Published: 2011-01-25 03:04:26
Updated: 2011-01-25 03:04:26
Posted January 25, 2011
The 91st Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) has officially kicked off, and in true AMS fashion, a lot of folks — your humble correspondent included — have some tired feet. As of this afternoon, some 3,500 people had registered to attend all or part of the meeting or one of its constituent conferences, workshops, and symposia. One full-meeting ticket gets you in to anything in the building, so attendees make the most of it by picking the talks they most want to see and hear. Doing this, however, can often mean a lot of fast walking between rooms. It's like high school, except your classes are only 15 minutes long and you don't get anytime "between bells" to change from one room to another.
Communicating Weather and Climate
The theme for the Annual Meeting is "Communicating Weather and Climate", so it was fitting to open the day with a town-hall-style forum on communicating about weather and climate. The panelists agreed the uncertainty and complexity of not only day-to-day weather but also climate change issues were some of the biggest challenges our community faces when communicating with the public. As an example, Claire Martin, a meteorologist with the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), said that we ("we" meaning all meteorologists) often do a poor job of communicating what we can and can't do. "People expect a long range forecast with a level of precision that we simply cannot provide." She said we also need to do a better job providing the context around the forecast or other material we want to communicate.
How do you think we are doing at WRAL on these? Given that there is uncertainty inherent in every weather forecast and that this uncertainty usually gets larger with longer forecast lead times, how do you want us at WRAL to communicate this to you?
Following the communication forum, I bounced around a good bit. The first three talks consisted of an update about where the NWS is going with its products and operations in the next ten years (more data and even more transparency); some examples of how the NWS is marrying population density data with weather warnings to help cities, states, and emergency responders anticipate how a severe weather event will affect a certain area; and a discussion about educating the public about the hazards of hurricanes from the director of the National Hurricane Center, Bill Read.
Read's talk was loaded with great information, much of it directly applicable to us here in North Carolina. For example, he said that the concept of a 100-year flood plain is badly misunderstood and misapplied. Some believe that this means such events only happen every 100 years or that if you have such an event, you won't have to worry about another one. Not true! A 100-year event is one that has a 1% probability of occurring in any given year. He illustrated this with an example: A catastrophic house fire is, depending on the construction of the home, a 1-in-500 to 1-in-5,000 event. They are 500-year or 5,000-year events, or, if you prefer, there is a 0.02% to 0.2% chance of it happening to a given house in a given year. Yet, no bank or mortgage company would let you buy a house without fire insurance. However, most mortgages do not require flood insurance outside of the 100-year flood plain. So, a 101-year flood event, with a less than 1% chance of happening in a given year (and destroying the home just as easily as a fire would) would not require flood insurance. In other words, someone buying a house is required to purchase insurance for something far less likely to happen than a flood, but the flood insurance is optional in most cases. Does this seem backwards? Read thought so.
Other Interesting Tidbits
Got a temperature sensor in your car so it can tell you how hot it is outside? Uncle Sam wants you to help report temperatures, and other conditions, using your car, automatically. A project already has sensors attached to buses in New York City, and the data shows some fantastic patterns. They can even sense the difference in pavement temperature in the sun as opposed to in the shadow of buildings.
Dual-polarization radar, like DUALDoppler5000, is already beginning to reshape what we know about how various kinds of precipitation form. As the precipitation generated inside the cloud changes types over time, the top and bottom of the layer of the atmosphere where the precipitation melts was thought to behave in a certain way. Because it can see and identify the different kinds of precipitation types inside the cloud, we have observed that the melting layer does the opposite of what we had thought before.
During the Q-and-A session following a talk, one educator shared that a recent study showed that some 80% of children today are visual or kinesthetic learners — they learn by seeing or doing. If it is true (and I have no reason to doubt it, but I cannot confirm it, either), that is an amazing statistic. The educator tied this in to the number of computers, mobile devices, and so forth and made the point that if we are going to communicate with or educate the public about weather, we really need to think visually.