The Weather/Climate Enterprise… poised to become something more.

The 2022 American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting wrapped up on January 27th. Throughout more than a year of preparation, the logistics and planning had been dogged by covid’s mutations and impacts. Early plans had envisioned a fully face-to-face meeting following the fully virtual meeting of 2021. The emergence of the omicron variant put paid to that aspiration. Planning moved toward a hybrid approach, and eventually culminated into hybrid leadership meetings, accompanied by a hybrid Student Conference, followed by a fully virtual program for all the rest. AMS Meetings staff bore the brunt of these blows, closely followed by the program organizers, the AMS volunteer leadership, and, ultimately, each and every participant.

Covid notwithstanding, the Meeting proved a remarkable success. Start with the numbers. Over 600 sessions; 2400 oral presentations; nearly 1000 poster presentations. But the better metric was the substance underlying these statistics. Scientists showed up to report and debate and stimulate further progress with respect to every aspect of meteorology, oceanography, climatology, hydrology, and space weather. The Earth and the Sun continued to yield their secrets.

The Meeting brough institutions and their leaders together as well, to share their accomplishments, and to signal their intents. A case in point:

NOAA leadership, led by Rick Spinrad, the NOAA Administrator, participated actively in the 2022 AMS Annual Meeting, engaging across the full span of the week’s programs and to good effect. A clear message (one among several): NOAA is currently and in the future will continue to be prioritizing climate services.

Spinrad and others provided a rationale and outlined an approach.

The rationale was not so much new as reaffirmed. U.S. weather creates opportunity but also poses risks to life, property and economic activity. Longer-term climate variability represents a similar mix of reward and threat. But there are several significant differences. To start, stakes are higher, stemming from the global need to incorporate climate sensitivity into $100T-worth of big-ticket investments in critical infrastructure and ways of doing business in energy, agricultural, and water sectors over the next twenty years. Knowing what the Earth system will do next, whether “on its own” or in response to human activity – and acting accordingly, will determine not just individual American future prospects but also the success of American institutions and America’s place in the world. Then there’s the greater complexity of climate; the longer time frames bring a vast array of processes into play, such as air-surface exchanges (air-sea, air-ice, air-land-vegetation)  over large areas, that are less consequential to the daily forecast. Finally, not only is climate science more rudimentary, but the application of climate science for societal benefit (economic growth, public health, etc.) is itself nascent, experimental. Weather forecasting and human impacts over the past century or so have provided hundreds of millions of experiments – forecasts, followed by action, followed by post-event verification. By comparison, the climate-forecast-services cases amount to the merest handful.

As for the approach, Dr. Spinrad made clear in his several talks that the needed advances in climate science and development of science-based services would need the concerted attention and focus of all NOAA elements, not just the National Weather Service ( a one-NOAA). But he went further, emphasizing that the work cannot be accomplished by NOAA alone, or even federal agencies as a group. The needed progress can only be realized by effective federal-private-academic partnerships.

Spinrad acknowledged that the public-private partnerships in the more mature weather sector had endured decades of checkered history prior to the National Academies Fair Weather Report of 2003. He vowed that NOAA had learned from that experience and resolved to do better: to engage the private sector at the outset; to listen; to focus more on process as opposed to predetermining bright lines dividing private and rights and responsibilities. He cited a process of outreach well underway, not just to established companies in the weather-climate space but also to a host of emerging companies. He invited any other interested parties to make themselves known and join in.

NOAA folks (from leadership on down to bench scientists and field meteorologists) would be the first agree that what’s needed from such partnerships is much more than mere relationship-building and  developing trust among a relatively small cluster of climate researchers and service providers. The challenge is to harness those improved relationships to the cause of making a better world – to change the topic of the conversation from sector-specific concerns to larger societal needs, from “playing well together” to “solving problems.”

How to start? There’s no single right answer, but a recent AMS study funded by NOAA surfaced some ideas. It examined explicitly the role that public policy plays in determining the sum societal value of Earth Observations, Science, and Services (OSS) as well as the allocation of that value and the costs of OSS production across society.

The study was exploratory rather than exhaustive. It examined three policy frameworks of quite different origin, purview, and standing. The first is the 2003 Fair Weather Report developed by the National Academy of Sciences, cited above. That policy focuses on collaboration. The second is the 2017 Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act enacted by the U.S. Congress. It focuses on innovation. The third is the current World Meteorological Organization development of a unified data policy (a successor to WMO Resolution 40), which seeks to make international contributions to and access to data and information more equitable, and at the same time expand the domain of data and information sharing from weather per se to Earth observations, science, and services more broadly.

The AMS study took as its point of departure views of individual stakeholders in the so-called Weather, Water and Climate Enterprise with respect to these policies. Their perspectives were captured through informally solicited public and private comments from senior members of the Enterprise—most notably during a session of the 2021 AMS Washington Forum; during special sessions of the 2021 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, spaced over several days; during virtual sessions of WMO virtual Data Conferences of 2020 and 2021; and through a series of one-on-one interviews. Individually and in aggregate the comments hint at or suggest opportunities for extending and improving Enterprise value by broadening collaboration, fostering innovation, and making the Enterprise more equitable.

Respondents made suggestions including but not limited to the following:
– Broadening Enterprise purview: to include disciplines other than weather, to extend to end users and Congress, to document and articulate Enterprise value, and to shift focus from inward-looking dialog to externally purposed action.
– Fostering innovation: by building Congressional trust, thereby allowing legislators to shift from oversight and prescriptive approaches to development of incentives and resources for the Enterprise; by emulating the success and promise of EPIC, developing similar open-science approaches to other elements of the value chain such as data commercialization and risk communication.
– Advancing global equity, with respect to both participation and access to beneficial outcomes: by strengthening U.S. preparation for and participation in formulating WMO purposes and work.

Much work to be done. But the clearly-articulated NOAA commitment to the process, as affirmed by its leadership throughout the course of the AMS Annual Meeting, should lift spirits.

A final aside: as the report notes, AMS experience and resources could usefully be brought to bear as a means toward these ends – in a number of different ways. Though self-serving on its face, this assertion is also backed by two decades of faithful AMS stewardship in the role the National Academies suggested for it back in 2003.

What are we waiting for? Let’s get to it. There’s a role for each of us here.

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