AMS convenes to examine extreme weather

10 February 2014

The Weather CompanuI had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of AIP's newest Member Society, the American Meteorological Society, held from February 2-6 with a theme focused on weather and climate disasters. The meeting was held in Atlanta, GA, a city that has within the last five years experienced devastating drought, a tornado in the central business district, and a flood event. Moreover, just before the meeting opened, a winter storm crippled the city.

AMS brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, technologists, communicators, educators, and stakeholders to share new ideas, perspectives, and tools that can advance the field of meteorology, both scientifically and technically. This year, nearly 3,500 participants from 34 countries took part. The AMS meeting’s rich program extended beyond a typical scientific conference (though there were 36 scientific conferences and symposia held under the umbrella of the meeting). There were also several co-located meetings, including a meeting of World Meteorological Organization representatives and the annual AMS Student Conference. The AMS annual meeting also has visible support from and participation by our colleagues in the private sector. Raytheon, Ball Aerospace, SAIC, Vaisala, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing were all represented, as well as many smaller companies. Company reps came to learn of the most recent technologies and the state of research, to sell their exploration and monitoring equipment, and to interact with and recruit students as the next generation of technology leaders.

AMS leadershipI arrived two days early to participate in the student conference and to take advantage of a unique opportunity to introduce AIP Physics Resources programs to members of the AMS Council. AMS members are drawn from ­­the private sector, from government, and from academia in approximately equal proportion, and this distribution is well reflected in their council. Incoming President William Gail (Global Weather Corporation) introduced AIP and our new relationship, and gave me a warm welcome. The council members are excited about the partnership and ready to propose new collaborations.  

The student conference focused on meteorology and opportunities in the new job climate. With over 800 registrants from all over the United States and abroad, this two-day conference is one of the largest gatherings of science students anywhere, and this year the largest ever for AMS. Many AMS student chapters received travel support from their institutions. I met one student from Penn State who flew to Atlanta with 36 other students from the department, all supported by the university.  Undergraduate and graduate students alike paid just $25 to attend these two extra days of the AMS conference. 

The students put together a stimulating lineup of keynote talks, panel discussions and breakout sessions. Special attention was also given to professional development. An evening reception was part graduate programs exhibit and part job fair. Students were dressed for the event as if they were interviewing and learned to juggle small plates of appetizers while speaking with professionals. 

AMS student conference

Exhibitors at the fair included graduate programs in atmospheric sciences from California, to Texas, to Wisconsin, to Puerto Rico. Private weather enterprises such as AccuWeather as well as smaller companies were also there. Northrop Grumman attends every year, looking for graduates at the BS, MS and PhD levels to fill the ranks of their scientific core. They like the quality of the students that attend. Government agencies were represented, including NASA’s Space Weather unit and the NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences (a university consortium). Most organizations and some universities offer summer internships, which drew the interest of lots of students. 

Keynote speaker Rick Knabb, Director of the US National Hurricane Center, spoke about career opportunities in the government weather enterprise and skills important in advancing a career in meteorology, including technical skills, communication skills, a willingness and ability to work with others, and learning skills. During several breakout panels, students had ample opportunity to ask the panelists questions about their experiences. Many panelists emphasized the importance of physical science or engineering training, and encouraged undergraduates to pursue research experiences. Students also participated as teams in case studies where they had to collaborate and make decisions based on data that was presented to them. Mentors helped them to understand the risks involved. During the poster session, many presented their own research; for some undergraduates, this was their first experience in presenting. Many AMS members came to show their support and judge the posters. 

I was impressed by AMS’s commitment to the next generation of scientists and science program managers. The society takes an active role in supporting students embarking on exciting career paths related to atmospheric science. Helping to “grow your own” undoubtedly makes a difference for the continued health of the field and strength of its workforce.

Physics Today editors also attended the AMS meeting; see the latest blog entry of Physics Today's Daily Edition, "Among meteorologists."