AMS 2024 Session Highlight: WRN Asks “What If…?”

Graphic: WRN Asks "What If...?"

Since 2013, the AMS Symposium on Building a Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) has brought together meteorologists and other Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise partners to discuss efforts in advancing what it means to be “Weather-Ready.” At the 104th AMS Annual Meeting, for the second year in a row, the WRN Symposium will be opening their program Monday morning at 8:30 AM ET in Baltimore with a special, interactive session: “WRN Asks: What If…?” We spoke to one of the program chairs for this Symposium, Trevor Boucher from the National Weather Service, about why this session is unique and why AMS attendees might want to check it out.

What’s so special about this session, and how did it come about?

Trevor: The design and discussion are both very different from a traditional 12-minute presentation or panel session. Weather Ready Nation Symposium was created shortly after the National Weather Service introduced the WRN Initiative as a forum to share lessons learned, successes, and best practices. After a decade of this pursuit, several recurring themes arose: How do we, the Weather Enterprise, target underserved and vulnerable populations? How do we communicate our science effectively? How do we focus on our publics/partners while also maintaining our own well-being? These provocative questions are not easily addressed through the traditional paradigm of science conferences. Last year, the 11th WRN Symposium looked to an interactive, collaborative strategy to address big societal challenges, hosting a special session called, “WRN Asks: What if…?” which embraced the concept of “transformative learning.” We shifted the focus to collective, group discussion, and critically reflecting on what we’ve all learned since 2013.

This year’s “What if…?” session not only fits into the Annual Meeting’s “Living in a Changing Environment” theme but intentionally asks the provocative “elephant in the room” questions that are difficult to have in a traditional session. We designed this session as a “reverse panel,” where moderators provide a 3-minute “state of the science” with respect to their backgrounds and propose an open-ended, “What if…?” question to the audience. Then their role shifts to moderating audience discussion for the remainder of their 20-minute slot. So you might see notable names on the agenda, but they do the least amount of talking. The audience are the true panelists, sharing their opinions, their knowledge, and their concerns about these questions.

Where did this idea come from?

Trevor: To be honest, the design inspiration and name largely came from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There is an animated series with the same name that explores how certain character storylines would progress in alternate scenarios or timelines. What would the implications be if certain details of these characters changed? Additionally, the show Black Mirror on Netflix is another inspiration, exploring how some seemingly inevitable technological advancements like AI or cybernetic implants may change our society. Similarly, we wanted to explore “What if…?” scenarios around how our science may look if things progress, change directions, or stay the same.

One of last year’s discussion moderators, Dr. Justin Sharpe, helped us also understand how this style of discussion fits very nicely into the concept of Transformative Learning (Mezirow, 1995, 2000) and engendering critical reflection of the audience. For the chairs, this also helps us reflect on how we craft our scientific discussions each year in our program. The single, double, and triple-loop deutero learning model (below) applies to both the audience and the chairs simultaneously.

Deutero Learning: Single, Double and Triple Loop Learning where single-loop learning is primarily related to considering one’s actions — such as improving efficiency; double-loop learning questions priority-setting, such as how solutions are determined (Argyris and Schön, 1978); and triple-loop learning questions underlying values and assumptions, asking, for example, what our goals may be (Sharpe, 2018, 2021, Sweiringa and Wierdsma, 1992).

The goal for this year’s session is to inspire the following year’s call for abstracts. We will be taking notes on everything discussed from the audience and planning follow-up sessions called “What’s Next?” based on the discussion. We hope people will be excited to contribute to these discussions for years to come.

How did the first “What if…” session go last year?

Trevor: Exceptionally well. Even though it was the first time we tried this and it was the opening Monday morning session of the Annual Meeting, with a LOT of competition for the membership to choose from, we had about 40-50 folks and had no problem with participation. In fact, we had to cut discussions off for all four questions proposed. I honestly think everyone who attended spoke up at some point through the 90-minute session.

My favorite part was an idea from Doug Hilderbrand, the creator of the WRN Symposium. He asked all the students in the audience to raise their hand, and promised they would be prioritized in the discussion, since these topics are likely what they will be grappling with throughout their upcoming careers.

What’s in store for attendees this year?

Trevor: Four new moderators with four new questions! And we have become a bit more emboldened to ask even more provocative questions this year. Some of them are excellent examples of #HowtoStartaMetFight (a popular Twitter hashtag from years ago). I personally can’t wait to see where the discussion takes us. The questions include…

“What if all weather information was probabilistic?”
Dr. Sean Ernst (OU’s Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis)

“What if there wasn’t a stigma when talking about climate change?”
Jared Rennie (Research Meteorologist – NCEI)

“What if we didn’t change anything?”
Dr. Tanya Brown-Giammanco (Director – NIST Disaster and Failure Studies)

“What if there was no ego in the weather enterprise?”
Matt Lanza (Managing Editor – Space City Weather)

I’ve been on all our coordination calls and dry runs with these folks and we have had to cut short our 90-minute meetings each time because we just can’t help but discuss these important questions — and that’s just 6-7 of us. I really think AMS attendees will find it to be an invigorating way to begin their week in Baltimore.

Read more about the session.

About the AMS 104th Annual Meeting

The American Meteorological Society’s Annual Meeting brings together thousands of weather, water, and climate scientists, professionals, and students from across the United States and the world. Taking place 28 January to 1 February, 2024, the AMS 104th Annual Meeting will explore the latest scientific and professional advances in areas from renewable energy to space weather, weather and climate extremes, environmental health, and more. In addition, cross-cutting interdisciplinary sessions will explore the theme of Living in a Changing Environment, especially the role of the weather, water, and climate enterprise in helping improve society’s response to climate and environmental change. The Annual Meeting will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center, with online/hybrid participation options. Learn more at

COVID-19 and the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise

by Mary Glackin, AMS President

In normal times, our thousands of AMS professionals and colleagues are completely dedicated to helping people make the best possible weather-, water-, and climate-related decisions. In this COVID-19 period, were not just providing critical information; we are also receiving it. We are each of us following guidance from public health experts and local officials so that we can keep ourselves, our families, and our friends safe and well. We’re joining in the national and global efforts to “flatten the curve.”

amsseal-blueWe all continue to work, but these duties are now competing with new ones: caring for children who would normally be in school, searching for basic necessities that would routinely be in stock on supermarket shelves, protecting elderly friends and family members. With campuses and laboratories shut down, professors and students have scrambled to adjust to online teaching and reimagining plans for field experiments. Nonetheless, critical weather and hydrologic services are provided with sharp eyes for spring floods and convective weather. Preparations for the coming hurricane season are moving forward.

COVID-19 doesn’t “slightly tweak” the task of building a Weather-Ready Nation; it completely rearranges the landscape. Goals of shelter-in-place and evacuation have to be reconfigured for a world where we are advised by health experts to maintain physical separation from others—more than a challenge in a communal evacuation center.

COVID-19 provides a unique learning opportunity for all of us in the Enterprise. We can experience firsthand how even the best-intended top-down risk communication can sound to someone in harm’s way—and step up our own communications accordingly.

Finally, it’s worth noting as AMS embarks on its second century that our founding coincided with the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. The link between weather, water, climate, and public health (enshrined in the AMS seal) has been integral to building a sustainable and resilient world, and it will likely play a larger role in the future.

Thank you for maintaining essential services and supporting research and education during such a critical, difficult time. Stay well, and stay safe—and at the same time, stay focused, on our contributions to a safer, healthier world.

In Celebration: American Weather Enterprise Collaborating to Protect Lives and Property

By Mary M. Glackin, AMS President-Elect, and Dr. Joel N. Myers, Founder and CEO, AccuWeather

In his acclaimed book, The Signal and the Noise, noted statistician Nate Silver examines forecasts of many categories and finds that most forecast types demonstrate little or no skill, and most predictive fields have made insignificant progress in accuracy over the past several decades.  The one exception, Silver concludes, is weather forecasting, which he singles out as a “success story.” We quite agree.

The benefit of improved weather forecasting on human activity over the last 60 years cannot be overstated. As we approach in January the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization dedicated to the advancement of meteorological science, it seems a fitting time to celebrate all that we have accomplished for the protection of life and property and the substantial benefits to people and business and contemplate the challenges ahead and the path forward to conquer them.

With technology and human knowledge increasingly transforming both weather forecasting and our relationship with it, our success will rest squarely on our ability to embrace transformational change and to recognize and welcome opportunities for collaboration between key facets of the weather enterprise – academic, government and the private weather industry.

The publicly funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a critical role in supporting the entire infrastructure of weather forecasting, which government organizations, such as the National Weather Service, the U.S. military, and privately held organizations rely on. This infrastructure includes observational systems, maintenance and support of numerical weather prediction models, and providing life-saving weather warnings.  Warnings, arguably, are the biggest payoff of weather forecasting with lives and property on the line.

The NWS analyzes and predicts severe weather events and issues advisories and warnings to the general public for their safety and protection. Warning services provided by NWS have improved over the decades. By design, NWS weather warnings cover a broad territory, intended for the widest possible public audience in a region.

While all government weather warnings reaching the public are produced by the NWS, increasingly in today’s digital age they are tailored and delivered almost entirely by private weather providers through news broadcasts and free, advertising-supported mobile phone apps and other digital sources of convenience.  The greatest challenge the weather enterprise faces is ensuring these life-saving weather warnings reach the greatest number of people potentially impacted by hazardous weather with enough advance notice to take proactive steps to remain safe and out of harm’s way. When seconds count in a weather-related emergency, this partnership example significantly extends the reach of the government for greater public safety.

What some may not realize is that when severe weather threatens, companies, such as AccuWeather, pair a deep understanding of client operations with their team of meteorologists to provide vital services, such as custom site and operation specific weather warnings, to clients tailored to their risk thresholds.

recent Washington Post article mistakenly conflated warning services provided by NOAA with custom warning services provided to private clients.

In fact, with example after example, there is no doubt private companies, such as AccuWeather, which has received many AMS accolades for its warnings and expertise, can and do provide valuable warnings and services to private clients. It was unfortunate that a comment said on the fly was taken out of context. Both AccuWeather and AMS view the incident in this light and are continuing to build on their shared history of partnership. AccuWeather works closely with NOAA and NWS to make sure communities and businesses have the best information and warnings they need to stay safe. This partnership has never been stronger.

In fact, there has been a long history of cooperation between the public and private weather sectors.  National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS), including the NWS, readily source data and intellectual property from private companies to support their mission of saving lives, protecting property, and enhancing the national economy.  This trend is likely to continue in the world of shrinking government budgets and resource allocation.  In turn, private companies leverage technologies, such as the many forecast models provided by NMHS, as the foundation to their own products and services.

As we look ahead to the next 100 years, many challenges impacting the future of the weather enterprise loom large, such as cost and financial pressures, the hyperbolic increasing rate of the capture, storing, processing and analyzing of data, emerging challenges of health and climate change and new accelerating technologies and platforms in the digital age, some of which we cannot yet even conceive.

These sectors of the weather enterprise have their own advantages and efficiencies and together we can most certainly succeed in furthering meteorological advancement if we capitalize on each other’s strengths and work cooperatively and decisively to achieve our larger mission of safety and protection.

All partners in the weather enterprise –government, commercial and academia —  in addition to the support and stewardship of important professional organizations, such as the AMS, the National Weather Association and the American Weather and Climate Industry Association – are essential to meteorological progress, and the sum of our value to the public and business can be far greater than the individual parts.

In the last six decades, each component of the weather enterprise has learned to better understand and appreciate one another and to communicate more effectively and to respect the important contributions of each in the true spirt of cooperation. The greatest example of this is the AMS-championed Fair Weather Report, a study funded by the federal government to generate more harmony across the entire weather enterprise.

Since we began our careers, we have had the privilege of seeing amazing progress in our ability to provide more specific, more accurate, and more useful weather forecasts and warnings, which extend further ahead and have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage.

With even more and better collaborations between the various facets of the weather enterprise, there is no question the public and our nation stand to benefit from greater safety and better planning. We look forward to continuing our work together to bring about more exciting innovations and enhancements to advance public safety.

Editor’s note: Mary M. Glackin is President-elect, American Meteorological Society. She was formerly the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a Senior Vice President of Science and Forecast Operations at The Weather Company (IBM). Dr. Joel N. Myers is Founder and CEO of AccuWeather

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.)

Space-Based Environmental Intelligence Community Celebrates

by Ron Birk, Northrop Grumman
Over 150 stakeholders in our Space-based Environmental Intelligence community came together December 1 at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a special event co-hosted by the American Astronautical Society and the American Meteorological Society. Key stakeholders from NOAA, NASA, USGS, Congress, the Administration, the European Union, the private sector and academia celebrated accomplishments including the successful launch and deployment of the NOAA GOES R geostationary weather satellite.
There was a buzz throughout the networking event about advancing societal benefits into the future. Dr. Bill Hooke, Associate Executive Director of AMS and author of Living on the Real World, brought his compelling perspective on the value of science for society. Dr. Piers Sellers, acclaimed astronaut and Earth scientist, shared his findings from over 30 years of research and space travel on the value of monitoring our Earth from space in an excerpt from the recently released National Geographic Before the Flood movie.
The audience enjoyed an impressive video prepared by the space-based environmental community (watch for the video to be posted here soon). Major aerospace players, including Ball Aerospace, Harris Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, provided impressive accomplishments linked together to form the value chain from environmental sensors processed into information products to inform emergency responders in saving lives and protecting property for a Weather Ready Nation. The Society of Satellite Professionals International and the European Commission Copernicus program enhanced the video highlighting benefits and capabilities that span the environmental intelligence value chain. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Sustainable earth Observation Systems (SeOS), and the Aerospace Corporation joined in sponsoring the event.
The Honorable Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee, arrived just as Tom Fahy announced the Senate passed the Weather Research and Forecasting Act S.1561. Congressman Bridenstine enthusiastically called for the space-based environmental community video to be shared with congressional committees. He emphasized the value of environmental information for severe weather warnings, especially tornados and floods, key to people of Oklahoma and across the nation. He described steadfast support for NOAA operational polar and geostationary weather missions, Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES R), and heralded the value of Earth science to monitor the vital signs of our planet with benefits for our economy, protection of life and property, and national security. The Congressman also emphasized progress and plans an increasingly robust Earth observations system, including benefits of being augmented by commercial weather data. A key area identified as a challenge for the community is space situational awareness, recognizing that low Earth orbit is increasingly congested and contested.
Tremendous recognition is due to everyone in the community coming together to make this important enterprise successful and vibrant as we continue into the future. Thanks to all for bringing so much talent and energy to the event.  Our challenge and opportunity is to continue to reach out and expand our community, recognizing that everyone across the U.S. and around the world benefits from quality space-based environmental intelligence.

AMS Community Priorities for the New Administration

By Fred Carr, AMS President
Now that the election is over, a furious amount of activity has ensued on who will be in the new administration and what policies they will pursue. AMS members are particularly concerned about future science funding levels, environmental policies, observational and research infrastructure, STEM education, and who the new leaders will be in agencies that oversee aspects of the weather, water, and climate (WWC) enterprise. To provide guidance to those involved in the transition period, the AMS created a policy statement titled “Weather, Water, and Climate Priorities” that is located here.
I would like to summarize a few vital aspects of this document here. The fundamental premise is that “Economic and social prosperity belong to a society that understands and effectively responds to Earth’s changing weather, water, and climate conditions.” There is no doubt that many changes are occurring in the Earth’s physical and biological ecosystems (atmospheric and oceanic warming, Arctic and glacial ice losses, sea level rise, land use, drought and flooding intensities, etc.), most of them resulting from human activities. They are affecting our quality of life and large portions of our economy, and will worsen with time. These changes cannot be ignored, and national investment and leadership are needed.
The AMS policy statement provides recommendations on how to address these challenges, which require holistic, bipartisan, and coordinated strategies to accomplish. Some of them are:

  • The nation must invest in educating the next generation of scientists.
  • Both basic and applied research in the geophysical and environmental sciences must increase.
  • Observational infrastructure should increase across the WWC enterprise.
  • The U.S. should lead the world in high-performance computing.
  • Effective outreach to the public and decision-makers is needed to develop a scientifically literate citizenry and data-driven, science-based policies.
  • Partnerships among the academic, public, and private sectors are needed to develop successful policies and actions.
  • Outstanding individuals are needed to provide effective leadership of WWC-related agencies, advisory groups, and industries; they must be well-qualified, visionary, and diverse.

These recommendations make sense across the political spectrum, and I encourage readers to do what they can to bring them to the attention of the new administration.

Naming Winter Storms: Time for Community Cooperation

by Mary M. Glackin, Senior Vice President, Public-Private Partnerships, The Weather Company
Forecasts of hazardous weather have continually improved, particularly over the past few decades. It is oft-cited fact that 5-day forecasts are now as good as 3-day forecasts were 20 years ago. At the same time, the public has more choices than ever in how it accesses weather information. In particular, we are seeing explosive growth in the web, apps, and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet in the aftermath of a severe event, it is common to hear, “I didn’t know” either from public officials or the public at large.
It is this latter issue that the United Kingdom’s Met Office and the Irish Meteorological Service (Met Éireann) were seeking to address when they recently announced their plans to name storms this fall and winter. And to kick the campaign off, they are soliciting the public’s help in picking the names. After watching other country’s experiences, they believe naming significant storms will increase public awareness of severe weather and thus improve appropriate responses to warnings.
Several European countries name winter storms. For example, the Free University of Berlin’s meteorological institute has been naming them since the 1950s, and these names are adopted and used by the media and the German Met Service, Deutscher Wetterdienst. In the U.S. and elsewhere, very impactful storms become named by the media; think Snowmageddon in the Northeast (2010) and St. Jude Storm in the U.K. (2013). In the U.S., The Weather Company (TWC) began naming winter storms in 2012-13, citing the importance of communicating in social media–especially Twitter, which requires a hashtag. Rightly or wrongly, this effort was roundly criticized as having suspect science and for being a marketing ploy.
After three years experience at TWC, here is what we can report: Twitter alone provides an incredible reach where we routinely see more than one billion people receiving tweets using the storm name. Millions of tweets are sent using the hashtag from government agencies, school districts, utilities, businesses, and the general public. These hashtags also allow the NWS and others to find real-time weather data tweeted by citizens that can be used in nowcasts and other storm reports.
The criteria to name a storm are pretty simple: it must meet the National Weather Service winter-storm warning criteria, and it must be expected to impact at least two million people and/or 400,000 sq. km. We use a formal process and a committee of three meteorologists to review these criteria for each possible storm, and while we consider the criteria strict, the storm-naming committee still reserves the right to override the quantitative decision in certain circumstances. Some of the factors that may influence decisions to override the naming rules include the degree of historical significance of the event (e.g., accumulating snow in South Florida, a summer-season snowstorm, etc.); see more details here.  The U.K. is planning a similar system using their two highest warning levels, so names are only applied to the storms that present a significant threat.
What’s in a name? Well in this case, the name is the headline to attract attention to the threat. It is the beginning. It needs to be backed up with easy-to-understand information that details the threat to a specific locale and appropriate call-to-action statements. But, in this information-saturated world, this headline/hashtag is key. We need to recognize the importance of serving people in the way they find easiest to consume information vs. how we are most comfortable in delivering it.
Could we take this U.K./Ireland announcement as a call to the U.S. weather enterprise to come together to see how we could maximize the use of social media to improve the public response to severe weather events?  Twitter is here to stay, and it requires hashtags to separate the relevant information from an avalanche of incoming data. Hashtags are spilling over into other social media as well. It is easy to create a hashtag from a tropical storm name. If we could come together as a community to address this for winter storms, we’d no doubt learn a lot that could then be applied to significant weather at the local scale. The nomenclature could be something much different than what’s used in tropical storms or what we have been using.
What’s important is to lead as a community in this social media era. For our part, we are willing to share our experiences, transition our system, and/or help set up an enterprise-wide naming system. During major snow events, the reach on Twitter has been over a billion. What would our reach be with all of us working together feeding into the same system to keep people informed during these hazardous events? Are we ready to re-engage on this topic as a community?

Boosting the Vitality of the U.S. Weather and Climate Enterprise

by James Stalker, President and CEO, RESPR, Inc.
Editor’s note: Because this column has triggered much discussion in the community already, it is important to emphasize that all posts on this blog–guest columns or otherwise–present the opinions of the authors only. These blog posts do not represent official policy or views of the AMS or of its membership. What follows are an individual’s thoughts, and we hope that others in the community recognize, as does Mr. Stalker, the value of open discussion.
The U.S. weather and climate enterprise is exemplary to many nations of the world. And yet, it appears to struggle to maintain its edge—especially in economic development, job creation, and producing constant weather-readiness throughout the nation. While dwindling public funding may be partially to blame, the problem is deeper.
What systemic issues might be holding the enterprise back? Is there unhealthy competition between sectors?  Can we avoid a slowing rate of growth within the weather and climate enterprise? How can we make the enterprise more vibrant and help it stay vibrant? It is important to consider such questions, especially now as we prepare for the AMS Community Meeting this week in Boulder, Colorado.
Sectors and their objectives
Government, academia, and the private sectors all provide products and services to a fourth sector—the users. This user sector is the most important of all, and its members must far outnumber those of the other sectors in a healthy enterprise.
Each sector has a different mission. For example, government mainly provides timely weather and climate information to citizens in order to save lives and minimize property damage. The government sector, secondarily, provides weather and climate information to the academic and private sectors to indirectly support education, research, and economic development. Additionally, the government engages in research and educational efforts itself.
It is fair to ask whether or not the government sector adequately fulfills its primary objective. Huge gaps exist in the weather and climate information available in the public domain today, and there are inabilities to adequately customize data to meet the disparate needs of the citizens. However, the government sector does provide information critical to the academic and private sectors. The fact that the government sector seems to do better in achieving its secondary objective, relatively speaking, than its primary objective suggests that something does not work well.
The primary objective of the academic sector is to educate our future scientists and technicians. Secondarily, it offers products and services to the other sectors. Strengthened weather and climate datasets from a refocused government sector would improve the academic sector’s success in its primary and secondary objectives. A refocused government sector would similarly benefit the private sector in developing better value-added products/services for users. The beneficiary shareholders come from all walks of life, of course, but primarily it is the satisfied customers—the users—who keep the private sector alive and well.
Pathways for Products
Curiously, the “free” weather and climate data model of the government sector can potentially lead to the unsustainable situation in which product and service providers outnumber users. We see this by looking at the various pathways by which weather and climate data product and service providers interact with one another and reach out to the user sector.

Schematic showing various pathways amongst four sectors.
Schematic showing various pathways amongst four sectors.

All the pathways shown above are currently utilized in one way or another. In the current weather and enterprise structure, Pathway 1, by which the private sector reaches out to the user sector, is competing against Pathways 2 and 3, where the government sector and the academic sector, to a lesser degree, offer “free” data products to the user sector. Even though the private sector provides value-added products, the user sector is made to believe that they can get similar weather and climate products from the government and academic sectors for free. Secondly, since the government sector is focusing on Pathway 2, its production of a strong foundational data for Pathway 1A receives minimal attention.
Even though Pathways 1 and 3 don’t necessarily compete with one another, at least not as apparently as Pathways 1 and 2, the academic sector could increase its effectiveness by focusing its scarce financial resources on education and academic research.
The status quo enterprise structure results in unnecessary road blocks for the enterprise as a whole.
The vitality of the enterprise would get a boost if the government sector reversed its priority of objectives and emphasized, instead, on providing critical weather and climate information to the private (Pathway 1A) and academic (indirectly to Pathway 1B) sectors. At the same time, the academic sector would make a positive contribution to the vitality of the enterprise by shifting focus on improving and providing weather and climate information through academic research to the private sector (Pathway 1B). Both Pathways 2 and 3 would become secondary objectives in the new sectoral coexistence illustrated here.
This suggests that a business model aimed at providing “free” weather and climate information, while appealing, is not sustainable and will lead to inferior products. This model puts the private sector at a severe disadvantage.
The whole weather and climate enterprise will have to realize this fatal flaw. The government sector should ask itself: “Would it be better to invest more of the taxpayer dollars in what the government sector does better than in what it does not do so well?”
With this adjustment, the private sector will become the chief provider of end-user products and services to the user sector directly. This would not necessarily mean the end of Pathway 2, however. For example, the government might wonder if some users would be unable to afford the value-added products/services provided by the private sector. In this case, instead of trying to produce end-user products/services itself, the government sector would be better off purchasing them from the private sector and making them available to those users who are in need of the value-added products/services. In other words, certain segments of users may receive value-added products indirectly from the private sector.
A Path to Consider
Leaders engaged in weather and climate products and services from the three sectors should get together and evaluate the merit of this adjustment of priorities. The government sector would share with the other sectors; its effort would be appropriately split between strengthening the foundational weather and climate information and directly reaching out to the user sector. An oversight committee, sponsored by AMS, could ensure continued implementation of this new adjustment within the weather and climate enterprise. This committee would come up with further adjustments to the enterprise structure.
It is necessary practice in business, government, and academia alike to continually reexamine priorities to ensure economic vitality in a changing society and changing markets. The weather and climate enterprise should be no exception.

AAAS Finds Some Good News in R&D Budget

by George Leopold, AMS Policy Program
Our friends at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have sifted through this year’s federal R&D spending and next year’s proposed budget, and the numbers in some cases are pretty ugly.
Given the current political climate and budget sequestration, however, it could have been much worse. The best news, says Matt Hourihan, director of R&D Budget and Policy Program at AAAS, is that the Obama administration’s FY 2014 proposal would return caps on discretionary science spending to presequester levels.
The overall budget request for nonmilitary R&D spending approaches $70 billion. If enacted, and again that’s a big if, Hourihan says that would be an all-time high.
Now that the dust has settled over sequestration, let’s look back at fiscal 2013 federal appropriations and the impact of across-the-board budget cuts on science agencies. All but the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (advanced manufacturing) took a hit, according to AAAS estimates. For example, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) R&D budget declined an estimated 4% from the previous year while NASA funding dropped by an estimated 6.6%. Other science agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) were in the same range.
Overall, AAAS found, federal R&D spending will decline $9.3 billion in fiscal 2013 due to sequestration and other budget cuts. That 6.5% decline takes federal R&D spending back to 2002 levels.
For NASA, which of course plays a key role in Earth observation, the $749 million nominal cut from its fiscal 2012 budget pushes the space agency’s fiscal 2013 spending back to its 1980s spending levels, AAAS found.
As for next year, AAAS expects NASA’s R&D budget to increase by more than $1 billion (9.8%) over 2013 levels, accounting for about $11.6 billion of the proposed $144 billion federal R&D budget. The Commerce Department, which includes NOAA, is projected to account for only about $2.7 billion, while NSF would receive about $6.3 billion. (By stark contrast, and despite recent shifts toward civilian research, proposed military R&D spending next year would total $73 billion.)
Another piece of good news in the AAAS assessment is that NOAA’s R&D budget would be $733 million in 2014, a 27.7% increase over the 2012 budget. As we have noted, much of that would go for National Weather Service modernization programs, including computer modeling and networking. The emphasis here seems to be on technology for weather forecasting rather than for forecasters themselves.
Along with NOAA R&D, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and even USGS science programs might see a budget bump next year unless Congress decides otherwise.
Among the Obama administration’s investment priorities for R&D, AAAS found, was a shift “from D to R” with an additional correction toward “applied” research. Indeed, the proposed budget for nice-to-have but hard-to-fund basic research is expected to remain flat next year when adjusted for inflation.
NSF’s budget, which was heavily skewed by a huge boost from economic stimulus funding in 2009, could nevertheless benefit from an upward trend in what AAAS calls “general science.” The key focus will be on “cross-cutting innovation programs,” AAAS predicts.
So, it’s a mixed budget outlook for 2014, with sequestration likely to continue despite the fact that most budget proposals for next year seek to eliminate across-the-board cuts. The political rub, of course, is whether to cut “entitlement” programs (or what the supporters of these programs refer to as “earned benefits”) or raise taxes. Don’t expect much movement on that front any time soon.
Therefore, budget sequestration likely will remain, affecting not only federal R&D spending but most of the federal budget for the foreseeable future.
That’s why it is important for U.S. science agencies to continue working more closely to identify spending priorities before the Office of Management of Budget decides for them.
AAAS puts the question this way: “Has science hit a speed bump, or crossed over the Fiscal Cliff into Austerity Valley?” Answering his own question, AAAS budget analyst Hourihan concludes: Austerity is “the new normal.”
Parse the science organization’s budget estimates for yourself here.

Obama Backs Weather Funding in Opening Bid

by George Leopold, AMS Policy Program
While it remains far from clear whether the Obama administration will gain final congressional approval, its fiscal 2014 budget request released earlier this month does contain small increases for improving weather forecasting and climate research.
The White House budget request also reveals early attempts by science agencies to collaborate more closely in areas like Earth observation and climate research.
Given the pervasive uncertainty over federal spending–for instance, across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration” began to bite this week with the furloughs of U.S. air traffic controllers–the administration’s proposed $200 million increase for NOAA and the National Weather Service is welcome. It also indicates that NOAA’s core functions remain a budget priority for federal bean counters.
If approved–and at this point that’s a big if–NOAA’s fiscal 2014 budget would top out at $5.45 billion. That’s about $200 million more than the amount approved for this year. If nothing else, the administration’s opening bid in negotiations over NOAA’s budget is higher than some stakeholders expected.
Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a statement that the agency’s FY14 budget request seeks to: “1) ensure the readiness, responsiveness, and resiliency of communities from coast to coast; 2) help protect lives and property; and, 3) support vibrant coastal communities and economies.”
Not surprisingly, Sullivan emphasized NOAA’s role last October in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Sandy. We’ll be hearing a lot more in upcoming budget debates about the need to continue investing in core NOAA functions like environmental monitoring.
Indeed, the lion’s share of NOAA’s budget request for next year–about $2.2 billion–goes to its National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, or NESDIS, which operates most U.S. weather satellites. A key issue is whether NESDIS can shorten an expected gap in the coverage of its polar-orbiting weather satellites. Even with a budget increase, however modest, it remains unclear whether the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1) can be launched in time to reduce a coverage gap that, according to recent estimates, could last up to 53 months.
The design lifetime of the current Suomi NPP weather satellite is expected to end in 2016. According to NESDIS officials, NOAA remains on track to launch JPSS-1 during the first quarter of 2018. Additional funding in fiscal 2014 could reportedly speed up the launch of JPSS-2 to 2021.
Another priority is beefing up the National Weather Service’s supercomputer and networking infrastructure to improve its weather forecasting models as well as its climate research. According to budget documents, funding for climate research would increase to $143 million, with the overall funding request for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research increasing to about $390 million.
Expect to also hear a lot more about collaboration as agencies like NOAA look to do more with less. To that end, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office is seeking an additional $2 million next year to acquire more low-mileage drones from the U.S. military “to accelerate next-generation weather observing platforms.”
Meanwhile, NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget request of $17.7 billion is $50 million below what the space agency received last year. Despite the reductions, the budget request does include $1.8 billion for Earth science programs such as Landsat and climate sensors for JPSS.
NASA said its budget request also includes funding to take over from NOAA responsibility for “key observations of the Earth’s climate,” including atmospheric ozone, solar irradiance, and energy radiated into space. Under the budget plan, the space agency would also “steward” two Earth observation sensors on NOAA’s space weather mission, Deep Space Climate Observatory, currently scheduled for launch in 2014.
Agency heads will begin defending their fiscal 2014 budget requests this week. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to testify on April 25 before the Senate Appropriations Committee panel overseeing space agency spending.
NOAA’s Sullivan is scheduled to appear before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on April 23.