Small Numbers, Big Impacts

Thanks to Markeya Thomas of Climate Signals and Climate Nexus for posting about her video on Twitter for Juneteenth yesterday.

Her interview is with two of “Weather’s Hidden Figures,” the still disturbingly small number of African-American meteorologists—barely 2% of  the AMS membership. Professors Greg Jenkins of Penn State University and Deanna Hence of the University of Illinois speak eloquently on what it means to strive to make  a big impact while being part of a small minority.
Both Jenkins and Hence talk about how they have been interested in weather since they were kids—sounds familiar!—as well as how opportunities to follow specific interests in human well-being triggered their passion for weather and climate-related research. For Jenkins it was realizing the potential of his climate science in helping solve agricultural security and other urgent needs in Africa.
Hence, on the other hand, had harbored interests in medicine, and found a way to keep a health impacts slant a part of her severe weather expertise:

One thing that really deeply impacted me was actually with Hurricane Katrina. I was on the research flights into that storm back in 2005, and so that particular juxtaposition of scientifically having this amazing dataset we’re collecting—[a] perfectly timed and executed field campaign—and then having to watch thousands of people die as a result. That juxtaposition…I think that’s what really cemented [the impact focus] for me.

But it takes more than interest to make it in a not-always welcoming scientific world. Says Jenkins:

I’ve been in this field for more than two decades, and being stubborn and following what you feel is important when there aren’t necessarily a lot of examples. But having that mentorship has really been important for developing strategies and tactics when you’re facing resistance. I think that’s something we have to teach younger people, that yeah, you might run into resistance, but what’s your strategy for dealing with that? Keep your cool. Press forward. Keep your goals in mind.

Hence underscored the difficulty of establishing her personal voice and commitments as an early career scientist:

I’ve…been trying to both promote, and live by example, that you can pursue social engagement, social justice, community engagement, and your science at the same time. It’s not been an easy path, and I’ve definitely had many people dissuade me from it. We’ll see how it works out for my career! So far, for me, it’s what keeps me happy and wanting to do science.

Watch the video or read Markeya’s own write-up on Medium.

Thanksgiving in March

by Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director
The past few months have been a period of increased anxiety for many of us in the weather, water, and climate community as we contemplate how changes in the nation’s administration will impact agencies and programs, and, ultimately, how well our science and the services based on it can move forward. Despite the fact that we work in disciplines that routinely deal with uncertainty, it is not easy for us to deal with the particular flavor of uncertainty we have been facing, or to keep it from being deeply unsettling.
At AMS, we have focused on being even more vigilant in working to defend the integrity of the scientific process and in trying to ensure that the best peer-reviewed science is brought to bear on issues facing our country and the world. Recognizing the importance of those efforts—and even with occasional successes in them—does not keep one from becoming disheartened in dealing with our “post-fact world.”
I was feeling particularly discouraged recently as all this weighed on me, and then I realized that what I should be doing is creating the kind of list many of us do on Thanksgiving. Here it is:

  • I’m thankful to be part of a community whose work really matters. And that people become part of this community because they know how much this work matters and they bring dedication and passion to it every day.
  • I’m thankful that the general public appreciates and depends on the work of our community. They look to us every day to help them make decisions both big and small, and put their trust in us to keep them out of harm’s way (even though they may, at times, complain about our efforts).
  • I’m thankful that we can—and do—rely on a scientific process to discern how our environment works so that we can speak with confidence. It is not what we believe, but what we can observe, measure, and objectively model based on known physics that guides us.
  • I’m thankful I work at an organization guided by a Council made up of gifted and dedicated volunteer leaders, and that I can spend my time working with an incredible professional staff.

By the time I got to the end of this list, I was no longer feeling discouraged but, instead, was energized and ready to keep working toward making sure that the best available scientific knowledge and understanding was getting into the hands of policymakers at all levels. We may be in the midst of particularly challenging times, but AMS, as a very highly respected “honest broker” covering the science and services of the weather, water, and climate community, is in a position to be particularly effective in working through those challenges.
(A version of this post appeared in AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter’s “Letter from Headquarters” column in the February 2017 BAMS.)

Your AMS Membership Has Never Been More Valuable

by Keith Seitter, CCM, AMS Executive Director
(From Dr. Seitter’s column in the June 2016 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.)
There are a variety of ways to think about the word “value” and to apply that term in the context of being an AMS member. Those who consider the value of membership in terms of financial benefit are likely to recognize that their subscriptions to BAMS and Physics Today, as well as any of several types of member discounts (such as that for meeting registration) can easily offset the cost of dues.
While fully appreciating the importance of member discounts on AMS journals, Weatherwise magazine, books, merchandise, meetings, and other services, I have always tended to think of the value of membership in terms of the less tangible aspects—and this has been true for me reaching back far before I was part of the AMS staff. My AMS membership makes me part of a vibrant community of scientists and professionals with common goals. I have always taken great pride in being associated with an organization that promotes the advancement of knowledge and understanding about our environment, that stands up for the integrity of science, and that helps ensure that the scientific understanding coming from the research community is translated into effective actions that protect lives and property.
In addition, my involvement with AMS—especially early in my career—opened up avenues for professional growth that helped shape my career in important ways. Volunteer service with AMS drew me deeper into the community and introduced me to colleagues who have become lifelong friends. AMS meetings further expanded opportunities for networking and collaboration, which allowed my work to be more productive and successful. Many of the most important turning points in my career can be traced back to my membership with AMS.
I was talking with a longtime member a few months ago about why he enjoys his volunteer service with AMS so much. His words struck me as clear and on target. He said, “The Society is not here to give you things. The Society is here to help you get the most out of your professional career.” I think there are thousands of us in AMS who would agree with this, and who have experienced firsthand the value of being part of an organization that represents a truly incredible community of scientists and other professionals dedicated to serving society. The impact of the science and services provided by the AMS community has never been greater, and the continually expanding role of AMS in serving and representing this community means your AMS membership has never been more valuable.
With new services coming online, we think the tangible benefits of being an AMS member have never been more significant, while the intangible value—the many ways that AMS promotes community and collaboration—also continues to strengthen and grow. If you have colleagues who are not AMS members, but should be, I hope you will encourage them to join AMS and become part of this truly unique community.

AMS Announces New President-Elect and Councilors

The AMS announced this week that Alexander E. “Sandy” MacDonald is the new AMS president-elect and will take over as the Society’s president in January of 2015.
Sandy MacDonald
MacDonald is the director of the Earth System Research Laboratory and the chief science advisor for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. His career has focused on advancing science and technology toward the improvement of services. His leadership role with NOAA dates back to the 1980s, when he led a group within NOAA’s research laboratories that developed and tested systems to bring data streams and models together for operational forecasters. He received the Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for his role in the development of the National Weather Service Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) model in 1993.
In 1998, he earned the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award after working with Vice President Al Gore to start the GLOBE program, a web-based initiative that promotes science education in classrooms across the world.
More recently, MacDonald invented Science on a Sphere®–a multimedia system using high-speed computers, advanced imaging techniques, and strategically placed projectors to display full-color animated images of satellite, geophysical, and astronomical data on a sphere–which is being placed in museums and science centers around the world. In 2007, he was awarded a Meritorious Presidential Rank Award for his invention. (Science on a Sphere exhibits will be the subject of a presentation at the upcoming Annual Meeting in Atlanta.) MacDonald has also led efforts within NOAA to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems to improve the accuracy of weather and climate predictions. He received a Distinguished Presidential Rank Award for his leadership of global modeling efforts at the Earth System Research Laboratory.
A native of Montana, MacDonald now lives in Boulder, Colorado.

The AMS also announced the results of the councilor elections and the Council’s selection of a fifth councilor. The new AMS councilors are Heidi Cullen of Climate Central, Steve Hanna, CCM, of Hanna Consultants, Susan Jasko of California University of Pennsylvania, Dennis Lettenmaier of the University of Washington, Michael Morgan of the National Science Foundation, and Wendy Schreiber-Abshire of UCAR’s COMET Program.


King's Dream Is "Tangible for Me:" Perspectives from a Scientist

by J. Marshall Shepherd, AMS President. Reprinted from The Mind of J. Marsh.
I had no intentions of writing anything about the Anniversary of my Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “Dream Speech” today. But as I sit here in the Tate Center of the University of Georgia eating breakfast and responding to emails from the Executive Director of the American Meteorological Society, a flood of realization came over me. Dr. King’s Dream is tangible for me and my career path.

King stated in 1963:

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

I am one of those little black boys. I grew up in a small town north of Atlanta called Canton, Georgia. It is home and I cherish it. Yes, it had (and has) as any place does, pockets of hate and narrow thinking, but my experiences reflected the aforementioned quote. I went to school with, played S.W.A.T with, played sports with, and interacted with white and black kids. I eventually went on to be the first African American Valedictorian at Cherokee High School. I don’t make this point to brag. I make the point because it presents a dilemma in how I view it. On one hand, I feel proud to have achieved a goal and hopefully inspired someone else to strive to achieve academically. On the other hand, over 25 years later, I may still be the only person that looks like me to have given that speech. Indeed, times have changed but there is still room for me to continue to dream for my kids or for cousins that may aspire to similar goals at Cherokee High School. 

But, I want to reflect on my personal career trajectory as a projection of King’s Dream forward. 
I was blessed to be the first (and only) African American to receive a PhD in meteorology from Florida State University. This presents the same aforementioned dilemma. It’s too far past 1963 for these types of “firsts.”  After a successful career at NASA, I returned to my home state of Georgia and am now the Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program and the Athletic Association Professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia. Only 2 years before Dr. King delivered his “Dream Speech,” the University of Georgia was integrated and allowed black students, and now I am teaching, advising and mentoring students of all races.

Another significant milestone and blessing came last year when my peers, the members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS,, the largest and oldest professional society in my field, elected me to serve as President. To serve as the President of one of the more influential science organizations in this country is a privilege and honor. So back to the email I mentioned earlier from Dr. Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. I emailed Keith to inquire how many members of the AMS would have looked like me in 1963, the time of the “Dream” speech.  I guessed less than 10. Keith’s reply:

“Other than (Charlie) Anderson, I can only think of Warren Washington (not sure when he might have joined but probably close to then), and maybe June Bacon-Bercy (though she may have come on the scene closer to 1970), So, yes, almost surely less than 10, but probably not zero.” 

These numbers are not a reflection of the AMS, it is more of reflection of the times. However, in 2013, a relatively : ) young African American that has loved weather since 6th grade presides over this esteemed organization with contributions from all races, genders, and cultures. I am the 2nd African American to serve as AMS President. My mentor and recent National Medal of Science recipient, Dr. Warren Washington (, was the first. 
I owe many aspects of my career to the AMS and Warren Washington. I received one of the first AMS Industry Fellowships, have been afforded opportunities to lead and inspire within the organization, and have experienced the scholarly community of a first-class organization. Warren Washington invited me as a young scholar to spend a week with him at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and gave me sage advice that I carry with me to this day and try to pass along also. Blacks are still underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers and my field is no exception. However, I offered some thoughts on how to overcome this in a recent article ( One of those suggestions is mentorship and I am grateful to Warren (another Alpha Fraternity brother, by the way) for life. I originally hesitated when approached to be put on the ballot for the AMS Presidency, but then I reflected on how I might inspire some boy or girl, irrespective of race.

There are so many other examples of my traceability to the Dream as the nation reflects on this anniversary, but I hope you see why I say that “I am one of those little black boys” in the Dream speech.


Twister that Killed 4 Storm Chasers Widest Ever

The tornado that killed 18 people in and around El Reno, Oklahoma on Friday, including three professional tornado researchers and an amateur storm chaser, was a record 2.6 miles wide, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Path of the May 31, 2013 tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma.
(Source: NWS Forecast Office, Norman, Oklahoma)

The NWS in Norman, Oklahoma posted the image above to its Facebook page Tuesday. In addition to being the widest tornado in U.S. history, the El Reno tornado was also rated an EF-5 with winds “well over 200 mph,” the Norman NWS stated on Facebook.
According to a blog post by Jason Samenow of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, the previous record width of a tornado was 2.5 miles, belonging to the Wilber-Hallam, Nebraska twister of May 22, 2004. It was rated EF-4 in Hallam, south of Lincoln, and damaged or destroyed about 95 percent of the village of 200 people, killing one person and injuring 37.
Friday’s tornado in El Reno, a small city just west of Oklahoma City, was upgraded to an EF-5 on the 0-5 Enhanced Fujita Scale not because of its size but because of radar-measured winds in its enormous vortex of nearly 300 mph.
According to Samenow’s post, radar teams headed by renowned tornado researchers Howard Bluestein of the University of Oklahoma and Josh Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research were near the El Reno tornado gathering data. Bluestein said two of his graduate students measured winds of 296 mph in the tornado’s funnel, while Wurman’s team observed winds of 246-258 mph. Both teams were scanning the tornado with mobile Doppler radars, but from different locations.
The violent and deadly El Reno tornado occurred less than two weeks and a mere 20 miles from the EF-5 tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma on May 20. Two dozen people lost their lives in that tornado. It brought hard luck and hard lessons back to Moore, crossing the path of the infamous EF-5 tornado of May 3, 1999. Wurman’s Doppler on Wheels radar clocked winds in the 1999 Moore tornado at over 300 mph.
Over the weekend, numerous media outlets (KFOR-TV, CNN, The Weather Channel), cable TV channel websites (NatGeo, The Discovery Channel), and blog posts (Capital Weather Gang, Weatherunderground) covered the shocking news of the first-ever deaths of storm chasers by a tornado. Tim Samaras, a professional storm chaser and tornado researcher for nearly 30 years and an Associate Member of the AMS, along with his photographer son Paul and researcher Carl Young were killed when their chase vehicle was violently thrown and mangled by the El Reno tornado. The Daily Oklahoman reported Tuesday that amateur storm chaser Richard Charles Henderson was killed the same way. His pickup truck was overrun by the tornado winds moments after he sent a friend a cellphone photo of the El Reno tornado.

NOAA Appoints New Director for Hurricane Center

Rick Knabb has been named the new director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. He replaces outgoing director Bill Read and begins June 4, days after the official start of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.
Well-known as The Weather Channel’s “hurricane expert” for the last two hurricane seasons, Knabb is returning to familiar territory. He was a senior hurricane specialist from 2005 to 2008, and the Center’s science operations officer beginning in 2001.

Rick Knabb
Rick Knabb, the new director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

“I’m ready to reunite with the talented staff at the National Hurricane Center and to work with all of our partners to prepare everyone for the next hurricane,” said Knabb. “Personal preparedness will be critically important, including for my own family and home.”
Born just outside of Chicago, Knabb grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale, and in Katy, Texas in suburban Houston. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Science from Purdue University and holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Meteorology from Florida State University.
Knabb left the Hurricane Center in Miami and became deputy director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) in Honolulu, Hawaii, for a year before arriving at The Weather Channel. The CPHC oversees tropical cyclone forecasts and warnings from 140° west longitude westward to the International Dateline, including all of the Hawaiian Islands.
A member of the AMS, Knabb also serves on the AMS Board for Operational Government Meteorologists. He has published numerous papers in AMS and other scientific journals and has given presentations on hurricanes and tropical weather at AMS and related conferences. His expertise in communicating has been honed these last two years at The Weather Channel.
“Rick personifies that calm, clear, and trusted voice that the nation has come to rely on,” says NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. “Rick will also lead our hurricane center team and work closely with federal, state and local emergency management authorities to ensure the public is prepared to weather the storm.”

Accepting Nominations for the 2012 Harry Wexler Award

A meeting focused on technology. A commitment to look back at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Striving for a “Janus moment,” as Mark Brooks put it so eloquently.
This is clearly a propitious moment to ask: Who should win the AMS Harry Wexler Award for 2012?

Wexler: He brought transformative technology into operational meteorology.

But, wait a minute, you say. AMS doesn’t give out a Harry Wexler Award! No problem: The Front Page is going to take a downright impertinent, not to mention unconstitutional–if it weren’t imaginary–step to solve that. Join us in this honorary thought experiment.
First things first, though…if you don’t know who Harry Wexler was, you’re in luck. We’ve reserved a front row seat for you at not one, but two presentations in New Orleans. The first is the keynote of the History Conference on Tuesday (11 a.m., Room 245), which will be given, appropriately, by James Rodger Fleming.
A meteorologist-turned-history professor, Fleming’s recent book, Fixing the Sky, won the 2012 AMS Battan Award and is an essential addition to your collection of Wexleriana. His topic in New Orleans is, “Transformative Technologies and International Cooperation in the Career of Harry Wexler “. Transformative technology? Now that’s a Janus moment indeed. Pure Wexler.
Ever wanted to fly into a hurricane? Wexler was the first scientist to do it. Heard of global warming? Back in the 1950s Wexler helped support the landmark carbon dioxide observational record we now call the Keeling curve. Heard of the ozone hole? Wexler was delivering talks about how humanity could wipe out the polar stratospheric ozone layer more than a decade before chemists made us look askance at CFC-laden hairspray canisters. Wondering if we’ll have to geoengineer climate to avoid catastrophic climate change? Wexler was already considering options.
Here are some of the transformations Wexler kick-started into high-octane development and ultimately operations while he was head of research at the Weather Bureau before his untimely death at age 51, in 1962:

  • General circulation modeling
  • Weather satellites.
  • Numerical weather prediction

Impressive list. That last one is the focus of your second Wexler-focused presentation, Robert Thomas Golden Canning’s “Modernization and Innovation in the Weather Bureau,” (Tuesday, 1:45 p.m., Room 335/6).
Mind you, Wexler didn’t invent these things. He wasn’t the one doing the research. He wasn’t even the one identifying the applications. But he was good at listening–as a skilled organizer, inspiring manager, astute judge of ideas and their advocates, and a versatile, agile thinker. According to Canning, Wexler “had an insatiable appetite for learning and scientific discussion, whether about meteorology, oceanography or even (as his daughter recalls) dinosaurs.”

Glackin: She brought transformative technology into operational meteorology, too.

So it seems fitting that we initiate this year–the 50th anniversary of Wexler’s death and just one past the 100th of his birth–with a meeting celebrating technology, past and future. Judging from the papers you’re writing and the presentations you’re giving, there are a lot more Harry Wexlers out there than ever, some in leadership positions, some working quietly to usher new ideas into practice.
Feel free to share your nominations. Since we’re presumptuous enough to announce a fictitious award, however, you can be sure that we have some people in mind already. AMS Policy Program Director Bill Hooke mentions one in his blog this week, telling us that this particular AMS Fellow

started with NOAA back in the 1970’s before even completing her education, at the most junior level.  Over the years she steadily rose through the ranks. She contributed substantially to and ultimately led the development and the implementation of the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System. AWIPS is the IT workhorse of the NOAA/NWS infrastructure that enables our national weather-readiness.

Anyone who’s had that kind of daily impact on forecasting technology earns serious gratitude and a nod to Wexler’s legacy. Kudos to you, Mary Glackin, on your career at NOAA and your retirement this Friday.

Uccellini Is AMS President-Elect

Louis Uccellini

With a huge snowstorm blowing through the northeast United States, it seems an appropriate time to announce that Louis Uccellini has been voted the new AMS president-elect. The director of the National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, Uccellini has coauthored two acclaimed AMS books on just the kind of snow the Northeast received today: Snowstorms Along the Northeastern Coast of the United States: 1955 to 1985 and Northeast Snowstorms. Uccellini will take over as AMS president in January 2012.
Four new councilors were also chosen in the elections: Peter J. Lamb, Patricia A. Phoebus, William L. Read, and H. Joe Witte. They began their three-year terms in January.
The AMS congratulates all the winners!

Pioneering Space Weather Expert Dies

Paul Kintner, a Cornell University engineering professor  and head of the university’s Global Positioning Systems Laboratory, died Monday at age 64. He’d been battling pancreatic cancer.
Kintner was a major influence in the engineering world for recognizing the potential of global positioning technology, but to the AMS community he was a leader in the science of the effects of the Sun on the atmosphere, starting from his Ph.D. work at the University of Minnesota on the plasma physics of the northern lights high above the Earth. Later he studied the effects of the Sun on radio signals and in particular GPS. His observational studies made him the discoverer of  “electrostatic ion cyclotron waves, double layers and lower hybrid solitary” in space.
Says Rich Behnke of NSF, a member of the AMS Committee on Space Weather,

Paul was the quintessential professor – super bright, outspoken, a superb scientist and a deeply committed teacher.  He has been a real pioneer in developing GPS technology and advocating the importance of space weather on society.  He was also a personal friend, a running buddy, and a wonderfully warm human being with a great smile.

Kintner was scheduled to be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming Symposium on Space Weather at the AMS Annual Meeting in Seattle in January. His topic during the Tuesday, 25 January session was to be “GNSS, GPS, Modernized Signals and the Next Solar Maximum.” In his abstract he notes that GPS had just become open to widespread application during the previous solar max, which at one point in October 2000 resulted in a 26-hour outage of navigational services. Now many more applications are based on GPS and a solar max is approaching in 2013. While newer, more robust technology is being phased in, Kintner noted that

the overwhelming majority of operational GPS receivers will use the legacy GPS signals during the next solar maximum….[Precision applications based on GPS] have dramatically increased over the past solar minimum along with the assumption that the services will be truly uninterrupted and continuous. Providers of these services should be aware of three potential space weather impacts, density gradients as before, scintillation and especially phase scintillation which has only recently been resolved, and solar radio bursts about which we know little.

This presentation at the meeting will be replaced by a tribute to the Kintner and his pioneering contributions to our sciences.