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President's Corner

Reflections on a year as AMS president

by Richard Anthes, UCAR president

On 20 January, I turned over the presidency of the American Meteorological Society to my friend and colleague Walter Dabberdt (formerly with NCAR, now at Vaisala). I found the opportunities and the challenges associated with my year as AMS president to be stimulating and enjoyable; I learned much from my experiences with a great society and the people associated with it.

Activities of the AMS president vary because circumstances and challenges are never the same. However, there are a number of duties that every president carries out. These include

  • presiding over two meetings of the AMS Council and at least three meetings of the Executive Committee;
  • planning for the annual meeting that occurs at the end of the president’s term;
  • overseeing nominations and appointments to fill vacancies on the many AMS committees;
  • serving on the committees that select award winners from nominations for all the AMS awards, including many student awards;
  • and attending some of the specialty meetings and events during the year.

Before I began my term, I asked 2004–05 president Susan Avery how much time she spent on AMS duties during her term. Her answer—about 25% of her total working hours—turned out to be a remarkably accurate estimate for the amount of time I spent in my year. However, it was well worth it.

rick anthes

Habitat for Humanity volunteers assist Rick Anthes with his first-ever use of a fixed, compound miter saw. (Photo by Walter Dabberdt.)

One of the accomplishments I am most proud of was helping to broaden the criteria for AMS membership and greatly simplify the application procedure. I argued strongly that we should consider a very broad range of professionals who are qualified for AMS membership. This includes, of course, close professional neighbors in oceanography and hydrology but also those in fields such as engineering, economics, law, journalism, communications, political science, education, history, human resources, finance, and psychology, among others. I have first-hand experience at UCAR in how individuals in these professions support the weather and climate enterprise that is at the heart of the AMS. In addition, users and providers of weather and climate technology and information in many industries, such as insurance, energy, transportation, agriculture, computing, and instrumentation, have a vital role to play in the society and should also be welcomed as members.

These views are now codified in the AMS Strategic Goals document:

We interpret the phrase “related sciences” to be interpreted broadly and to include not just the physical sciences covering the components of the Earth system, such as oceanography and hydrology, but also the disciplines that further the technology and applications based on supporting those sciences, as well as economics and other social sciences, and other disciplines that support policy, applications, and services related to the Earth system.

Other items that came up during my term included revising the AMS Bylaws to modernize them, completing the new AMS Strategic Outlook, and writing five statements on behalf of the society, covering topics from hurricanes and climate change to Earth sensing. These activities involve the AMS Council and other members of the community who collectively donate thousands of hours of their time to society activities.

The annual meeting and New Orleans

A significant duty of the AMS president is planning for the annual meeting. This work begins more than a year before the meeting, when the president is still serving a year-long term as president-elect. At this point, he or she chooses one or more program chairs or co-chairs to help lead the planning. I chose Ken Carey (Noblis) and Christopher Velden (Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies). These creative and indefatigable co-chairs worked with me and AMS staff throughout the year planning the details of the meeting, which ranged from selection of key speakers to choosing jazz bands for some of the events.

The venue for the meeting is set many years in advance, so the president has no say in that. However, there are occasional last-minute changes that must be considered. In my case it was moving the dates of the New Orleans meeting from 6–10 January to 20–24 January at the request of the city, so that it could host the Allstate Bowl Championship Series game for the national college football title. This meant the meeting would overlap with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, which we usually try to avoid. But in this case we decided that the benefits to the people of New Orleans outweighed the inconvenience to some people of meeting over a national holiday.

Another challenge was that some AMS members expressed concern about their safety because of the many media reports of violence in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. (As far as I know, none of the nearly 4,000 people attending the meeting had any problems associated with crime.) A final challenge arose late in the planning year, when an AMS member raised concerns about possible protests of a scheduled speech by New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who was scheduled to address the attendees at the kickoff of the Presidential Policy Forum. As it happened, the mayor cancelled at the very last minute, sending Terry Ebbert, the city’s director of homeland security and public safety, to address the conference instead.

habitat volunteers

At work with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans:  (left to right) Richard Reynolds (NOAA), 2006–07 AMS president Franco Einaudi (NASA), 2008–09 AMS president Walter Dabberdt (Vaisala), Meredith Dabberdt, and Susan Anthes. (Photo by Richard Anthes.)

Each incoming AMS president chooses the theme of the annual meeting that will take place at the end of her or his term. In my case, the theme was the two-way linkage between research and operations for the benefit of society. This year’s Presidential Policy Forum, “Hurricane Katrina: Looking back to look ahead,” was a broad examination of what went right and wrong in the end-to-end sequence of events that led to this national disaster. Feedback from the record number of attendees, including 600 students, indicated that the forum and other aspects of the meeting were quite successful. Photos.

Three special activities stand out in my mind as highlights of my term. The first was the external review of the AMS that occurred in May 2007. Led by past AMS president James Mahoney, the review was carried out by a small panel of experts in other professional societies and financial matters. Prior to site visits at the society’s headquarters in Boston and its offices in Washington, D.C., the AMS leadership and staff prepared a comprehensive report (in a notebook three inches thick) that described the organization’s activities, accomplishments, and challenges.

The second highlight was two trips to Cuba to visit the Cuban Meteorological Society. The first occurred in March, and because of its success, I was invited back in December. I describe these memorable and productive visits elsewhere. Visit to Cuba. Guest editorial.

Hammers and nails

The third and perhaps most meaningful highlight for me was spending a day helping rebuild Katrina-damaged houses in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans as part of Habitat for Humanity. This activity was organized and promoted (but not sponsored) by the AMS. Participants paid $45 for a boxed lunch and bus transportation from the hotel to the building sites. More than 100 conference attendees and family members participated, and due to the success of this event the AMS will be considering more options for community involvement at future meetings.

It was with some trepidation that my wife and I boarded the bus at 7:30 a.m. on a cold, damp, and dark New Orleans morning and headed into the heart of the area that was devastated by Katrina more than two years ago. Like most of the people on the bus, we had little experience building anything, much less a house. We wondered how anything productive could be accomplished in only one day with scores of amateurs who had never worked together on a major construction project. We were pleasantly surprised when we were assigned to a small group and a young Habitat supervisor—an expert in construction, and wonderfully patient—explained how to use power tools to build all parts of the house. He watched as we made mistake after mistake before getting the hang of things.

Some concerns had been expressed from members prior to the meeting about why the AMS was encouraging people to rebuild their houses in locations that were below sea level and almost certain to be flooded again sometime in the future. Executive director Keith Seitter wrote an editorial on this topic in the December 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the AMS. Even those of us who volunteered had some of these concerns, but in the end we decided that helping people in immediate need and with no other real options trumped other considerations.

The validity of this choice for me was demonstrated unexpectedly during our lunch break, when I walked a couple of blocks down Gallier Street and met an a man painting his new iron picket fence in front of a sparkling pink house, recently remodeled and painted. He took a break from his work and we chatted about how Katrina had affected him and his family—they were among those people who climbed to the attic and roof as the waters rose around them. Afterward, he took his family to Atlanta, where they stayed several months before deciding to come back. He and his family and neighbors assisted professional contractors in rebuilding the house, this time on four-foot pilings. Now they were in the final stages of completing the job, and his house stood out like a jewel in the midst of the other damaged and decaying houses in the neighborhood.

As we finished our conversation, I asked him why he decided to come back rather than rebuild in a different city or location. He answered, with some puzzlement at the question, “Why, it’s my home.” His simple response told me why we were there.

Rick Anthes

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