WAS*IS…like Camelot…once was…and will live on

Google WAS*IS and that first entry looks really intriguing. It’s entitled NCAR – Weather and Society*Integrated Studies…and the little snippet of text you catch there adds “Weather and Society*Integrated Studies is a grassroots movement that is changing the weather enterprise by integrating social science into…”

For the past several years, to many working in Earth observations, science and services generally, and wanting to put their skills and energy and passion to work to make the Real World a much Better One…this was the portal, the gateway, to a transforming experience.

Click on that Google entry in those days…and the WAS*IS website and its links would transport you to a world where social scientists and meteorologists were challenged to work together in community. A world where they could contemplate and actually begin to build a common effort to save lives in the face of natural hazards, provide energy, food, and potable water to the world’s billions, and at the same time protect the environment and ecosystems. You’d be encouraged to join other entry-level professionals who had participated in an intense one-week dialog bringing together meteorologists and social scientists, helping them bridge their respective disciplines, network, and start projects that they could (and would, and continue to) build on over years.

Sound good? It was. The couple of hundred people who participated never stop talking about it, sharing their experience and their hopes and aspirations with the likes of you and me. They’ve come from the ranks of weather service forecasters. From broadcast meteorologists. From research scientists. From economics. Psychology. Sociology. They’ve caught the fever.

And they’re still changing our community. They provided part of the interest in and some of the traction and juice behind the NOAA National Weather Service thrust toward a Weather-Ready Nation.

But click on that Google entry today? You’ll find this somber message:

Important message from the director of the Societal Impacts Program

April 3, 2012

Due to the tough budget times and NOAA’s choices about the allocation of their funds, we regret to say that external funding of the Collaborative Program on the Societal and Economic Benefits of Weather Information (aka the Societal Impacts Program) has been discontinued.

We have thus discontinued or suspended non-research related activities including WAS*IS, the Societal Impacts Discussion Board, the Weather and Society Watch, the Extreme Weather Sourcebook, and other information resources. As such we will be “taking down” these webpages as we will not be able to maintain them.

The Societal Impacts Program Discussion Board will be reinvented very shortly as a community service supported by Rebecca Morss here at NCAR. Please look for a message from her in the next week or so as we hope that a new incarnation of the board comes back online.

If you have any questions you may contact Jeff Lazo at lazo@ucar.edu.

Sincerely,

Jeff Lazo

Very difficult to see this as a step in the right direction when NOAA and its private-sector and university partners are trying to harness social sciences to the task of translating forecast advances into actual improvements in public safety.

This is a tremendous loss.

As Jeff Lazo notes, no one of those involved is happy. The federal agencies that have funded WAS*IS and other Societal Impact Program (SIP) activities are being forced to make difficult choices. Nevertheless the decision to cut this work was a choice and not an inevitability. Though it may not be true that the funding for this proven success is being redirected in order to fund social science collaboration for the Weather-Ready Nation, it nonetheless has the appearance of simply shifting resources from the left hand to the right. Meteorologists and social scientists trying to spin up the Weather-Ready Nation must choose whether to be deflated by this news or soldier on. It won’t be easy. Ironically, the sense of shared community and common purpose fostered by WAS*IS gives all parties a fighting chance to succeed.

Many of those involved are too young to remember the Lerner and Lowe musical Camelot. It is of course the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, along the lines of the T.H. White tetralogy The Once and Future King. Opening in 1960, Camelot followed on the heels of their extraordinary success My Fair Lady, and at that time was much awaited and hyped (though the word as such didn’t exist then). As the Wikipedia account relates, the production was checkered and marked by difficulties, and first reviews were mixed.

Camelot tells a story of paradise lost. Although it got off to a rocky start, its fame endures, in large part because after President Kennedy’s tragic assassination in 1963, it came to light that its original cast recording had been the president’s favorite bedtime listening…and that his favorite lyrics were those at the end of the reprise of the title song.

Here are those lyrics. Note the strong weather/climate theme. First, at an early point in the show:
(King) ARTHUR:
It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That’s how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camelot, Camelot
Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

and then at the musical’s somber end:

ARTHUR:
Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.
Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot!
Now say it out with pride and joy!

TOM:
Camelot! Camelot!

ARTHUR:
Yes, Camelot, my boy!
Where once it never rained till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown…
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

Kennedy is said to have particularly loved the last four stanzas. Perhaps we could rephrase them here:

You must remember this                                                                                                          That a dialog did exist                                                                                                                   For one brief shining moment that was known                                                                 As our WAS*IS

This last bit in the musical? It’s actually intended to remind us that Camelot lives on. We can all be confident that WAS*IS will as well.

_______________________________________

[Want to hear the song? You know you do. Here’s one link, of several . This one features Richard Harris…and then for the closing bit, you might try this; it starts about three minutes in…]

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4 Responses to WAS*IS…like Camelot…once was…and will live on

  1. Matt Meister says:

    Bill,

    Thanks for posting this! As an attendee of WAS*IS in 2011, I appreciate and agree with your main point…but LOVE the way you did it! Thank you!

  2. Steve Tracton says:

    This is another supreme example of NOAA/NWS being penny wise and pound foolish. Societal impacts is the key juncture between NWS products and services with user communities, especially in decision making (==> value of forecasts). It’s very much along the lines of what I wrote recently for the Capital Weather Gang blog (http://tinyurl.com/cezh37j). Had I known about this cut I would have included it, but will in Part 2 (probably next week).

    The budget priorities of NOAA/NWS are misplaced to say the very least, a direct result of years of emphasizing with grossly exaggerated and unsupportable claims that satellite programs (not all) are the overriding number one on the NOAA/NWS’s priority list – at a cost orders of magnitude greater than other programs promising much more bang for the buck!

  3. Julie Demuth says:

    The power of passionate prose… Thank you, Bill. A thousand times over.

  4. Bob Ryan says:

    “Though it may not be true that the funding for this proven success is being redirected in order to fund social science collaboration for the Weather-Ready Nation” . . . I guess I missed where the funding was being “redirected. Into what social science program within NWS? Where NWS operational forecasters in some regions spend valuable time creating TV graphics? Why stop funding a valuable program that was leading rather than following?
    Bob Ryan

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