Careers’ Worth of Broadcast Conference Memories

Celebrating the 50th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology

The 50th AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology took place last week, 21-23 June 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona–more than six decades after the first Broadcast conference in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1956. The conference has been a source of cutting-edge information on the art and science of broadcasting the weather, encounters with industry greats, and collaborations that last lifetimes. To help celebrate, we asked several longtime broadcast meteorologists to share their memories with us, plus advice and insights on how the field has changed. The following is the first of three posts featuring their responses.

What are some of your memorable moments from past sessions of the Conference on Broadcast Meteorology?

“My first conference was in Boston in 1981. I remember sitting way in the back and feeling kind of lost and insignificant among all the legends around me. All of a sudden a hand was extended to me and I turned to my right. There sat Harry Volkman! Harry introduced himself and asked my name, and we had a very nice conversation. I never forgot how kind he was to a ‘kid’ weather-caster – Harry was always one of my heroes and someone I still try to emulate.

Today, I still keep that experience in mind when I meet young up-and-coming meteorologists. I hope that I might help inspire them to have a successful career.”

Mike Nelson, Denver7 Chief Meteorologist, KMGH, Denver, Colorado
Left two photos: Harry Volkman; right photo: Mike Nelson at KMOX in the 1980s. Photos courtesy of Mike Nelson.

“I’ve attended nearly every conference since ~1979. I was chair of the broadcast board [for the 1985 conference in Honolulu, Hawai’i], and Mike Smith from Wichita was program chair. Initial thought was that TV news directors would never permit their meteorologists to travel to Hawai’i. Were we wrong! We had record attendance. We programmed the day to start and very early – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. or so, given people were mostly on Eastern/Central end time. In the afternoon, everyone was on their own to enjoy the island.”

Todd Glickman, Senior Director, Corporate Relations at MIT
Peter Leavitt, President of WSI Corporation, John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, and Bruce Schwoegler, Chief Meteorologist of WBZ-TV Boston, at the 15th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Honolulu, HI. Photo courtesy of Todd Glickman.
Evelyn Mazur, Director of Meetings at AMS, Brad Field from Hartford, Bill Kamal from Miami, Fred Gadomski of Penn State, and Ken Spengler, Executive Director of AMS, at the 15th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Honolulu, HI. Photo courtesy of Todd Glickman.
Photos from the 15th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in Honolulu, Hawai’i, 1985. Top: Peter Leavitt, President of WSI Corporation, John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, and Bruce Schwoegler, Chief Meteorologist of WBZ-TV Boston. Bottom: Evelyn Mazur, Director of Meetings at AMS, Brad Field from Hartford, Bill Kamal from Miami, Fred Gadomski of Penn State, and Ken Spengler, Executive Director of AMS. Photos courtesy of Todd Glickman.

“My first AMS Broadcaster’s conference, and first presentation, was 50 years ago… 1973 at historic Cape Cod. The legendary Don Kent with his Boston accent was most kind with his comments.”

Joe Witte, Climate Outreach Specialist, Aquent, Pasadena, California

What’s been valuable to you about these conferences?

“AMS Broadcast conferences have given me knowledge, professional exposure, and lifelong friendships with like-minded people.”

Alan Sealls, AMS Fellow, CBM, Past Seal Board Chair; Chief Meteorologist at NBC15, WPMI-TV, Mobile, Alabama

“The AMS Broadcast Conference helps me stay up-to-date on the latest in the industry from both the meteorology side and the broadcast side. It’s a great opportunity to connect with my peers in the field and provides an excellent opportunity to learn from each other and experts in various genres of meteorology and climate.As the conference organizer one year, I learned valuable leadership, planning, and organizational skills.”

Lisa Spencer, Chief Meteorologist, News4, Nashville

“I have been broadcasting the weather in Montgomery, Alabama, for 45 years on TV and radio. I attended my first AMS Broadcast Conference in 1984 in Clearwater, Florida. Phoenix [was] my 25th broadcast conference. 25 out of 50. These conferences are so important to me. The learning process never ends. Also, the conference experience has shown me America. And each year I look forward to catching up with my fraternity of friends in this incredible business.”

Rich Thomas, Chief Meteorologist, Bluewater Broadcasting, Montgomery, Alabama

“The Broadcasters Conferences have provided numerous long-lasting memories and friends.”

Joe Witte, Climate Outreach Specialist, Aquent, Pasadena, California

“I attended my first AMS Broadcast Conference in 1993 Charleston, South Carolina, on the hunt for my first job as a broadcast meteorologist. Within a few weeks landed in Johnson City, Tennessee. My advice to all: network, network, and network!

I’ve gained so much from each conference. Presentations by experts on case studies and what was learned. New technology and its impact within the broadcast industry on what we do daily!

What I cherish the most: long-lasting friendships among colleagues. Each conference is a reunion. In some way we’ve all impacted each other in boosting confidence and in being challenged to deliver daily the best information in helping viewers plan and be safe!”

Yolanda Amadeo, Chief Meteorologist, WALB News, Albany, Georgia

(Left to right) Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Yolanda Amadeo, Janice Huff, and Alan Sealls. Photo courtesy of Yolanda Amadeo.

About 50Broadcast

The 50th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology took place in Phoenix, Arizona, June 21-23, 2023. It was organized by the American Meteorological Society Board on Broadcast Meteorology and chaired by Danielle Breezy and Vanessa Alonso. If you registered for the meeting, you can view presentation recordings here.

Header photos (clockwise from top left): Evelyn Mazur, Director of Meetings at AMS, Brad Field from Hartford, Bill Kamal from Miami, Fred Gadomski of Penn State, and Ken Spengler, Executive Director of AMS (photo courtesy of Todd Glickman). Yolanda Amadeo and Jim Cantore (photo courtesy of Yolanda Amadeo). Mike Nelson and Terry Kelly, 1979 (photo courtesy of Mike Nelson).

A Week in Washington for a Student Scientist

Photo: Haven Cashwell in front of the U.S. Capitol Building

Guest post by Haven Cashwell, PhD Student and Graduate Research Assistant at Auburn University

From my small hometown of Marshallberg in eastern North Carolina, and even my current home as a researcher and PhD student at Auburn University, the chambers of Congress have always felt like a different world. I had never even visited Washington, D.C., before, so truly I did not know what the policy world looked like. The recent AMS Summer Policy Colloquium opened these doors to me and showed that the pathway between research and policy isn’t as distant as I once thought.

The integration of science and policy has always intrigued me—such as policy for coastal resiliency, since my hometown of Marshallberg, NC is being impacted by climatic changes—but I was not aware of how that process worked. As I finish my PhD, I’m also exploring possible career paths that I could take after graduating. One aspect of my current research involves assessing and communicating climate and health risk factors with frontline communities in the Carolinas, which has made connections with the policy process feel even more pressing.

My mentor for an internship this summer is Dr. Kathie Dello, North Carolina’s state climatologist, who previously attended the colloquium and encouraged me to participate as well. After a week at the Colloquium, I left with lots of new knowledge and a much greater appreciation of how the policymaking process works.

For instance, I learned about the concepts of science for policy and policy for science, and how to navigate the two. Given my background in science communication, the idea of translating scientific evidence and research results to be usable and actionable (science for policy) felt very familiar, but I gained a new understanding of how policy affects funding that goes to different agencies for scientific research (policy for science). 

The 2023 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium cohort walking to Capitol Hill

Together with several dozen fellow scientists, I heard from professionals working in the policy world. They represented careers ranging from those having to do with the federal budget process to congressional staffers working directly with members of congress on science initiatives. I had no idea the options were so broad and varied. And far from the common perception that policy has to be dull, these speakers had great passion for their own work and a clear enthusiasm for sharing that with my peers and me.

We put our knowledge into practice in a legislative exercise that was sprinkled throughout the week. Participants were separated into groups and assigned to play the role of a senator marking up certain legislation. The goal was to get an understanding of how politics, policy, and procedure interact in the legislative process by creating amendments to bills and working together to create a significant piece of legislation. Much enthusiasm was shared among the participants at the end of the week when “voting” for the legislation, as the hard work throughout the entire week was put into practice. 

I left the Colloquium not only with a much better understanding of how science and policy can connect, but also with a new cohort with whom I networked throughout the week. Whether our careers keep us in the sciences or shift toward the world of policy, I’m excited for our paths to cross in the future and see how our experiences from this week in Washington shape our own work.

I would recommend attending the Summer Policy Colloquium to any young scientist who is interested in the policy process. By being better informed about how science and policy intersect, I’m now able to consider how my own research could fit in, whether it’s sharing how results from my research could influence policy or how to communicate and collaborate with policymakers in general.  

The 2023 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium cohort

Whether my future takes me back to small towns facing climate risks, leading research universities, or even a career in the policy sector, I know that the Summer Policy Colloquium has given me the tools and knowledge to be a more well-rounded researcher capable of connecting with the world of policy.

About the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium

The AMS Summer Policy Colloquium provides an overview of policy basics and decision-making in the earth and atmospheric sciences, along with opportunities to meet and dialogue with federal officials, Congressional staffers, and other decision-makers. Aimed at early and mid-level federal managers, scientists, private-sector executives, university faculty, and selected graduate students and fellows, the Colloquium helps participants build skills and contacts, gauge interest in science policy and program leadership, and explore selected issues in depth.

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.