Tropical Meteorology: All in the (Very Big) Family

It’s normal to run into familiar faces in Austin this week–that’s what an AMS Meeting is all about. But running into your parents, your children, well that’s no so common.
Or is it? At Florida State Robert Hart and Josh Cossuth have been getting back to their roots, and embarked on a project to map the entire family of tropical meteorology, tracing lineage back to Bjerknes, Rossby and others. The tree of relations they present this afternoon (Room 19B, 4:15 pm) is intricate and rapidly expanding, with hundreds and hundreds of meteorologists on it. Chances are you may be on it, too.
It can’t feel bad to know you have professional cousins descended from Lord Rayleigh, or that you’re a relative of Enrico Fermi.
You’re with family here at AMS.

Thumbnail of the massive family tree for tropical meteorology. Blue oval highlights entrants to the specialty from other disciplinary training.
Thumbnail of the massive family tree for tropical meteorology. Blue oval highlights entrants to the specialty from other disciplinary training. Magnified version includes names and dates of training.

What to Do with Data in the Modern World

The last AMS statement related to data issues was written in 2002. But in the last 10 years, information technology advances have revolutionized data services, including how data are provided, accessed, analyzed, managed, shared, and archived. In Monday’s Town Hall Meeting on Free and Open Sharing of Environmental Data, UCAR’s Mohan Ramamurthy introduced a new AMS statement on data policy that is presently in production. Ramamurthy pointed out that unrestricted access to data is fundamental to the advancement of science, and that access should be free as much as possible. But issues of data can lead to difficult questions, some of them fundamental, like “What does free even mean?” Does it refer to access, cost, or both? And when talking about cost, who ultimately bears that cost?
The process of creating an AMS statement involves multiple steps over several months, and development of the new data statement is still in its early stages. Thus, in many cases, questions like the above are still being answered. And the subject of data has numerous angles to be considered in preparing the statement: curation/stewardship, metadata, timeliness, transparency, preservation, citation, and standards, to name a few. One of the more intriguing issues mentioned by Ramamurthy involves the potential for preplanned joint data collection partnerships between governmental and commercial entities during crisis situations. He cited Superstorm Sandy as an instance when the private sector had an abundance of data that was particularly valuable to the government. He compared this situation with what currently occurs between the defense sector and the aviation industry, when the government utilizes aircraft from private airlines for various purposes, and the companies are compensated for such use.
Among the preliminary recommendations made by the statement’s writing team are to design programs that reduce data-sharing barriers between the sectors of the AMS; ensure that all journal articles include sufficient details regarding information and methodology in order to verify the articles’ conclusions; and recognize data science as a career.
Ramamurthy emphasized that crafting the new statement is a process that should involve the entire AMS community. He invited members to comment on the statement by contacting him at [email protected].

Python Town Hall: AMS Special Meeting to Highlight Next Wave in Earth Sciences Computing

Perhaps you’ve heard about this modern, open-source programming language, Python. Maybe you’re wondering what it’s all about and how it relates to the atmospheric and oceanic sciences (AOS). If so, an AMS Town Hall meeting on Monday January 7 is for you.
From 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. local time at the convention center in Austin, Texas, this meeting will describe what Python can do for AOS users. Attendees will learn how Python meets needs and provides abilities in scientific computing that are currently unavailable in existing languages and how, as a result, Python enables AOS researchers to write modeling and analysis programs that enable better and more science to be done. The meeting will also include time where you can ask questions about implementing and supporting Python for AOS modeling and analysis.
Organizers note that this Town Hall meeting will be geared toward non-programmers and decision makers and will focus on how Python can help institutions be more productive.

Correction: You, Not the Birds, Are the First Line of Defense for Space Weather

If you’re here in Austin, along with a few thousand of your closest professional colleagues, you’re not just here to share what you know. You’re here to learn what you need to know for the next great opportunity. Chances are, that opportunity is not at all where you were looking for it just a few years ago. It’s going to take a correction of professional course, and the AMS Annual Meeting is the place to start making that correction.
The next great thing in atmospheric science may be working closer with your colleagues who study the biology and chemistry of air-sea exchanges. It might mean getting to know how to deal with social science. It might mean looking above the clouds and not below, or taking input from different scales of time and space and applying them to your own, or thinking about renewable energy, not just potential and kinetic energy.
If you’re ready to take a hint from community leaders like NWS Acting Director Laura Furgione, UCAR President Tom Bogdan, and others, let alone the National Research Council, it’s time to start learning about the opportunities from outer space, too. In fact it is barely too soon to do so: our economic infrastructure is already completely wrapped up in technology that is highly dependent on the good graces of the sun. One little blip of activity for our massive sun, like a Coronal Mass Ejection, can wreak billions of dollars worth of havoc–and temporary infrastructure paralysis–on our little planet Earth. Space weather is not just one of those next great things in research and forecasting, it’s already crucial.
Yet research shows that right now, the birds likely know more about space weather than the average weather forecaster. That’s right: according to recent laboratory findings, birds have an innate ability, probably due to the chemistry and mechanics of their ears, that enables them to follow Earth’s geomagnetic fields on their long annual migrations. Birds use space weather to find their way. They can hear geomagnetic fields, we can’t.
A number of your colleagues will be correcting that right here in Austin. Some will attend the 10th Conference on Space Weather. (Yes, the 10th! Where have you been? In that time, not only has smartphone usage exploded, but the number of flight operations over the poles has increased by 28-fold–an amazing testament to rapid growth of vulnerability to Space Weather.) The good news for those looking for an opportunity to start making the correction now is that Sunday has two half-day short-course sessions on Space Weather. Students wondering what’s next after their conference ends at noon might be encouraged to know that the afternoon session includes interactive discussion with a blue ribbon space weather panel–and that students are eligible for reduced rate registration!
According to the short course description, “meteorologists are frequently the “first line of defense” for the public.” Clearly this is no job for birds. Time to make that correction, take that opportunity.

A Promising Trend in Lightning Safety

Since 2006, lightning has been the third most common cause of storm-related deaths in the United States, behind only floods and tornadoes. But lightning deaths are trending downward, suggesting that educational efforts on the dangers of lightning, as well as improved warning capabilities, are making a difference. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 54 lightning deaths per year. But over the last decade, that number falls to 32 deaths per year, with a record-low of 26 in 2011 and only 28 in 2012. Of course, some of that decline is connected to social trends: early in the twentieth century, when many more people worked outside, lightning deaths in the U.S. numbered in the hundreds per year.
At the Annual Meeting in Austin, the Sixth Conference on the Meteorological Applications of Lightning Data will look at some social factors connected to lightning fatalities, including posters on Monday in Exhibit Hall 3 by Ronald Holle of Holle Meteorology and Photography (summarizing the dangers of lightning to people sheltering near trees) and Andrew Rosenthal of Earth Networks (on the effects of lightning at sporting events). And in the 16th Conference on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, Matthias Steiner of NCAR will explore some of the key issues related to lightning safety at airports (Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., Room 17A).
Along with changes in behavior, education and information are cited as important factors in reducing lightning fatalities, and some of the latest developments in this area will be explored in Austin. NOAA’s new lightning fatality database collects data from media sources, local NWS offices, and local officials to compile information on U.S. lightning deaths–including various demographics and the activity of the victim at the time of the strike–that can help us understand lightning fatality patterns and educate the public on what situations are most dangerous. Private meteorologist William Roeder will present a poster on the new database and its applications to lightning safety education (Exhibit Hall 3).
The conference will explore numerous ways that lightning data can be used to understand related severe weather phenomena. For example, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) on the GOES-R spacecraft (scheduled for launch in 2015) will be able to continuously map total lightning activity throughout the day and night, which should prove valuable in forecasting tornadoes, storm intensification, and other severe weather. NOAA’s Steven Goodman will discuss the GLM’s capabilities on Wednesday (8:30 a.m., Ballroom G). In the same session (9:30 a.m., Ballroom G), Daniel Cecil of the University of Alabama will present an algorithm for using proxy GLM data to identify lightning jumps, which are sudden increases in flash rate for a convective cell and therefore can also provide advance warning of severe weather. Another example is the use of the pseudo-Geostationary Lightning Mapper (pGLM) product, which was created for the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) Spring Experiment/Experimental Warning Program. Kristin Calhoun of CIMMS and NOAA will explain how the pGLM used total lightning data to detect VHF radiation from lightning discharges, and subsequently to forecast storm modes (Wednesday, 8:45 a.m., Ballroom G).
This is just a small sampling of lightning-related research to be presented in Austin–a promising sign that continued reductions in lightning tragedies are still possible in the future.

Dealing with Drought in the Heart of Texas

In 2011, Texas experienced its hottest summer on record along with a drought that has yet to let up. According to the state drought monitor released last week, sixty-five percent of the state was in severe drought, up from fifty-nine percent just a week earlier. As we head to Austin for the Annual Meeting in a few weeks the topic will be up front and center at a number of events planned.
“Anatomy of an Extreme Event: The 2011 Texas Heat Wave and Drought” will examine processes, underlying causes, and predictability of the drought. Martin Hoerling of NOAA ESRL-PSD and other speakers will use observations and climate models to assess factors contributing to the extreme magnitude of the event and the probability of its occurrence in 2011 (Wednesday, 9 January, Ballroom B, 4:00 PM).
On Tuesday, Eric Taylor of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will speak on the “Drought Impacts from 2011-2012 on Texas Forests.” Taylor notes that the impacts of the 2011 drought on the health, biodiversity, and ecosystem functions will be felt for some time, but perhaps not in the way that most might think. During this session, he will explore the ways that the silvicultural norm practiced by private landowners affect forest health and the concomitant loss from insects, disease, wildfire, and drought (Tuesday, 8 January, Ballroom E, 1:45 PM).
The 27th Conference on Hydrology will cover a number of other drought issues both in Texas and beyond. For more information on drought and related topics, take a look at the searchable Annual Meeting program online.

Latest Evaporative Stress Index map from USDA/NDMC/NOAA, showing raised and lowered evapotranspiration rates indicating drought in the central U.S. Christopher Hain and colleagues will present on the development of ESI--which is based on GOES satellite imagery--in a poster Monday afternoon, 7 January, at the AMS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.


Sandy at the AMS Meeting: A Study in Adaptation, An Opportunity to Participate

by Tanja Fransen, NOAA

Ninety-three.    That is how many annual meetings the American Meteorological Society has hosted.   Planning for an annual conference can take years, from selecting the location, securing the event center and hotels, to selecting the organizing committee.  The organizing committee then decides upon a theme at least 15-18 months in advance.   Individual conference organizers have their “calls for papers” ready nearly 14 months in advance.   Presenters have to have their abstracts submitted nearly 5 months before the annual meeting.

So…what happens when you have an event that is the magnitude of Hurricane/Post-Tropical Storm Sandy after all the deadlines have passed?   You adapt and overcome.

That is what happened this year.   Even the Major Weather Impacts Conference, which has a later abstract deadline than most conferences, was finalized a week before Sandy become one of the most significant events in decades.   Many individuals quickly realized the importance of including Sandy at the 2013 Annual Meeting, and a committee was organized.   Emails started flying back and forth, discussions were occurring on message boards and social media, and ideas were flowing, to the tune of hundreds of emails, phone calls, and social media messages.
Trying not to conflict with other conferences where committees had spent over a year planning them, AMS recommended a Town Hall Session to introduce Sandy formally into the 2013 AMS meeting.  And so it will be, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Monday, January 7, in Ballroom E at the Austin Convention Center. Committee organizers received feedback from many sources, and in the end, decided that invited speakers would discuss the major impacts of Sandy, the scientific issues, the warnings process, and more. The list of speakers (below) is diverse, representing, for example, NOAA, NCAR, the Capital Weather Gang, the Wall Street Journal.
Over the next few months, as further discussion, research and assessments are conducted on the meteorology, climatology, communication, preparedness, response and recovery of the event, other opportunities will keep Sandy in the spotlight.    That includes conferences from within the AMS, such as the 19th Conference on Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics from June 17-21, 2013, in Newport, Rhode Island, and the 41st Broadcast Meteorology Conference /2nd Conference on Weather Warnings and Communication being held from June 16-28, 2013, in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as the 2014 Annual AMS Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in February 2014.  The theme for the 2014 Annual Meeting nicely encompasses Sandy in “Extreme Weather – Climate and the Built Environment:  New perspectives, opportunities and tools.”   Other groups, organizations and agencies will also keep those discussions in the forefront.
We know there will be many questions that people will have for the presenters in the Town Hall Meeting in Austin.  With a short time frame to discuss them, attendees are asked to use Twitter to send the questions they have; the hashtag is #AMSSandy.  (Also, in general follow #AMS2013 for tweeting related to the Annual Meeting.) Organizers will group the questions into categories, and ask the top 3-5 questions, depending on time, to the presenters.
Here’s the scheduled agenda at this time:

7:30 PM. Introduction to Sandy and the Major Impacts — Louis W. Uccellini, NOAA/NWS/NCEP, Camp Springs, MD
7:45 PM. Hurricane Sandy: Hurricane Wind and Storms Surge Impacts — Richard D. Knabb, The Weather Channel Companies, Atlanta, GA
8:00 PM. Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy: Rain, Snow and Inland Wind Impacts — David Novak, NOAA/NWS/Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, College Park, MD
8:15 PM. A Research-Community Perspective of the Life Cycle of Hurricane Sandy — Melvyn A. Shapiro, NCAR, Boulder, CO
8:30 PM. Communicating the Threat to the Public through Broadcast Media — Bryan Norcross, The Weather Channel, Atlanta , GA
8:45 PM. Following the Storm through Social Media — Jason Samenow, Washington Post, Washington, DC; and A. Freedman
9:00 PM. Storm Response in New York and New Jersey — Eric Holthaus, The Wall Street Journal, New York, NY
9:15 PM: Q&A:  Moderators will present 3-5 questions submitted through Twitter to the panelists.

TRMM Keeps on Truckin'

It’s been 15 years since the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite was launched. Over that time, TRMM has significantly advanced our understanding of precipitation through measurements of the global distribution of rainfall at Earth’s surface, the global distribution of vertical profiles of precipitation, and other rainfall properties. As a result, TRMM provides clues to the workings of the water cycle and the relationship between oceans, the atmosphere, and land. But the benefits of TRMM extend beyond the research community. The image below exhibits the kind of operational data TRMM can supply: it’s a rainfall analysis of SuperStorm Sandy that reveals the heaviest rainfall totals during the storm (more than 10.2 inches) were over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

TRMM rainfall analysis for SuperStorm Sandy, with the storm's track over the Atlantic Ocean overlaid in white. NASA image.

Despite its advanced age, TRMM continues to provide unique data; its enduring value is evidenced by the fact that more than 50 presentations at the AMS Annual Meeting in Austin are related in some way to TRMM and its data. A few examples: Yingchun Chen of the University of Melbourne will examine TRMM’s estimates of daily rainfall in tropical cyclones using the Comprehensive Pacific Rainfall Database (PACRAIN) of 24-hour rain gauge observations (Wednesday, 9:30 a.m., Room 10b). A poster presentation by Dana Ostrenga of ADNET Systems and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will review the recently released Version 7 TRMM Multi-satellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) products and data services (Monday, Exhibit Hall 3). Zhong Liu of George Mason University will present a poster on the TRMM Composite Climatology, a merger of selected TRMM rainfall products over both land and ocean that provides a “TRMM-best” climatological estimate (Monday, Exhibit Hall 3). In her poster, Hannah Huelsing of the National Weather Center will show how TRMM 3-hourly data were used to look at the spatial and temporal distribution of the Asian premonsoon and monsoon seasons in Pakistan during 2010’s severe flood year (Tuesday, Exhibit Hall 3).
As TRMM matures, it’s also broadening its horizons and crossing disciplines. Earth-observing systems are increasingly being utilized in the field of public health, and in Austin, the Fourth Conference on Environment and Health will include a themed joint session on this budding partnership. In that session, Benjamin Zaitchik of Johns Hopkins University will discuss the modeling of malaria risk in Peru (Monday, 5 p.m., Room 6b). Zaitchik and his colleagues modeled the influence of land cover and hydrometeorological conditions on the distribution of malaria vectors, as well as the relationship among climate, land use, and confirmed malaria case counts at regional health posts. In the study, meteorological and hydrological conditions were simulated with the use of observations from TRMM and other satellites.

Versatile VIIRS: Sandy Reveals More of Its Potential

The VIIRS instrument aboard the new Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite has a lot of jobs: among them, to measure cloud and aerosol properties, ocean color, sea and land surface temperature, ice motion and temperature, fires, and Earth’s albedo. Now, with the experience of Superstorm Sandy behind it, add tracking power blackouts to the list of tasks for this multifaceted instrument.
VIIRS–or more formally,  Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite, is a  scanning radiometer that collects visible and infrared imagery and radiometric measurements of the land, atmosphere, cryosphere, and oceans. Its low-light sensor–known as the day-night band–can detect light from cities and towns in the absence of clouds. This function recently proved to be highly valuable when NASA’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center used data from VIIRS to assist disaster responses agencies (including FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) in identifying areas that lost power during Superstorm Sandy. Composites of VIIRS images taken before and after Sandy (see below for an example) pinpointed the blackouts.
This is just one example of the promising capabilities of VIIRS; and the growing awareness of these capabilities is why VIIRS is the subject of a town hall meeting on Monday, January 7 (12:15-1:15 p.m., Room 18B) at the AMS Annual Meeting in Austin. Forecasters, meteorologists, and other end users will discuss how they are utilizing the new VIIRS datastream and the critical role it can play in weather forecasting and in improving emergency preparedness and disaster response efforts.
A number of other presentations in Austin will highlight the versatility VIIRS. Jeffrey Hawkins of the Naval Research Laboratory will take an in-depth look at VIIRS’s day-night band and efforts to create enhanced products geared toward various nowcasting applications (e.g., dust enhancement observations, smoke and volcanic ash plumes, cloud properties, tropical cyclone structure, etc.) (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., Ballroom G). Donald Hillger of NOAA/NESDIS will compare and contrast imagery produced by VIIRS with that from other satellites (Tuesday, 11:45 a.m., Ballroom G). And Jim Biard of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites will provide details on the VIIRS Climate Raw Data Record (C-RDR), including its contents and structure,  its production methods and process, and file access (Wednesday, 11:30 a.m., Ballroom G).
VIIRS is one of five instrument/sensor payloads aboard Suomi-NPP, which is the first of a new breed of satellites that will replace NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites. Launched in October of 2011, the progress and promise of Suomi-NPP and its new data applications will be explored at a town hall meeting on Tuesday (12:15-1:15 p.m.; Ballroom G).
Speaking of Superstorm Sandy, electricity outages, and town hall meetings, there are two related Town Halls of special importance Monday night at the AMS meeting: a wide-ranging meeting on the storm itself (7:30-9:30 p.m.; Ballroom E) and an exploration of the impacts of weather on the electrical grid (Monday, 6:30-8:00 p.m.; Room 14). More on this in future posts on The Front Page.

A composite image created from the VIIRS day-night band shows a portion of the Atlantic seaboard on November 1, 2012, just after Superstorm Sandy dissipated. The yellow regions indicate urban areas that had power before Sandy, but not after. From NASA SPoRT.

Atmospheric Rivers Go Mainstream

This week NOAA announced installation of four new special observatories in California dedicated to improving the understanding–and forecasting–of atmospheric rivers, the massive (but narrow) flows of tropical moisture aloft in the warm conveyor belt of air ahead of cold fronts.

Atmospheric river during 2010 Snowmaggedon storm. NOAA image.

The timing of the announcement could not have been better. Ocean-fed storms with the distinctive filaments of tropospheric moisture brought heavy rains to California and Oregon this past week. Lake levels in northern California surged by as much as 34 feet; rush hour in major cities like San Francisco were bedeviled with flooded streets and bridges blocked by overturned vehicles due to the high winds carrying blinding sheets of rain.
The timing was not just good from a weather point of view but also from the standpoint of public understanding. The announcement culminated the fast-track rise of “atmospheric river” from an obscure technical term to popular understanding. In anticipation of the weekend deluge (and the lesser encore Wednesday), media outlets from Oregon to Minnesota to Australia picked up the vibe and were talking about atmospheric rivers–and not just by the more time-honored and familiar regional name, “Pineapple Express.”
It was only 20 years ago the term “atmospheric river” was introduced in a scientific paper by Reginald Newell and colleagues; then atmospheric rivers got a brief spate of publicity during the late 1990s and early part of this century with airborne field projects over the Pacific Ocean, such as CALJET and PACJET. Attention ramped up again during 2010’s infamous Snowmaggedon on the East Coast.
So it goes with atmospheric sciences, where the prospect of applications can drive quick adoption of useful concepts: useful not just in forecasting but also in climatology. For example, at the upcoming AMS Annual Meeting, Tianyu Jiang of Georgia Tech will look at different resolutions of general circulation models to see how well they depict these detailed structures (as little as 25 miles wide) and linkages with East Asian Cold outbreaks in a Tuesday poster session (9:45 a.m., Exhibit Hall 3). In a Monday poster (2:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3) Nyssa Perryman of Desert Research Institute will explore how downscaling from a global climate model to an embedded regional climate model can affect the simulation of atmospheric rivers.
The importance of this relatively new concept is such that the AMS Education Program devoted several sections to atmospheric rivers and how they transport water vapor from the tropics in its newest edition of the AMS Weather Studies textbook. Released in August 2012 by the AMS Education Program, the book is currently being used by thousands of college students nationwide as an introduction to meteorology. A QR code was embedded in the text to provide readers with access to the most current forecast information and video loops available on the subject.
For more on atmospheric rivers, check out Ralph and Dettinger’s article in the June 2012 BAMS on the relative importance of atmospheric rivers in U.S. precipitation. Marty Ralph discusses the article in this AMS YouTube Channel video: