WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

AMS Seattle: So. Much. Good. Stuff.

Posted January 26, 2011 12:56 a.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2011 10:23 a.m. EST

The second day of the American Meteorological Society's (AMS's) 91st Annual Meeting proper was chock full of great stuff, but in a very un-AMS fashion, every talk I wanted to hear (well, nearly every talk) was held in the same room.  If you've been following my reports from Seattle — and I thank you if you have — you know that the Annual Meeting is more like Annual Lots-of-Meetings, with perhaps a dozen or more talks going on at any one time.  This can mean a lot of bouncing back and forth between rooms, but not today, at least, not for me.

The World of 6POLICY

I spent nearly the entire block of presentation time for the day in the Sixth Symposium for Policy and Socio-economic Research, or "6POLICY" in AMS shorthand.  With one exception, getting a glimpse of how our colleagues and friendly competitors at The Weather Channel use social media, every talk I heard was part of 6POLICY.  And they all were fantastic.  I took pages and pages of notes, so in the interest of not boring you, I'll hit some of the highlights.

Hurricanes, Storm Surge, and You

Jamie Rhome from the National Hurricane Center — and an NC State graduate — discussed the dangers of storm surge and how misunderstood a killer it is.  He shared some amazing, and quite frankly, disturbing statistics.  For starters, more than half of coastal residents from NC to TX who were surveyed said they would not even consider evacuation for the storm surge associated with a category 1 hurricane.  That's a huge risk!  Even such a "weak" hurricane, it can still wreak havoc with 3-6 feet or more of surge flooding.  Storm surge flooding isn't just a problem for beach-front properties, either.  Surge waters have been recorded 30-40 miles inland from the coast!  Plus, you don't have to be in the wind zone to get surge flooding, either.  Hurricane Ike's surge began arriving more than 12 hours before the clouds and wind even began to arrive.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

Two different speakers addressed, in different ways, the myriad numbers we meteorologists use to communicate uncertainty with each other and with you.  There is a lot of debate about whether there is a disconnect between what we might mean with these numbers and how non-meteorologists interpret those numbers.  The studies shared today confirm that there are issues, but also suggest the concept is not bankrupt. 

You've probably seen some percentages on WRAL from time to time, including our animating "chance of rain" graphic.  What do you think?  Are those graphics useful?

Being Certain about Uncertainty

A representative from the National Weather Service (NWS) addressed how they are handling the question of uncertainty in weather forecasts.  He led off his talk by saying that some 126 talks and 62 poster presentations at the Annual Meeting were addressing uncertainty in weather and climate.  His message: We as the so-called "Weather Enterprise" — academics, forecasters, broadcasters, and private sector meteorologists — are taking this topic seriously and want to understand how we can do better. 

The thinking is that if you know our confidence level in a given forecast for, say, this weekend, it will help you plan.  Let's say the forecast for Saturday is for sunny skies and a high of 65°.  There has always been some uncertainty with that forecast, but until recently, we have not been able to quantify that in a scientific manner.  If I said that we were virtually guaranteed sunny and 65°, you would probably make plans based on that.  Now, what if I said that sunny and 65° is the most likely scenario, but there is a good chance that it might be cloudy and 40°.  Would that cause you to change your plans or make backup plans just in case?

Hurricane Ike and "Certain Death"

Perhaps the most interesting talk of the day was one given on the perceptions of the so-called "certain death" statement issued by the NWS office in Galveston.  Included as part of their official hurricane warning statement, the message said — in very clear terms — that anyone left on Galveston Island remaining in typical single-family homes would face "certain death" if they did not evacuate.  It was widely hailed as a life-saving communication, in large part because the wording was such the media couldn't ignore it.  It got out to a lot of people, or so we thought.

This was a small study, so we can't draw really strong conclusions about the whole city, but of those asked, 29% never heard it and 21% said it motivated them to evacuate.  50%, however, heard it but were still not persuaded to leave.  So, for starters, nearly a third of people didn't hear it at all.  Of those who did hear it, two thirds weren't motivated by it.  As the NWS and other partners work to do what they can to keep people in hurricane-prone areas safe, this study gives them (and us all, really) something to think about.


It will be an early day tomorrow. I am co-chairing a session of "6POLICY" tomorrow from 8:30am until 10am (those times are Pacific Standard Time; I'll be working while you are eating lunch back in NC!), and I am meeting the other co-chair at the room well ahead of time so we will be ready.  There are more great talks lined up — follow my Twitter feed for live updates!

The Toteboard

Talks given: 0 (1 total)
Talks heard: 19 (46)
Sessions chaired, moderated, or facilitated: 0 (2)
Time spent perusing exhibits, posters, and displays: 45 minutes (4 hours, 30 minutes)
New posters seen in detail: 0 (14)