Did AMS Washington Forum participants make history last week?

Okay, Bill, you said in last week’s post that I had a choice between another three routine days in the office and helping make history at the AMS Washington Forum. I chose the office. What did I miss? Did you all make that history? In what way(s)?

Fair question.

You might check with other attendees for their perspective; in the meantime, here’s one view.

History reported. If you didn’t get a chance to sit in, one thing you missed was history not made so much as reported. Here are some examples: House passage of H.R. 2413, the weather forecasting improvement act of 2014 received considerable attention. Sharon Parrott, Vice President for Budget Policy and Economic Opportunity, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, gave a particularly nice overview of the federal budget outlook, with emphasis on the historic trends in non-defense discretionary spending, which is the source of much of the funding for our community, whether public-, private-, or academic sector. The great shift underway in the climate of the Arctic, and its geopolitical implications, consumed another session.

Particularly worrisome, for anyone focused on hazards, was the discussion by the space weather panel about the growing vulnerability of our society to a Carrington-like event… or even the disruption that could be occasioned by a much weaker (and commensurately more-likely) solar flare/storm. Two aspects were especially troubling. First is the lack of prior experience. The 1859 Carrington solar storm was noted largely through displays of northern lights and through the impacts on the then-nascent telegraphy. Today such an event would affect electrical power grids, GPS systems, and through these, virtually all other inter-connected critical infrastructure. Past experience (usually a cornerstone of disaster preparedness; we best know how to get ready for a repeat of the catastrophe we just had) is therefore of limited use in this arena. Second is the unique vulnerability of major transformers that are the backbone of the power grid. Spares are in short supply. If many were put out of service by the power surges expected with inclement space weather, their replacement could take many weeks or months, not days or hours. Some estimates of potential losses, including business disruption, reach the trillion-dollar range.

One last example of an historic trend? The transformation of vehicular traffic from simple, independently driver-controlled cars, trucks, and buses to the much more automated and interconnected traffic of the future. The transition is rich with opportunity for saving energy, minimizing congestion, improving safety, and incidentally gathering meteorological data from millions of mobile platforms.

These five concerns will all figure prominently in tomorrow’s history books.

History made. (Again, viewed from one perspective) the history-making parts of the meeting centered on the changing collaboration among the public-, private-, and academic sectors of the weather, climate, and water enterprise. As noted in the 2012 NAS/NRC report Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None, the historic, legacy collaborations that marked the last half of the 20th century are being fundamentally reworked. Technological advances in Earth observations and Earth science as well as new means of distributing critical weather information to those in the general public and to those in specialized weather-sensitive economic sectors (agriculture, energy, transportation, and more) are increasing the market value of weather, climate, and water data, creating new market space for intermediaries, and blurring traditional distinctions between suppliers and users of information. You could see and hear this in every session, but especially so in the opening plenary session on the meeting’s theme, leveraging the enterprise: strengthening our value to society; the panel discussion on commercialization of weather and climate data; and the sessions on public health and surface transportation. The technical challenges, though difficult, pale beside the policy challenges of re-engineering the public-private interface. Lots to discuss and work out.

The AMS Washington Forum was held under a version of the Chatham House rule[1]: in that spirit, details of the discussions can’t be extensively provided here. However, a number of the speakers did choose to make powerpoints of their presentations publicly available. You can find them in the Forum agenda, by clicking on the respective “handout” icons.

Even more history may have been made under the meeting’s radar. The meeting was facilitated by three contingents of students, from Howard University; from Millersville University; and from the University of Maryland. In rump sessions this early-career group expressed interest and enthusiasm for generating community projects to highlight NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation initiative at local levels. The idea would be to carry out events and activities that would build community awareness and at the same time lend themselves to video and other materials that could be posted online. Some blend of judges and/or online polling (likes, etc.) might provide a spirit of friendly competition, generate some public buzz, and help the effort spread virally to other campuses. I haven’t done justice to the idea, but stay tuned. If the students succeed, they could help America make a quantum leap in community resilience to hazards.

So, Bill, would you like to hear how I made history at the office last week when I wasn’t coming to the AMS meeting? I didn’t just goof off, you know.  

Matter of fact, I was figuring (even hoping) that the seven billion of you otherwise occupied could say that!

Yes I would.

[1] To quote from the AMS 2014 Washington Forum website, the meeting was “held under a modification of the Chatham House Rule, which will be strictly enforced:

Participants are free to use the information received at the Forum, but public attribution of remarks from panelists, speaker(s) and participants is not permitted. The only exception to this rule is information contained in charts posted to the AMS website after the event, for which the owner of the charts must provide explicit approval to the AMS.

The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid
to free discussion. Meetings do not have to take place at Chatham House, or be organized by Chatham House, to be held under the Rule.”


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