4 January 2019

Government Shutdown Impacts Biggest U.S. Atmospheric Science Meeting

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The AMS has a statement up on its website tonight about the major impact the Government shutdown will have on the conference.

The annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society starts Sunday in Phoenix. It’s the biggest meeting of the atmospheric science community in the U.S. and one of the biggest worldwide. In a normal year, thousands of meteorologists from NOAA (and other government agencies), many universities, and the private sector (including meteorologists in broadcasting like me) will share knowledge and listen to presentations from recent research. Most importantly, students who are the next generation of atmospheric scientists will get the chance to meet and talk with some of the top experts in their field of study.

Not this year. The many meteorologists from NOAA/NASA/FEMA/ and other government agencies are being notified Friday that because of the government shutdown their travel to the meeting has been canceled.  There will be no makeup in this case.

It’s just a lost opportunity.

AMS President Roger Wakimoto has a statement on the AMS meeting page, and it’s likely that the loss of so many presenters will have a major impact on the meeting. As a long-time AMS member, I find this sad and disappointing. To my friends and fellow meteorologists at NOAA, I truly am sorry and I am even more sorry that many of you are working shift work at all hours and not getting a paycheck.

Before you write me a comment about how nice it must be to go to sunny Phoenix on the taxpayers’ dime in January, understand something. These scientific meetings are how new science gets shared and used.  Trust me, it makes a big difference in the accuracy of everything from snowfall forecasts to the lead time and false alarm rate for severe weather warnings. I can recall many times during severe weather coverage when I spotted something I learned at a meeting and was able to give viewers valuable information on the spot. This happens very frequently and it’s why meetings like this are so important in every branch of science. Most NOAA workers get a chance to go to this conference only every few years, and many of these government scientists, who have spent many hours working to present their research are right to be gravely disappointed.

I’ve written here before about the growing sense that the U.S. is no longer considered the leader in many aspects of atmospheric science. The world’s best numerical weather model is run each day in Europe, not the U.S. We’ve finally caught up with Japan and Europe on satellite technology, but Europe is not sitting still and this is just another crack in the glass. Our administration representatives at the recent climate conference were laughed at.

LITERALLY, laughed at.

Construction cranes in Central London. October 2018.

I was in London in October and was struck by the number of new skyscrapers built since I was last there three years before. Not only that, but it’s still going on. There were building cranes everywhere and I asked myself, why this is not happening in any major U.S. city? Do you have 10 cranes or more building a skyscraper where you are? I saw at least 15 in London.

What does this have to do with the paragraphs above?

Quite a lot I think. Ignore science and you will not be a rich country, much less a superpower

This issue with the AMS meeting is especially serious when we are living in a time where the best science says we are down to a decade or two at most to reverse course on burning fossil fuels for energy.

PS: On the bright side, the Twitter account for the House Science Committee is no longer tweeting things that are in odds with nearly every science textbook and science organization on Earth.

(One last note- I’ve been to quite a few of these type meetings, and about the only time you end up enjoying the weather is walking to dinner after dark. At the AMS in Austin last year I spent a grand total of 30 minutes outside each day. That was walking to the convention center and between meeting spots. I’m still wondering what Austin looks like!)