NEW ORLEANS, LA: Three thousand meteorologists, including four of us from the Capital Weather Gang (CWG), converged on the Big Easy for our profession’s annual meeting this week. The mood here is mixed. Yes, scientific advances have made forecasts better than ever. But the weather’s toll on life and property in 2011 in the U.S. was unacceptably high just as it was here in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina 7 years ago..
Despite accurate forecasts, more than 650 people died from weather-related causes in 2011 and an astounding 14 separate billion-dollar weather disasters generated over $50 billion in economic losses. Every type of weather hazard ravaged the U.S. including mega snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast, historic flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, devastating wind and flood damage from tropical weather systems in the East, one of the worst spring tornado seasons in memory, and Texas’ most severe drought on record.
2011, not to mention Katrina, proved getting the forecast right is not enough. The right forecast has to reach the right people and the right actions have to be taken, starting well before a storm strikes.
For Washingtonians, the snowstorm that stranded thousands of commuters on area roads for hours a year ago is a painful reminder of this point.
In session after session here at the 92nd American Meteorological Society annual meeting, presenters and participants re-iterated that meteorologists cannot protect the populus from the elements alone. Rather, we must engage a range of disciplines including social scientists, emergency managers, community organizations, and corporate and government leaders in preparing for and responding to weather hazards.
Leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) heavily promoted its new Weather Ready Nation program, developed to “build community resilience” to extreme weather. The program has commenced with a “National Conversation” process to gain input from constituents on how to reduce our society’s vulnerability to weather. The process involves convening regionally-based symposia, townhall meetings and workshops.
The Weather Ready Nation program is also initiating a series of pilot projects at local National Weather Service offices to link forecasters and emergency managers. The first pilot was launched here in New Orleans Saturday and includes a mobile forecasting center that can be dispatched into the field during weather emergencies. The NWS will launch a similar pilot program in Washington, D.C. later this year.
CWG’s Andrew Freedman, attending the meeting, said the NWS proactive preparedness strategy is smart, especially with recent trends pointing to more extreme weather.
“Building up America’s resiliency to extreme events of all kinds makes a lot of sense as a climate change adaptation strategy,” he said.
Although improving our nation’s weather readiness emerged as a common thread at the meeting, the official theme was “technology, its profound impacts on research, operations, the business of our environmental sciences, and the public.” Of course, technology and weather readiness are crucially linked. Without the tools to continue improving predictions, monitor weather conditions and communicate, we won’t make progress in confronting extreme weather.
CWG’s Brian Jackson, who attended the meeting, noted the importance of weather satellites resonating throughout the meeting sessions, as well as the vital need to keep them in operation:
Our weather satellites do much more than provide the images that you see on your local news. They measure countless variables depicting atmospheric chemistry, aerosols, storm monitoring, and provide vitally important data to our weather models. The prominence of presentations regarding this data reveal just how necessary it is to keep our satellites flying and to continue to innovate new and improved sensors and instruments for the next generation of environmental satellites.
CWG’s Camden Walker, also at the meeting, nicely articulated the aspirational direction he sees the meteorological profession embarking upon...
With more data than ever thanks to the newest measurement technologies, and fewer disciplinary boundaries among social and physical sciences, we have unprecedented ability and bandwidth to create a unified voice that is respected, authoritative - to educate and engage the public en masse.