you slice it, the decisions made by policymakers and politicians also affect how we practice science. Perhaps the most prominent way is through funding for research—determining what gets funded, and how much.

For our purposes, the two key components of the U.S. federal budget are revenue (taxes and fees taken in by the federal government) and spending.

  • Mandatory spending is required by existing public law or statute. Nearly two-thirds of government spending comes from existing laws—such as those that fund Social Security and Medicare along with payments on the nation’s debt.
  • Discretionary spending has to be funded each year or at other regular intervals through an act of Congress. Many government agencies (including scientific ones) rely on discretionary spending.

The annual budget process is how the U.S. Government determines its discretionary spending. The budget is a highly political document. It is one of the places where big philosophical questions play out about who should pay for what, the size and role of the federal government, and different approaches to debts, deficits, and surpluses. Increased spending in any one area requires more taxes, taking funding away from something else, or deficit spending (and adding on debt). Decreased spending requires difficult decisions about what programs or benefits get cut.

The Budget Process: Resolutions, Reconciliation, and Appropriations, Oh My!

The U.S. government runs on a fiscal year that starts on October 1 of the previous calendar year (so FY 2024 begins October 1, 2023). Our current budget framework is outlined in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

The U.S. House and Senate together hold the purse strings for the federal budget, but the executive branch has the first go at things. Here’s how the process works in a “typical” year.

The president develops a detailed budget request. This request is managed by the Office of Management and Budget and developed in concert with federal agencies, and is due to Congress on the first Monday in February prior to the start of the next fiscal year.

The Senate and the House of Representatives develop a joint congressional budget resolution that specifies overall tax and spending levels, providing a top-line budget number. The budget resolution can also include “reconciliation”—legislation that can address revenue or spending issues affecting the overall budget, including in ways that significantly change existing laws.

The House and Senate vote on the budget resolution. Note: Both the budget resolution and any reconciliation measures need only a simple majority vote in the Senate and aren’t subject to the vote-stalling technique known as a filibuster (which requires 60 votes to break). Reconciliation measures are sometimes used to pass controversial legislation that wouldn’t receive 60 Senate votes—including the Bush-era tax cuts, fixes for the Affordable Care Act, and the American Rescue Plan of 2021.

The budget resolution, once passed in both the House and the Senate, establishes overall discretionary funding for the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations; this is known as a 302(a) allocation. The main function of the Appropriations committees is to provide discretionary funding to government operations including federal agencies.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each parcel the funding out to twelve Appropriations subcommittees (each of which receives a 302(b) allocation). The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees develop more detailed spending plans based on the allocations received.

Each of the subcommittees can pass a separate funding bill, but they are often passed as a single “omnibus” bill covering some or all of the 12 appropriations. The House and Senate must come to agreement on and pass identical versions of these funding bills. Unlike the original budget resolution, this requires a 60-vote majority in the Senate to avoid a filibuster. Any provisions in the bill(s) that would exceed the allotted budget are also subject to filibuster.

The House and Senate must pass the budget bill(s) and get them signed by the president (or override the president’s veto) by the time the fiscal year begins.

Subcommittees Funding Science

Several appropriations subcommittees deal with science-related agencies (for example, the defense budget funds a lot of science research). However, the three subcommittees that have the greatest science focus are likely Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (budgets for NOAA, NASA, the NSF, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among others), Energy and Water Development (which includes the Department of Energy and its Office of Science), and Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (which includes both USGS and EPA).

That’s the idea—in practice, it’s often a lot more complicated. For example, when FY 2014 started without an agreed-upon budget, the government shut down for 16 days. In mid-October, Congress passed a “continuing resolution” to allow the government to reopen using the previous year’s budget levels. The final omnibus budget wasn’t signed until January 2014, more than three months into the fiscal year.

As you can see, the politics of funding the U.S. government makes for a major challenge, requiring a lot of work, diplomacy, and give-and-take—far more than we can get into in a blog post. If you’d like to explore the topic further, a more thorough rundown on the budget is available in this AMS webinar recording: “The U.S. Federal Budget and Policy Process.” And don’t forget to follow the AMS Policy Program for more ways you can learn about—or get involved in—the policy process!

Helpful Resources

About the AMS Policy Program

The Policy Program promotes understanding and use of science and services relating to weather, water, and climate. Our goal is to help the nation, and the world, avoid risks and realize opportunities associated with the Earth system.

The Yarnell Hill Fire: Microbursts, Density Currents, and 19 Lost Lives

A Research Spotlight from the 14th Annual Fire and Forest Meteorology Symposium, 2–4 May, 2023

The Yarnell Hill Fire the day it began, June 28, 2013. Image credit: USDA

Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire ranks among the U.S. wildfires with the most firefighter fatalities. On June 30, 2013, members of the interagency Granite Mountain Hotshots were entrapped in a canyon by fire due to rapidly shifting wind conditions. Many attempted to take shelter but were overwhelmed. Nineteen firefighters died and the fire, fed by the strong winds, blazed out of control. The tragedy and damage devastated the community of Yarnell, Arizona.

A joint team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and North Carolina A&T State University has been using simulations to help understand exactly what happened. A recent presentation by Michael Kaplan et al. May 2, 2023 in the first session of the 14th Fire and Forest Meteorology Symposium broke down the events at the meso-γ (2–20 km) scale leading up to the tragedy, the latest in a series of analyses starting at large scales and moving towards ever-finer resolution. They found that a density current (a flow of denser air that intrudes underneath less-dense air) and its secondary circulations drove the winds that forced fire into the canyon where the Granite Mountain Hotshots were located.

Firefighters near the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 28, 2013. Image credit: USDA

A squall line that developed over the Colorado Plateau on the morning of the 30th moved southwestward rapidly, strengthening over the Black Hills and Bradshaw Mountains on the way, until it died out further to the southwest over the Weaver Mountains near Yarnell. From this dying squall line developed a density current that produced unusual air circulation patterns in combination with the area’s complex terrain. Simulations by the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model suggest that the fading density current created conditions in the Weaver Mountains that were highly conducive to downward air motion. This resulted in a series of strong localized downdrafts similar to microbursts near the fire site.

Earlier in the day, the fire had been moving towards the northeast, driven by southwesterly winds. Within 1–2 hours in the late afternoon, the winds shifted and intensified rapidly, becoming northwesterly, then northeasterly, blowing at 45 miles per hour and driving the fire (now blazing at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit), in a southwesterly direction. Kaplan called these shifts “dramatic, remarkable changes.”

Wind direction and speed (blue arrows) and direction of Yarnell Hill fire motion (red lines) at 3:30–4:30 p.m. and 4:30–5:30 p.m. local time on June 30, 2013. Image: State of Arizona Serious Accident Investigation Team

In the end, “The entrapment of the Granite Mountain Hotshots was likely the result of very, very intense redirected winds” that continued over a longer than expected period, Kaplan said. “Even after they got the initial surge of northeasterly flow [due to the density current] the Hotshots had to deal with more surges of high momentum” from the series of microbursts. He noted that despite the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ high level of experience, “This is something firefighters may not have really been [expecting] to occur.”

Vertical cross-section of potential temperature and isotachs from 3:15 to 3:35 p.m. Arizona time on June 30, 2013, showing new cells forming behind the density current near Yarnell, associated with microburst downdrafts. Image courtesy of Michael Kaplan

Kaplan’s team will continue to work on their simulations of conditions associated with the Yarnell Hill Fire, with the hope of providing information that can help prevent similar entrapments, and deaths, in the future.

Meeting registrants can view the recording of this session here. Recordings become publicly available three months after the meeting.


About 14Fire
Meteorology and wildfires are intimately interconnected—and wildfires are becoming increasingly severe and frequent in many parts of the United States. From local residents and firefighters on the ground to planners and insurers, to people hundreds of miles away breathing wind-driven smoke, society relies on our ever-improving ability to understand and forecast the atmospheric conditions relating to wildfire. The American Meteorological Society’s 14th Fire and Forest Meteorology Symposium brought together researchers and fire managers to discuss the latest science.

Climate Change Is Driving Piracy on the Seas

by AMS Staff

Photo credit: Pok Rie, Pexels

Climate change is an unseen force behind maritime piracy, with opposite impacts on two of the world’s major pirate hotspots, according to a paper just published in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and Society (WCAS). The study, by Bo Jiang, PhD (University of Macau), and Gary LaFree, PhD (University of Maryland, College Park), examines 20 years’ worth of data, demonstrating that years with warmer ocean temperatures see increased piracy off the coasts of East Africa, but decreased piracy in the South China Sea.

The reason is fish. South China Sea fisheries see better catches in warmer years, but in East Africa (bordering countries like Somalia), warmer temperatures have a negative effect on fisheries. This means lean times for fishing communities—which in turn means fishermen are more likely to take up piracy to supplement their income. “When there’s less fish there’s more piracy; when there’s more fish there’s less piracy,” Jiang says. Damage to fish stocks lessened the time between successful pirate attacks, and increased the likelihood that any given attack would succeed. “[This is] like a natural experiment, because we are looking at two regions of the world that have opposite effects. And these two are the hotspots of piracy around the world.”

A Pirate’s Life (for Now?)

The view of piracy as an economic decision—rather than a personal identity—has important implications for addressing crime on the seas. “The public generally looks at people as either criminal or not criminal,” says LaFree. “This looks much more like people drift into it depending on the other opportunities they have. And drift out of it, I think that was an important part.”

People in areas prone to piracy often have names for this phenomenon. In Singapore, where Jiang grew up, fishermen who turn to piracy when fish production is low are called “standby pirates” or “part-time pirates.” This is one of the first studies in criminology to quantitatively examine when these standby pirates are most likely to engage in illegal activities. To tease out the effects of climate from those of other factors, Jiang and LaFree carefully examined the potential effects of other factors—like the presence of private security guards on board, and the regional “misery index” of local economic stress. Holding all other variables constant, they still found a significant relationship between sea surface temperature and piracy.

Photo credit: Bedis ElAcheche, Pexels

Jiang and LaFree were surprised at how rapidly and strongly climate was affecting fisheries. They believe part of the reason is how sensitive fish are to small changes in sea-surface temperature (SST), as poikilothermic (cold-blooded) animals. There are climate change winners and losers among fish,” says Jiang. “Even if there’s [just] a small increase in the SST, the fish are the first ones to feel it, so they are just going to migrate somewhere either warmer or cooler.”

Where climate change is harming fisheries, the economic incentives for piracy are likely to grow stronger as temperatures increase. What’s more, even in the South China Sea where fisheries currently benefit from warming, there are likely threshold temperatures past which fish stocks won’t respond so positively.

“The important question, based on our paper, is how to decouple the link and break the connection between legitimate and illegitimate activities,” says Jiang. “Climate change is going to continue into the foreseeable future, so governments around the world, especially in these two regions, need to devise policies that are going to take such empirical evidence into consideration.”

Global Forces: Crime and Climate Change

It’s not just down to individual governments, either. As LaFree points out, crime is a global endeavor, whether it’s piracy or terrorism. “We’re making a big pitch in some of the work we’re doing right now that … globalization is really important for solving these sorts of problems that cut across national boundaries.”

This paper is the first in a series of collaborations between Jiang and LaFree examining climate change, globalization, and crime—including homicide, terrorism, and civil conflict. Qualitative studies have already shown that when climate change devastates livelihoods, conflict and terrorist recruitment may follow; but criminology often suffers from a lack of complete data or differences in reporting among different countries, making it hard to get the full picture. Being able to use satellite observations of variables like temperature—which can provide reliable data for anywhere in the world—is a major boon to those examining large-scale trends in crime. The authors hope such scientific advances will help counter the world’s worsening social and environmental problems.

Climate researchers and criminologists don’t tend to overlap much, so there is a wealth of opportunity for research on climate change and crime. Jiang and LaFree called for more collaboration in the future to unleash the power of interdisciplinary science on two of the world’s most global and intractable challenges. “From a science standpoint, it’s kind of like the best of times-worst of times,” says LaFree. “Hopefully our technology will be better than the problems.”

Read the paper: Jiang, Bo, and Gary LaFree. 2023. “Climate Change, Fish Production, and Maritime Piracy.” Weather, Climate, and Society (WCAS).

Even without a White Christmas….Snow Measurements Must Go On

The Pacific Northwest still is one of the few shining spots on the snow map for this holiday, but if Seattle is waiting with bated breath (and outstretched tongue)  for a big, beautiful White Christmas, Cliff Mass throws a bucket of cold (flakes?) on hopes for deep cover. He explains how numerical prediction models can overstate snow possibilities in low elevations near mountains. But also: he explains the commonly misunderstood difference between accumulated snow (what fell from the sky) and snow depth (what remains to pile up).

If you are one of the lucky few with snow on Christmas Day (and one of the many who will celebrate a holiday unimpeded by snowy roads), we have to ask: what are you going to do with that snow, anyway?

If you’re not sure, ask some experts. Maybe ask your friends in the Northeast who so far this winter are bereft of drifts. Would they make snow angels? Sculpt snow people, with carrots, or with buttons of coal dug out of stockings?
When meteorologists catch snowflakes—and not on outstretched tongues!—they measure. Science means quantifying snowfall.  Accuracy matters: the measurements are meaningful. For example, they figure in aircraft deicing, forecasts of spring melt, stream runoff, flooding prospects, and more. They are also tracked over many years in climate records.
Unfortunately, while measuring snow depth might be easy to imagine if you have a ruler, it’s not so simple, and measuring ongoing snowfall is not easy. Ultimately…like most things scientific: there’s more to learn and important refinements to make!

Recently the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a new review of snowfall measurement techniques. The authors, John Kochendorfer of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tennessee), and colleagues write “snowfall measurements are subject to significant errors and biases.”

For years meteorologists have realized that not all observers and networks measure snowfall the same way. For instance, methods of shielding gauges from wind errors, or accounting for evaporation, vary. And the results vary. To clear this snow observing problem the World Meteorological Organization put together a team of scientists who compared and evaluated the various methods and devices used worldwide. Kochendorfer et al. followed up to see what progress can be made from this WMO report. They write:

Snowfall is one of the most difficult meteorological variables to measure using automated sensors. …. Despite recent advancements in sensor technology, measurement techniques, and communications, snow cover measurements, such as snow depth and snow water equivalent (SWE), are still primarily recorded manually, and require specialized equipment and well-trained personnel. …. Measurement of the liquid water equivalent of precipitation falling as snow, or other forms of solid precipitation, typically requires heated precipitation gauges to prevent full or partial blockage (capping) of the gauge inlet by snow and ice. In addition, precipitation gauges can significantly underestimate the true amount of solid precipitation, primarily due to wind effects. For these reasons, the improvement of snow cover and solid precipitation measurements is an important subject of climatological and hydrological research in cold regions.

All-season measurement methods that catch precipitation (such as tipping-buckets) can handle snow, as can weighing gauges. Methods that catch snowflakes ultimately require weighing the melted water of snow. For these common methods, Kochendorfer et al. note that evaporation and response delays can be a problem (because it is necessary to warm and melt the snow and weigh the catch). The wind shields protecting the gauges can also accrue or redirect snow, however.

One piece of advice from the article may seem perfectly attuned with a White Christmas. If you’ve got family coming over for dinner, and a weighing-gauge catchment device for snow, put the snow in the pan and of course, heat it, but also add a layer of oil. The idea is not to fry up a side dish. But to prevent evaporation (and freezing—in fact antifreeze is used in some snow measurement techniques). Yes, that’s basically a way to keep track of snow as its falling and not lose too much in the process.

The ways of “undercatchment” are multifarious:
Snow measuring issuesMeanwhile, Kochenderfer et al. note a proliferation of automated gauges and new non-catchment methods that involve using laser disdrometers and “present-weather” detectors to remotely determine what type of precipitation is falling.
Think of it as measuring free-ranging, versus, captive snow. Data processing methods allow calculations of snowfall rate. So far, according to the WMO comparisons, these devices solve some of the problems of “catchment” measurements, but they are still susceptible to over- and under-counting snowfall accumulation, due to wind direction and other factors. Results so far look better for observations on long periods like full seasons, rather than for a one-day holiday.  The new disdrometers can also be used in tandem with simple evaporative plates that use mass heat transfer to measure amounts.

Even if a White Christmas isn’t in the immediate future for many of us, the future of snow measurement may already have arrived anyway, if not for every observer.

New snow devices

Derecho Possible in the Upper Midwest Today

Severe thunderstorms are expected to erupt late this afternoon in the upper Midwest and, according to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), they could organize into a single, large bowing line capable of widespread damaging winds called a derecho tonight. Last summer a very destructive derecho blitzed Iowa with wind gusts over 100 mph.

SPC Convective Outlook
SPC Convective Outlook

SPC’s Day 1 Convective Outlook has a large part of Wisconsin in a moderate risk of severe storms, with enhanced and slight risk areas surrounding it extending northwest into Minnesota and southeast into northwest Ohio. Supercell thunderstorms are expected to blossom across northern Minnesota late this afternoon with the threat of large to very large hail and tornadoes as well as damaging winds.

Storms then may grow into a derecho capable of producing a wide swath of wind gusts greater than 75 mph hurricane force as it races southeast across western and southern Wisconsin late today and overnight. Milwaukee is in its potential path and it’s possible the line may reach Chicago before it begins to weaken.
SPC has outlooked the moderate risk area with 45% odds of wind gusts exceeding 50 knots (58 mph), and surrounds that area with a 10 percent probability of wind gusts over 65 knots (74 mph) all the way into southwest Michigan and extreme northern Indiana.

While SPC notes in their morning discussion that there’s uncertainty how far southeast the danger will extend, “activity should expand into an MCS (mesoscale convective system) capable of severe gusts and tornadoes across … southern/eastern Wisconsin this evening, shifting into the southern Lake Michigan and lower Michigan vicinity tonight. A derecho may occur, with embedded channels of hurricane-force gusts.”

But just what exactly is a derecho? And can they be predicted? SPC notes in the same discussion, “Whether or not the timing/location of the upscale storm transition permits the event to be classified officially as a derecho in hindsight, there is strong concern it will have that kind of intense and destructive wind impact for at least a few hours.”

Defining Derechos Is Complicated–Even for Meteorologists, as we noted in a detailed blog post on The Front Page last summer after Iowa’s widespread and costly damaging wind event. They aren’t “inland hurricanes” as they are often described, the post explains, but they can mimic the type of widespread damage seen with hurricane winds.
In their midday Convective Outlook update, SPC cautions that while “most guidance suggests the MCS will weaken late tonight as it moves into a slightly less moist/unstable air mass over MI/IN/OH … if mesoscale organization is sufficiently high, the complex could persist longer than model depictions.”
Have multiple ways to get warnings

Southeasterners Perceive Tornado Risk Dangerously Different Than They Should, Especially at Night

While a major winter storm last month was plastering the United States from Texas and New Mexico to New England with heavy snow and ice, volatile conditions in the Southeast (SE) spawned damaging and deadly tornadoes. One of these overnight Monday, February 16, tragically took the lives of 3 people and injured 10 in coastal North Carolina. Such nocturnal tornadoes are common in the Southeastern U.S.—a unique trait—and represent an extreme danger to sleeping residents.

Compounding this problem, new research in the AMS journal Weather, Climate, and Society suggests there may be a deadly disconnect between tornado perception and reality in the region right when residents instead need an acute assessment of their tornado potential.
The article “Do We Know Our Own Tornado Season? A Psychological Investigation of Perceived Tornado Likelihood in the Southeast United States,” by Stephen Broomell of Carnegie Mellon University, with  colleagues from Stanford and NCAR, notes the tragic results of the regional misperception:

The recurring risks posed by tornadoes in the SE United States are exemplified by the significant loss of life associated with recent tornado outbreaks in the SE, including the 2008 Super Tuesday outbreak that killed over 50 people and the devastating 27 April 2011 outbreak that killed over 300 people in a single day.

Their survey of residents in seven states, from Louisiana and Arkansas to Georgia and Kentucky, representing the Southeastern region, finds that the residents perceive their tornado likelihood differently than meteorologists and experts familiar with Southeastern tornado risk. This puts them at great risk because residents’ experiences don’t match what actually happens where they live.

Broomell and his fellow researchers contend that Southeast residents may be misusing knowledge of Great Plains tornado events, ubiquitous in tornado chasing reality shows and social media videos, when determining their own risk. A fatal flaw since tornado behavior is different between the two regions.
WCAS SE tornado season survey2For starters, unlike in infamous “Tornado Alley” states of Texas and Oklahoma north through Nebraska and Iowa into South Dakota, the Southeast lacks a single, “traditional” tornado season, with tornadoes “spread out across different seasons,” Broomell along with his coauthors report, including wintertime. The Southeast also endures more tornadoes overnight, as happened last week in North Carolina. And they spawn from multiple types of storm systems in the Southeast, more so than in the Great Plains. This makes knowledge about residents’ regional tornado likelihood especially critical in Southeastern states.

Another recent study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, “In the Dark: Public Perceptions of and National Weather Service Forecaster Considerations for Nocturnal Tornadoes in Tennessee,” by Kelsey Ellis (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), et al., surveyed residents of Tennessee and came away with similar findings about tornado timing: about half of Tennessee’s tornadoes occur at night, and yet less than half of those surveyed thought they would be able to receive nighttime tornado warnings.

Local forecasters and broadcast meteorologists as well as emergency managers are tuned into the mismatch. In the BAMS study, NWS forecasters said they fear for the public’s safety, particularly with nighttime tornadoes, because they “know how dangerous nocturnal events are”—fatalities “are a given,” some said.

Ellis and her colleagues recommended developing a single, consistent communication they term “One Message” to focus on getting out word about the most deadly aspect of the tornado threat. Forecasters, broadcasters, and emergency managers through regular and social media would then be consistent in their messaging to residents, the researchers state, decreasing confusion. For example:

Nighttime tornadoes expected. Sleep with your phone ON tonight!

With severe weather season ready to pop as spring-like warmth quickly overwhelms winter’s icy grip in the next couple of weeks, the nation’s tornado risk will blossom across the South and Southeast. And nocturnal tornado threats will only increase, particularly in the Southeast, as February turns into March, and then April—a historically deadly month.
For residents in places more prone to nighttime tornadoes, Ellis et al. say the ways to stay safe are clear:

Have multiple ways to get tornado warnings, do not rely on outdoor sirens, sleep with your phone on and charged during severe weather, and do not stay in particularly vulnerable locations such as mobile homes or vehicles.

The 101st AMS Annual Meeting: Find Your (Virtual) Pathways of Major Themes

We’re on the verge of the first ever all-virtual AMS Annual Meeting—yet another milestone in a time of milestones, but nonetheless our 101st Annual Meeting. And like all of the mega-gatherings AMS has held for the weather, water, and climate community in the past, this coming week (starting Sunday, January 10th), promises many opportunities to catchAMS21 logo L6186437 DESGD v7 up with what colleagues have been doing over the past year, what they’re thinking about now, and what they’re planning for coming years.

Although we’ll miss the chance encounters, side conversations, and in-person meet-ups, this year’s virtual format offers a lot of interaction with its breakout rooms and ample time set aside both for concentrated contemplation of presentations and for back-and-forth between presenters and audiences. Indeed, the fact that thousands of people are not all in one place attending parallel tracks of conferences and symposia with walls in-between them means that it may even be easier than ever to hop between sessions without running from room to room.

This Year’s Overarching Theme

The virtual experience may create an opportunity to take in multiple perspectives on the 101st Annual Meeting theme: this AMS tradition of organizing all the parallel conferences together on one unifying theme can come alive with the new format if you’re willing to navigate your own pathway through the presentations with that in mind. This year’s theme is “Strengthening engagement with communities through our science and service.” While on the face of it that theme has the spirit of many Annual Meeting themes of the past, in this meeting those words have more direct relevance on the programming than you may think. We’ll show you how with an upcoming blog post.

In fact, this year’s theme is pivotal for a meeting at this moment. It turned out to anticipate central issues of the year we had in 2020 and the directions and solutions your colleagues are proposing in their presentations, in response to the unique experience of 2020. In an forthcoming post, we’ll lay out these thematic implications by proposing a simple crosscutting pathway through the week’s video presentations, touching on the meeting theme by hopping from symposium to symposium, taking advantage of the Annual Meeting as a virtual experience.

The usual way most of us approach the meeting, of course, is to focus on an area of specialization. That’s why it is organized as always as a collection of about 40 specific conferences and symposia running in parallel—for example the 35th Conference on Hydrology, the 30th Conference on Education, and the 23rd Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry.

But you can imagine many independent, personalized ways to navigate any AMS Annual Meeting, such as a focus on multidisciplinary work, or on award winners’ presentations. In the following blog posts, we’ll dream up a few such tracks for you to take next week.

A Closer Look

Most years, attendees look forward to the AMS Annual Meeting as a chance to catch up on what colleagues have been accomplishing. In 2020, as in any normal year, it’s the major weather events of the past year that shape the work this community does. So as our first example of a pathway through the virtual meeting—think of it as a personalized symposium—we’ll focus on how the Annual Meeting is an opportunity to reflect collectively on 2020 weather and the lessons learned from studying it and forecasting it, and helping the world respond to it. As in the past, the Annual Meeting next week offers a targeted discussion of the past year’s weather, in particular in a symposium on Major Weather Events and Impacts of 2020. These sessions are on Friday, January 15. Among the events covered will be the August Midwest Derecho, high-impact atmospheric rivers, a North Dakota blizzard, the hyperactive 2020 hurricane season, wildfires, atmospheric effects of COVID, and all the 10 separate billion-dollar weather disasters (tying a record number) of the year in the United States (as charted here in historical context from Adam Smith’s abstract).

US Billion Dollar Disasters

Given the profusion of major disasters, all the papers about the year are not contained in one set of sessions or one conference. You can make 2020’s weather a multi-conference track through the meeting, if you’re so inclined. 2020 was that kind of year, of course! For example …

  • Also in the mesoscale symposium posters is an evaluation of the difficulty to forecast the August Midwest derecho, by Bruno Z. Ribeiro (SUNY Albany), Steven J. Weiss (SPC), and Lance Bosart (SUNY Albany). They write in their abstract: “This case demonstrates that improvements in the predictability of warm-season derecho-producing MCSs requires better understanding of the evolution from disorganized convection into a linear MCS.

With wildfires, extreme heat, air quality…this presentation has the overwhelming feeling of simultaneous extreme events of 2020 wrapped up in a nutshell. Indeed, as the above NOAA graphic of billion-dollar disasters exemplifies, the experience of 2020 opened up as never before in the United States a public discourse about the relationship between climate change and vulnerability to extreme weather. Not surprisingly, the AMS Annual Meeting is going to offer many insights on this relationship. That’s yet another thread you can follow as from symposium to symposium you try to personalize the virtual experience of the meeting, We’ll propose that pathway in a follow-on blog post, and right after that we’ll trace several other cross-cutting themes in the Annual Meeting—themes you’d never have found so pervasive in any other years. The 2021 Annual Meeting is unique for the reasons that 2020 was unique.

More Cross-cutting Theme Tie-ins

Of course you’ll note the massive disruption of COVID as mentioned in Ahmaov’s presentation. The pandemic had more impacts than just on air quality, but we explore in a follow-on blog post how the pervasive theme of COVID is in itself a viable personalized crosscutting pathway through the 2021 Annual Meeting, as are some of the other salient societal themes of 2020—the fight against racism, the struggle for social justice and equity,  and the response of the sciences toNext Up1 Post 1 such larger societal issues by seeking better community engagement—thereby making this year’s overarching meeting theme exceptionally timely. These pathways in the Annual Meeting trace the ways the tumultuous year 2020 has left an indelible mark on the weather, water, and climate community, as it did on all other people and professions and sciences.

AMS Annual Meeting: Choose Your Own (Virtual) Pathway. Part 5: Community Engagement

As we mentioned in the first post in this series of potential “Virtual” Pathways through the rich AMS Annual Meeting program of parallel conferences, this year’s overarching theme is especially powerful:

Strengthening engagement with communities through our science and services.” 

This is a statement of needs, accomplishments, and future priorities all in one. After the recognitions so many people have had in 2020—a year of isolation and social distancing, of reliance on community, and of recognition that science is at the heart of cures and solutions for society, but also the recognition that the progress of science depends on cooperation with the greater community—the Annual Meeting theme guiding the program offerings reflects not only powerful future directions for the weather, water, and climate community, but also the unique experience of the year 2020.

Community Engagement is a viable pathway through the meeting—we can only touch on a few highlights of this path, because AMS members have resoundingly responded to the call for presentations on the theme with many perspectives on the need for community engagement. Many of your colleagues have been forging ahead already by forming their science, services, and products as a part of a community engagement process.

As he often does, AMS Associate Executive Director William Hooke gets to the heart of the issue, encapsulating the theme in a marriage metaphor in his Core Keynote for the Conference on Societal Applications, “Let’s Get Hitched.”

The metaphor of a marital commitment between scientists and communities expresses a shared destiny, as Hooke explains in his abstract:

… we need to build community relationships that are founded on trust and equity; that celebrate cultural and other forms of diversity, but focus on shared purposes that can’t be achieved except through concerted effort; that can accommodate social change and accompanying scientific and technological advance; and that offer joy and satisfaction in the moment, while ratcheting the community and even the larger world toward a better place over the long haul. Success requires we remain motivated, (multi-) disciplined and evidence-based in our approach toward these ends over a sustained period of years. Sound familiar? Perhaps it should; it mirrors attributes of successful engagements of a more romantic sort.

Hooke sets the stage for seeing this ongoing integration of community engagement through many steps of the scientific process—as a natural outgrowth of the focus on social justice that many presenters are bringing to the AMS Annual Meeting.

In the previous Front Page post, we traced a virtual pathway through the meeting for attendees who are interested in social justice. So, naturally, one could construct a similar pathway through the meeting devoted to Community Engagement. We’ll propose an abbreviated path of that kind—just touching on a few of the highlights by hopping between some of the conferences. Naturally because this is the meeting theme itself, there are potential discussions about Community Engagement in almost every session. It’s going to be a special meeting and a busy week, if this is your particular interest.

And you might as well follow Hooke’s presentation with a double dose of community engagement in this Core Science Keynote from Vernon Morris (Arizona State University), bringing together the mutual interdependence of social justice and community engagement themes:

A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing Lessons Learned from Community Engagement in Geohealth/Environmental Justice Studies in Washington, D.C., and Gondar, Ethiopia.”

From the abstract we learn that the presentation discusses dual projects in communities at the nexus of air quality – health research.  The work for an open-air hospital in Northern Ethiopia involved medical doctors, pharmacists, virologists, and microbiologists….and “the scope of the study was significantly modified based on community engagement,” Morris states. “The additional diversity in perspective inspired novel inquiry, drove creativity in the implementation of the study, and resulted in greater use-inspired research.”

Morris’s presentation is one of many that offer practical experience in community engagement.

For example, at the Conference on Transition of Research to Operations,”Nicholas Schmidt (National Ocean Service) is presenting  “NOAA’s Digital Coast—A Service Delivery Best Practice.” He writes:

The Digital Coast is … a website focused on providing the data, tools, and training coastal communities need to protect their citizens, infrastructure, and economy from coastal hazards and other threats. The Digital Coast …is successful because of the Digital Coast Partnership, a group of eight non-profit organizations who work with NOAA providing input for the effort. The Digital Coast is built on the interaction between the Digital Coast Partners and user community and the website… Effective implementation of service delivery requires relationships between information producers and consumers built on mutual trust and respect. Key to developing and maintaining these relationships is sustained engagement and collaboration that will facilitate the integration of services into actionable information.DigitalCoast

A number of presentations emphasize the need for translation of meteorological terms into Spanish as part of better service to Spanish speaking communities of the United States.

Community Feedback and Participation

The Annual Meeting will showcase a variety of ways to elicit feedback and participation from community members For example …

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Margaret Orr (NOAA, George Mason University)  presents “Lessons Learned from Heat Watch Interviews.” The interview process offers a hybrid of objective “Citizen Science” participation and subjective opinions from the community. She writes:

While satellite data is effective in identifying urban heat islands, ground-level measurements help tell the full story on a more personal and local level, and community engagement is necessary for publicizing data and galvanizing reform. The Heat Watch program, a collaboration between NOAA and CAPA Strategies, engages community scientists in taking air temperature measurements via car or bicycle to create detailed maps of urban heat islands throughout cities. Through interviews with city officials in the 2020 Heat Watch cohort, it was found that the program’s resulting data and anecdotal observations were significant and spoke directly to community concerns about heat. Participants indicated that the personalization of the heat island phenomenon, community engagement through citizen science, and the emphasis on heat’s effects on health and infrastructure were drivers for other city officials and agencies to implement solutions to the heat island problem.

On the other hand, these days the objective and subjective collection of community feedback and channeling of participation is possible through social media. Indeed, this presentation from Iain McConnell (University of Wisconsin-Madison), “Modeling Public Attention to Weather Alerts in Social Media” takes advantage of microblogging in the public as a vehicle for understanding public attention and response to warnings, but it is easy to imagine how such techniques could also constitute an advance in community engagement through objective/subjective gathering of community feedback timely enough to empower participation in the weather warnings process. McConnell writes:

Here tweets are collected relating to US weather alerts reported by the National Weather Service. For each alert event the public’s interaction with the evolving weather hazard information system is documented. The severity of the alerts (e.g., warned or not) is compared to the degree of public interaction. The public response is then generalized via a model that predicts the public response to a given weather alert. The prediction includes the expected degree of response, and from which part of the public this would be expected, for example weather enthusiasts or the general public. This approach may uncover ways to strengthen engagement of the community with weather forecasting through Twitter.

Of course, you could argue that this is an advance parallel to the movement toward connected vehicles in surface transportation, an extension of the Internet of Things world to driving and weather forecasting—the real-time data-sharing and engagement between the community that drives and the scientific community that forecasts For more on that, see the presentation by Danny Cheresnick et al. (Global WeatherCorp), “Improving Operational Road Weather Forecasts with Connected Vehicle Data,” in the Conference on Environmental Information Processing Technologies.

In the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, Lucy Piacentini (City College New York) et al. are presenting a web-based means for connecting qualitative feedback from community members with high resolution satellite information. In “Connecting Communities and Research: The Urban Heat Island Effect in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York,” they write:

In partnership with the Magnolia Initiative community advocacy group in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, various facets to increase community engagement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in general and in the geosciences in particular, were explored.

Using Landsat 8 and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Aqua satellite data, comparisons were made between the land surface temperatures of Bedford-Stuyvesant and other neighborhoods within New York City. Micro-level survey data was also collected from Bedford-Stuyvesant residents to assess factors that contribute to heat wave exposure and heat-related health risks. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an importance in connecting with the community in a socially distant setting. Interactive maps and a website were developed on an online platform for the community to emphasize how socioeconomic and geophysical factors compound to exacerbate the urban heat island effect in the community.

Preliminary results show that Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of the most heat vulnerable communities in New York City and highlight the importance of sharing mitigation and adaptation strategies with community-folk in a manner that they can comprehend and easily implement in a neighborhood bid for sustainability and the amelioration of heat-health risks. The survey and the interactive map have been implemented and have proven to be a positive community engagement tool!”

At the Symposium on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Carolyn S. Brinkworth (UCAR) et al. are presenting “Cocreating Hydrological Research between Earth Science Institutions and Indigenous Scientists and Communities: Success Stories and Lessons Learned.” Previewing it, they state:

In 2016, a group of Earth Science organizations and Indigenous scientists affiliated with the Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences worked together to submit an ANSF proposal … to bring together NCAR scientists with Indigenous communities to co-develop research of mutual interest and benefit; to involve Indigenous undergraduate and K-12 students in that research as part of a pathway into the geosciences; and to provide Indigenous mentorship to the NCAR scientists to help them create culturally responsive spaces for the communities and students they were working with, and to develop guidance and good practices for Earth science institutions wishing to develop similar partnerships in the future.

Here we describe the challenges encountered in implementing the project as planned, the changes we made in order to be responsive to the situations, the ultimate successes that emerged from the communities and students we engaged through the re-imagined program, and the lessons learned for future collaborations.

In community engagement at an even larger scale—for full cities, across the world: Susan C. Anenberg (George Washington University) is presenting an invited Core Science Keynote on “Recent Advances in Integrating Climate Change, Air Quality, and Public Health into Urban Decision-Making.” She writes:

Cities contribute the majority of greenhouse gas emissions globally, are challenged by high air pollution levels, and experience substantial health disparities. Many cities are committing to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and in sustainability improvements. These actions have the potential to mitigate climate change globally and over centuries, as well as improve air quality and public health locally and in the near term. Decision-support tools to assess climate, air quality and health benefits of alternative emission policies exist at the national scale, but are not widely available at the city scale, where clean air interventions are often targeted. This talk will address recent advances …[among many things]… novel methods and tools for integrating climate change, air pollution, and public health into urban decision-making on clean air interventions, including in efforts led by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and C40 Cities.

An Invitation to Crowdsource: Citizen Science as Community Engagement

In this AMS Annual Meeting “citizen” or “community” science appears frequently, as it has in previous years’ meetings, but in the context of this meeting’s overall theme. The projects that solicit nonscientists to collect data and/or analyze data or imagery can be seen as a special participatory form of community engagement. In fact, in the spirit of crowdsourced science, we’ll go ahead now and invite you to share your favorite citizen science examples from the Annual Meeting—including your own presentations—in the Comments section of this Post. And furthermore, send comments with your recommendations for non-traditional viable virtual pathways that you see through the Annual Meeting program this year.

AMS Annual Meeting: Choose Your Own (Virtual) Pathway. Part 4: Social Justice

After a year of substantial social injustice-fueled upheavals, the 101st AMS Annual Meeting builds on social justice themes all week and you could make social justice the theme of you own virtual programming, picking and choosing your way through the sessions if you’re so inclined, right from the centerpiece Presidential Forum on Sunday, “Building a Culture of Anti-Racism in the Weather, Water and Climate Community.”

The session promises to be a frank conversation on racism and its impacts on the weather, water, and climate community.  The panel will explore and discuss how racism against blacks, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC+) and other marginalized  groups has not only denied opportunities to a wide range of people but also limited our ability to advance the weather, water and climate sciences and services.  We will revisit our past and explore how even today social inequities are reflected in the provision of services to people living in underserved areas throughout the United States.  The panel will discuss what actions have helped in combating racism, steps that have been taken to address social inequities in the provision of environmental services, and highlight steps we, as a community and individually, need to take to make further progress.  AMS’s on-going activities in this area will also be highlighted.

Many presentations pick up on this keynote. Certainly, If you are interested in social justice issues, you will want to attend the Symposium on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which has valuable programming.

Addressing Social Justice within the Scientific Community

Session 8: “Advancing a Culture of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Geosciences” is the most inward looking of this key symposium in the social justice pathway through the AMS Annual Meeting—this session is a self-examination of these issues within the scientific community.

The Symposium is also holding a joint session with the Conference on Education: “The Dr. Janet Liou-Mark Memorial Session on Effective Strategies for Increasing Minority Participation in the Atmospheric Sciences.”

Also at the Conference on Education, Valerie Sloan (NCAR) et al. are presenting, “What Worked for Us? Student Experiences with Geoscience Summer Research Internships during Both COVID-19 and Heightened Racist Violence.” They write:

The successful engagement through remote internships this summer suggests that virtual programs prepare students to face new work environments, as conferences, courses, and collaborations continue to shift online. These may come to attract a broader range of students than those who have participated in the past. It is our hope that it will result in more equitable, accessible opportunities for students pursuing geoscience careers.

Session 1 of the Conference for Early Career Professionals invites attendees “to come together and create and experience inclusive environments—an improvscience workshop.” to explore simple, creative ways to cultivate diverse voices, equity, and inclusion.”

Also, there’s Town Hall Meeting—”Her Career, Her Stories“—from the 35th Conference on Hydrology:

This event will bring women of all career stages together to share experience, challenges, and success, to inspire and empower one another, and to foster the development of mentoring relationships. A diverse group of scientists will speak at the event as panelists, including Ana Barros, Terri Hogue, Ruby Lai-Yung Leung, Christa Peters-Lidard, and Britt Westergard.

In the Mesoscale Symposium: Posters Kristen Rasmussen et al. will present, “Best Practices for Preventing Harassment in Atmospheric Science: Leveraging the RELAMPAGO and WE-CAN Field-Campaign Networks for Collaborative Change.” They report:

This project implemented and studied sexual harassment training, awareness, and experiences during the WE-CAN and RELAMPAGO field campaigns ….Both women and men who attended the training were more likely than those who did not attend to report feeling more trusting of coworkers, comfortable with reporting, and more willing to intervene in situations of harassment. We will present findings about attitudes and experiences of harassment in field work, and we will conclude with a discussion around how the atmospheric science community can facilitate collaborative change around sexual harassment within existing networks.

In the Conference on Education, K. Ryder Fox (University of Miami, Florida) et al. present on  “Mental Health Interventions for Marginalized STEM Individuals.”

Also in this conference, Leticia Williams (Howard University) will present “How to Have Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented Students: Best Communication Practices for Multicultural Mentoring to Increase Minority Participation in the Atmospheric Sciences.” In part, they write:

This study examined STEM faculty mentors multicultural mentoring practices and strategies to discuss protégés’ issues and challenges, and the ways that gender and race influenced their communication. Findings revealed that STEM faculty mentors communicated about discrimination and diversity, did not communicate about discrimination and diversity, or did not feel qualified to communicate about discrimination and diversity.

A Legacy of Racism in Science

The Symposium on History at the Annual Meeting also picks up on topics of past injustices in the science community—from the treatment of women scientists and the treatment of scientists from other underrepresented groups, to such issues as the under counting of disaster victims from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, thus potentially skewing scientific and services priorities for many years. One presentation, for example, discusses how “land theft, eugenics, and scientific racism are interwoven into the history of geosciences.”

Social Justice in the Broader Society

Many presentations in the Annual Meeting show that scientists are realizing they have a role in society that is so that social justice issues for the scientific community, go far beyond the diversity and equity inclusiveness within the scientific workforce and its pipeline of future members. Your track of social justice in the Annual Meeting should include such insights.

For example, In one of the Core Science Keynotes, Vernon Morris (Arizona State Univ) tells “A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing Lessons Learned from Community Engagement in Geohealth/Environmental Justice Studies in Washington, D.C., and Gondar, Ethiopia.” Morris “will highlight what has been learned from ‘community-inspired’ environmental health projects at the nexus of air quality – health research, … centered in Washington, DC, and involv[ing] collaboration with activists and residents in low SES and politically disenfranchised communities whose air quality challenges have been exacerbated by gentrification.” Further:

One of the DC studies was able to demonstrate that neighborhood residents were already at risk for airborne particulate matter (PM) exceedances even without the presence of additional point sources. The results were provided in expert testimony at two District of Columbia hearings and a two-year stay from 2012 to 2014 was a direct result of the efforts. Unfortunately, the stay was later overturned and the battle to protect these citizen’s health continues. The other is a study in an open-air hospital in Northern Ethiopia (Gondar). This collaboration involves medical doctors, pharmacists, virologists, and microbiologists at the University of Gondar The Gondar study project combined environmental monitoring, atmospheric sampling, and atmospheric data analysis with the genomic mapping of sampled airborne microflora. Ambient aerobiological samples were collected in order to identify the changes in taxonomically diverse and novel bacteria present on airborne particulate. One specific application of this work was the development of a better understanding of the distribution and transmission of opportunistic microflora within the open-air hospital environment at the University of Gondar Health Sciences Campus. In each case, the original design and scope of the study was significantly modified based on community engagement. The additional diversity in perspective inspired novel inquiry, drove creativity in the implementation of the study, and resulted in greater use-inspired research.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, David Sittenfeld (Museum of Science) et al. are presenting “Wicked Hot Boston: Community Science for Building Extreme Heat Resilience and Addressing Public Health Disparities.” They write:

Urban communities face growing concerns from heat waves that endanger public health, threaten infrastructures, and exacerbate existing social inequities. These impacts fall disproportionately upon people of color, low-income communities, and the elderly. Using a machine learning algorithm. MOS researchers have been working with environmental and community members to produce high-resolution, hyperlocal heat maps that are being actively used by city and regional planners. This session will present results from the mapping activities, with a particular focus on emergent analysis about the heat impacts of urban form in the greater Boston metro area, historic redlining practices, and spatial correlations with … socioeconomic covariates and negative public health outcomes.

We mentioned this next one in our previous blog post delineating a COVID pathway through the Annual Meeting, as it intersects with social justice themes as well, much in the way everything in the production of knowledge, including science, can, either directly or indirectly. The presentation is by Gaige Hunter Kerr et al. in the Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, “Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns on NO2: Successes and Challenges for Environmental Inequality in the United States.” They explain in their abstract:

This study highlights the potential for shrinking the gap in pollution exposure between population subgroups in the U.S. but simultaneously underscores the perennial challenges in reducing environmental inequalities.

In the Symposium on Societal Applications: Policy, Research, and Practice, Margaret Mooney and Steve Ackerman (both of CIMMS) give voice to student perspectives in a presentation “University Undergraduates Speak Out on Climate Change and Climate Justice.” From their abstract:

NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin – Madison collaborates with the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) to offer an online 3-credit course on “Climate and Climate Change” each summer. The class is structured to actively engage students in learning about and communicating about climate change, the later through a weekly discussion forum. Week 1 students upload a video describing their background and motivation for taking the course. Other weeks students respond and interact to varying topics that regularly feature current events. As a capstone activity, students upload an “elevator speech” imagining someone asks “what do you think about climate change?” 2020 prompted uniquely thoughtful discussion posts and passionate elevator pitches referencing racial disparities, climate justice, economics, and a global pandemic. This AMS presentation will share select anonymous responses to the week 5 discussion topic: “identify a scenario in the state or region you grew up where climate and environmental injustices combine to affect people of color more negatively than white people, then research the COVID19 cases for that location” and twelve particularly powerful elevator pitches sanctioned for distribution. Paper_381618_elevator speechesIn addition, responses to questions seeking to gauge frequency and comfort around discussing climate change and environmental issues obtained via a follow-up survey will will also be shared in this session.

In the Conference on Environment and Health, Adora Shortridge, Jennifer Vanos, and William Walker (Arizona State University) present a program to protect children in South Phoenix from extreme heat by preparing neighborhood schools. They write:

In Phoenix, heat is a priority for preparedness and policy plans at the city-level, yet these policies do not always encompass the most vulnerable regions and populations: elementary schoolchildren and low-income neighborhoods. South Phoenix has experienced historical environmental racism and injustice. Residents currently face challenges including higher air temperatures, air pollution, and economic disparities, which can impact children’s health, physical activity, and cognitive abilities. Although children are routinely stated to need additional heat-coping resources, no formal policy or evaluation toolbox exists nationwide to support systematic and effective efforts to protect children from negative consequences of heat at schools. The overarching goal of this research is to create an evaluation tool for “HeatReady Schools.”

In the same conference, Alexis Merdjanoff and Gabriella Meltzer (NYU) present “Falling from Grace”: A Qualitative Study of Disaster Exposure and Downward Mobility among Middle Class Families,” a study of emotional and financial impacts of on families due to Hurricane Sandy:

Prior to Hurricane Sandy, many families had steady paychecks, owned their homes, and had enough discretionary income that they were not constantly constrained by monthly expenses (i.e., middle class). Following Sandy, however, parents expressed that they were unable to participate in activities that they once enjoyed. Instead, once-discretionary income was spent entirely on home repairs, paying bills, or other essential expenses. While parents were clearly conscious of these financial difficulties and attempted to lessen any additional disruptions to their children … this qualitative data reveals the tenuous nature of being middle class in an era of more frequent and severe extreme weather events.

Social Justice Issues with AI in Geosciences

In the Conference on Artificial Intelligence for Environmental Science, Nicol Turner Lee (Brookings Institute) delivers a core science keynote on “The Importance of Fairness in Algorithmic Decision-Making.” Dr. Lee is a senior fellow in Governance Studies, the director of the Center for Technology Innovation, and serves as Co-Editor-In-Chief of TechTank. Her current research portfolio also includes artificial intelligence (AI), particularly machine learning algorithms and their unintended consequences on marginalized communities.

In another invited keynote in the same conference, Ann Bostrom (University of Washington) explores “Three Risk Decision Traps for the Ethical AI Geoscientist.” Shew notes:

Three crises have gripped the sciences in recent years, each stemming from abuses of power. The first, irreproducibility, resulted arguably from incentives to publish and the use and abuse of statistical power in underpowered and overpowered studies. Inattention to power has resulted in, for example, spurious and unreliable findings capturing the limelight and inspiring fatal choices in some instances (e.g., COVID19 self-medication choices), and in other instances may have diverted attention from larger effects and the possibility of disastrous extremes (e.g., sea-level rise). The second, exclusivity—that is, lack of inclusivity and representativeness—results from the internal and societal power dynamics of the scientific enterprise, wherein those with power have tended to reproduce themselves and their epistemologies, to the exclusion of others. Our understanding of how power disparities in science have increased disparities between people continues to evolve, but the use of purportedly scientific arguments to perpetuate racism, and the unintended consequences of science-informed risk policies (e.g., early air bags) for women, children, and vulnerable populations come to mind. The third, inexplicability, has been enabled by exponential growth in computational technology and power, and is evident in the ever-growing complexity and scale of modeling across the sciences (e.g., genetics, climate and weather modeling, pathogeography), increasingly powered by AI. Each of these crises represents a class of power decisions and presents a risk decision trap for AI geoscientists who hope to be ethical. Addressing how these risk decision traps manifest in research designs and science behaviors requires understanding the default decisions and their roots in human judgment and decision making and social context.
The now pervasive use of AI in the sciences and in information and communication technologies (ICT) has captured the spotlight in recent years, bringing to light, for example, the insidious and devastating effects of algorithmic reinforcement of data biases, and the apparently socially destructive consequences of applying, for private profit, social and behavioral science on attention, persuasion, addiction and risky choice to massive microscale observational data. All three crises contribute to these, illustrating how the risk decisions that AI geoscientists now face have trapped other AI scientists. Ethical research design and behavior require AI geoscientists to attend to these risk decision traps. Echo chambers and an absence of common sources of information dominate information use even at the highest levels of government—including for scientific information—increasing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and the exploitation of scientific uncertainties for private ends. Thus, at the same time as science in general has continued to enjoy a relatively high level of confidence and trust from diverse publics, increasing use of social media for news has contributed to the social amplification of scientific risk and uncertainty, with concomitant damage to public good. The three crises highlighted—irreproducibility, exclusivity, and inexplicability—have gained notoriety primarily in other sciences and contexts. But in the AI geosciences too, missteps in risk decisions are likely to have unanticipated consequences. AI geosciences have immediate applications to and consequences for global health and the environment, and for trust in science. Understanding risk decision traps is imperative for the ethical AI geoscientist.

The Themes Keep Coming

So far we have introduced four themes that cut across conferences and symposia of all types in the 2021 AMS Annual Meeting, and viewing any Next Up Post 4 Finalnumber of the video presentations and posters highlighted is easy despite our enormous conference … because for the first time it’s virtual. View at your convenience. Part 1 in our blog series has taken a closer look at major weather events and impacts in 2020 outside of that main program; Part 2 extended our crosscutting approach to weather extremes and climate change; Part 3 was everything COVID-19; and of course Part 4, here, the critical discussions of social justice. The link to the right or here takes you to the Part 5: Community Engagement, now posted.