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Hundreds of scientists to miss world’s largest weather conference because of federal shutdown

Stephen Volz, NOAA's assistant administrator for satellite and information services, presents at the 2017 American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting. (NOAA) (NOAA)
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Each year, several thousand weather forecasters, researchers and climate scientists from all over the world gather for the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting to exchange ideas to improve weather prediction and understanding of climate change. This year, due to the partial federal government shutdown, hundreds of scientists will not attend the conference set to begin this weekend in Phoenix.

Employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service, received the directive to cancel travel arrangements Thursday.

“NOAA has determined that due to the lapse in appropriations, NOAA will not be able to participate in the AMS; all official NOAA travel to the AMS is canceled,” a mass email to affected employees said.

The meeting, the world’s largest for atmospheric scientists, is a pivotal forum for advancing knowledge, as reported last week in The Washington Post:

This meeting is where scientists hatch new ideas for lifesaving methods and warnings, said Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. “Any delay in that research could someday cost someone their life, and that person could be you or me,” Sobien said. Not having NWS meteorologists there to collaborate “will likely cost many more lives than the absence of any border wall, anywhere.”
Keith Seitter, the executive director of the American Meteorological Society, said the effect of the shutdown on future advances is impossible to calculate, “but we know that it is significant.”
“The interactions that occur at these meetings foster new science and new services across the enterprise that greatly benefit all of society,” Seitter said. “Having one of those sectors not represented at the meeting greatly impedes progress” on saving lives, supporting the economy and building an understanding of the environment.

Numerous federal employees unable to attend the meeting were in charge of convening scientific sessions and town hall meetings, which will either no longer be held or curtailed. Some organizers were scrambling to find substitutes so their sessions could go on.

In addition to NOAA, which sent more than 400 scientists to the meeting last year, several hundred federal employees from other agencies involved in atmospheric sciences, such as NASA, probably will also not attend.

Scientists in the academic and private sector expressed disappointment on social media about the absence of their federal partners.

“You can’t overstate how valuable these meetings are for collaboration and camaraderie that can spur new collaborations & future progress,” tweeted Matt Lanza, a meteorologist in the energy sector.

“The absence of NOAA employees will be incredibly felt at #AMS2019,” added Becky DePodwin, a meteorologist at AccuWeather. “So bummed and frustrated for my colleagues.”