The AMS: a single “point of light?” Or some (much) larger number?

Just what is the American Meteorological Society? Ask this of most of our 13,000 members, and chances are good that you’ll hear one of two pat answers: “it’s a science society,”or “a professional society.” The former might usually be the reply you’ll get back from researcher-members. The latter comes from those applying the science for societal benefit. This second demographic comprises NWS weather forecasters or private-sector meteorologists providing services to agribusiness, the transportation sector and so on; broadcasters, remote-sensing experts/engineers building satellite systems; and others.

You’re unlikely to hear “the AMS is a point of light.”As in, former President George Bush(41)’s inaugural reference to “a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good.”

That’s perhaps understandable…but at the same time, a bit unfortunate. First and foremost, it means that meteorologists, whether researchers or service providers fall into the same trap that ensnares most of our fellow workers of every stripe. We’re getting lost in the drudgery and wearying effort that comes with every job (as my wife likes to remind me, “that’s why they call it work.”), and losing sight of the daily/hourly ways each of us is making the world a better place. We forget we’re helping put food on the world’s tables, water in the world’s taps, and energy in the world’s outlets; saving lives in the face of harsh weather; and protecting the environment and ecosystems. Perhaps you can take a moment to give yourself a bit of grace – and reflect on your contributions before diving back into the job.

That lack of self-awareness also suggests members may be failing to recognize the ways the AMS helps us accomplish this, and the full extent of the AMS local footprint in every American community: 

  • Hundreds of operational weather service forecasters, stationed at 120 offices nationwide, who help thousands of communities stay weather-ready.  
  • Some 1500 broadcasters who are meteorology’s face on public and social media. 
  • Thousands of teachers directly or indirectly using AMS training and educational resources to present the geosciences to 
  • millions of K-12 schoolkids, who then take home that excitement and practical knowledge to their parents. 
  • Over one hundred local chapters, comprising members of all these groups as well as university students and faculty. 

In these ways and more, AMS members can and are doing good, and doing it tangibly and locally. So, however you choose to do the sums, AMS aggregates to some number between one (counting AMS as a single entity) or 13,000 individual points of light across the United States and the world. 

It doesn’t stop there. On closer examination, our members, even as their work is supported by AMS journals and technical meetings, are also providing the knowledge and understanding underpinning the work of perhaps more familiar points of light: The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and many other environmental groups, for example. 

Bottom line? Both AMS members and the larger American society alike are likely inadequately monetizing the true AMS value, which combines elements of scientific and professional society with community-action organization. As individuals and institutions, we can and should do more to make up that difference – through donations over and above the member fees, but also through more active engagement, especially locally. 

By way of encouraging accountability, I’m pledging here and now to do both. Maybe you can do the same. Let’s stay in touch as we go forward. 

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