Building Community to Solve the Big Challenges in Weather, Water, and Climate

Some thoughts following the AMS Summer Community Meeting

By Isabella Herrera, AMS Policy Program

How can the weather, water, and climate enterprise better collect and use socioeconomic data to keep vulnerable populations safe from environmental hazards? What are the challenges of establishing a national network to monitor the planetary boundary layer? How are we dealing with radio frequency interference that hampers weather monitoring and forecasting? These questions can be answered only through collaborative efforts across the weather, water, and climate enterprise. One of the most important roles of the American Meteorological Society is to convene meetings where WWC professionals can delve into these vital topics.

The AMS Summer Community Meeting is a perfect example of that convening ability in action. Professionals from the private, public, and academic sectors come together, both in person and virtually, to share their visions for the future of the weather, water, and climate enterprise(s). 

Having now worked for the American Meteorological Society for just over a year, I was very excited to have the opportunity to attend the AMS Summer Community Meeting for the first time in Minneapolis this August. At this two-day conference, attendees immersed themselves in discussions about current challenges, opportunities, and efforts throughout the AMS community and related fields.

A conduit for collaboration

As an in-person attendee this year, one thing that struck me was how the Summer Community Meeting served as a conduit for conversation. Information and ideas flowed easily between the various presenters, panelists, and the audience. For example, sessions focused on commercial radar services and NOAA research allowed the public and private sectors to share their perspectives. They presented pressing issues, opportunities for potential collaborations, and the work currently being done across the enterprise.

Summer Community Meeting attendees listen to a discussion of NOAA’s Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) system.

Some of the topics covered at this meeting included: updates on national policy; the NOAA Precipitation Prediction Grand Challenge; pressing issues in radar and forecasting, such as moving the national radar network beyond the WSR-88Ds; and the operations of the National Severe Storms Laboratory. My colleagues from AMS discussed the new and ongoing initiatives of the AMS Policy Program, such as: enhancing the effectiveness and potential of the weather enterprise over the next decade and beyond (see page 823 of the October issue of BAMS), the 2024 Summer Policy Colloquium, and the role of the AMS in enabling the future of both the climate and ocean enterprises.

Hurricane prediction gets personal

I was fascinated by some of the discussions about extreme weather and the increasing frequency of Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters. Attendees from the National Weather Service highlighted the widespread efforts to improve our forecasting and modeling of extreme weather events. 

Discussions about major tropical storms particularly resonated for me, especially with Hurricane Idalia making landfall in Florida during the Meeting. I was born, raised, and currently reside in the Sunshine State, so I’m well-attuned to hurricane season and planning for impending storms. Hurricane Idalia is a perfect example of how advancements in hurricane models and forecasting have allowed meteorologists and WWC professionals to more accurately predict and communicate extreme weather hazards (such as the rapid intensification of the storm right before it made landfall), thus saving lives. I was able to witness some of this behind-the-scenes work. 

Compared with being at home refreshing the National Hurricane Center’s webpage and listening to advisories on the local news, as I had during previous hurricane seasons, this was an invaluable experience.


Photo: Larry Hopper and Isabella Herrera at the Summer Community Meeting
Isabella Herrera and Larry Hopper at the AMS 2023 Summer Community Meeting. Photo: Isabella Herrera.

I was delighted to see fellow AMS Summer Policy Colloquium alum Larry Hopper presenting on current and emerging radar technologies as part of a Panel Discussion on Weather Radar Research. Reconnecting with Colloquium alumni is something that I’m looking forward to at the AMS Annual Meeting in January, and although the dates have yet to be announced for next year’s Summer Community Meeting, I’m already excited to hear about the initiatives across the WWC enterprise for 2024.

I saw so many others reunite with their colleagues, too (from graduate school, from years of working in the field together, or from previous AMS meetings). It reminded me that, in addition to creating connections, collaborations, and conversation across the weather, water, and climate enterprise, the AMS has another integral part to play in this space: building community.

Building AMS Community, Maximizing Value of Our Information

by Douglas Hilderbrand, Chair, AMS Board on Enterprise Communication
Early August seems forever ago. Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey were only faint ripples in the atmosphere. The nation was getting increasingly excited for the solar eclipse of 2017; the biggest weather question was where clear skies were expected later in the month.
During this brief period of calm in an otherwise highly impactful weather year, leaders and future leaders from the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise gathered together at the AMS Summer Community Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, to better understand how “The Enterprise” could work in more meaningful, collaborative ways to best serve communities across the country and the world. Consisting of government, industry, and the academic sector, the Enterprise plays a vital role in protecting lives, minimizing impacts from extreme events, and enhancing the American economy.
The AMS Summer Community Meeting is a unique time when the three sectors learn more about each other, about physical and social science advances, and discuss collaboration opportunities.  Strengthening relationships across the Enterprise results in collaborations on joint efforts, coordination in ways that improve communication and consistency in message, and discussion of issues on which those in the room may not always see eye-to-eye. Every summer, one theme always rises to the top — the three sectors that make up the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise are stronger when working together vs. “everyone for themselves.”
This “true-ism” becomes most evident during extreme events, such as the trifecta of devastating hurricanes to impact communities from Texas to Florida to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The AMS Summer Community Meeting (full program and recorded presentations now available) featured experts on weather satellites, radar-based observations, applications that bring together various datasets, communications, and even the science behind decision making. As Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria formed, strengthened, and tracked toward land, relevant topics discussed at the Summer Community Meeting were applied under the most urgent of circumstances. GOES-16 images, though currently “preliminary and non-operational,” delivered jaw-dropping imagery and critical information to forecasters. As Harvey’s predicted rainfall totals created a dire flooding threat, the entire Enterprise rallied together to set the expectation that the flooding in eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana would be “catastrophic and life threatening.”  This consistency and forceful messaging likely saved countless lives — partially due to the Enterprise coming together a month before Harvey to stress the importance of consistency in messaging during extreme events.
If you are unfamiliar with the AMS Summer Community Meeting, and are interested in participating in the summer of 2018, take some time and click on the recorded presentations over the past few years (2017, 2016, 2015).  In 2016, the Enterprise met in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of NOAA’s National Water Center, and discussed recent advances in water forecasting and the launch of the National Water Model.  A year earlier, in Raleigh, NC, future advances across the entire end-to-end warning paradigm were discussed.
We don’t know when or what the next big challenge will be for the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, but a few things are certain… The state of our science — both physical and social —  will be tested. Communities will be counting on us to help keep them safe. And to maximize the value chain across the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, we will need government, industry, and academia continuing to work together and rely on each other. These certainties aren’t going away and provide the impetus for you to consider participating in future AMS Summer Community Meetings.