Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Year as President of the American Meteorological Society

Almost 1 year ago, I became the President of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Exactly 1 month from now, my presidency ends after the 2014 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. I felt like reflecting on the year….

I received a call from Executive Director Keith Seitter a few years ago saying my name had been considered by the AMS Nominating Committee to run for President of the AMS, the largest and oldest professional society in our field. I was hesitant and basically thought, “No way”.

Ultimately, I agreed to be on the ballot because I have strong pride in the AMS, and I have served it in various capacities over the years. Strangely, I knew that I was ready but questioned whether I was ready at the same time.  I often speak of the importance of role models and positive images for the next generation. I felt it was important to have someone of my age, career stage, race, and perspective on the ballot even if I did not when. Family, friends, and mentors were also encouraging.  Further, how could I tell my kids to strive to make a difference, take on challenges or be confident in their own leadership, if I passed this up?  

For me a "win" was simply being an inspiration for some 6th grade kid that loved weather like I did or providing a nudge for a colleague or student that felt AMS was this “stuffy, elitist organization that had nothing for them.” AMS, like any large organization, has its challenges and is not perfect (does that even exist?).  I would argue there are far more positives than negatives. AMS is vital institution in our field, and one that I have been proud to be affiliated with for 2 decades.

Once I found out that I was running against a colleague that I respect immensely and is highly regarded in the field, I thought, “Aaah, I get it, I am the sacrificial lamb on the ballot J.” Imagine my surprise to find out that the members had elected me.

My initial thought was “uh-oh, now what?”  But typical of me, this hesitation didn’t last very long. I said, “Ok, Let’s do this”. 

Each AMS President has different goals, priorities, and styles.  I wrote in the Bulletin of the AMS prior to being elected: “The American Meteorological Society (AMS) is a world-class professional society, educational leader, policyshaper, and forum for ideas, collaborations, and friendships. AMS leadership must understand history, value all perspectives, and consider what AMS looks like in 2011 and beyond.”

My 3 key priorities before taking office are summarized:  (1) AMS membership consists of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” We must serve both communities equally and effectively but ensure we are relevant in this digital age; (2) The broader society faces complex weather-climate challenges with implications from the White House to “your” house. AMS has been successful at building bridges beyond traditional halls of meteorology departments, government agencies, or private weather companies. We must strengthen those bridges by reaching out to and serving potential new members in such areas; and (3) AMS should serve as the standard bearer, like our scholarly publications, for employment statistics, program enrollments, jobs, employer trends, and other pertinent data. AMS has traditionally served in this capacity, but there are opportunities to enhance or refocus in these areas.

Because of an oddity in scheduling of the 2013 (January, Austin) and 2014 (February, Atlanta) Annual Meetings, I am told that I will be one of the longest serving Presidents. Many have said that I am the youngest President in several generations and only the 2nd African American to hold the post (1st was a very important figure in my life/career, Dr. Warren Washington).  While such facts are nice for Trivia Night, they are not what I will look back on. How did we do with the goals? Was I true to myself in how I presided? Did I maintain the respect and reputation of the Society and my predecessors (

Turning point (or “cursor”) within AMS: I am pleased that AMS has continued to embrace and grow its digital presence. The AMS Front Page Blog and its Social Media presence (find AMS @ametsoc on Twitter or on Facebook) continued to grow. Many of these efforts were ongoing, but I also made them priorities as well.  I am going to go out on a limb and say that I was the first AMS President to “tweet” (@DrShepherd2013) or set up a Public Figure Facebook page ( The Sandy Town Hall during the 2013 Annual Meeting trended in the “top 10” on Twitter. I certainly hope aspects of #AMS2014 will trend as well.  This meeting will explore the theme: “Extreme Weather-Climate and the Built Environment: New Perspectives, Opportunities, and Tools.

After all, the largest gathering of weather and climate experts in the world should rival the inevitable coverage of a rodent that crawls out of the ground, right?

AMS’ world-class publications and journals are now available in various digital and mobile formats, and we have essentially driven the cost of “color” down to $0. Within AMS and under Keith Seitter’s leadership, we are in the process of transitioning to a new content-database management system that will lead to an array of enhanced member services and information in the future. AMS’s outstanding IT staff are working on a more user-friendly and intuitive website, and they have done an outstanding job with the new #AMS2014 Atlanta Annual Meeting App, now available at the Itunes Store or the Google Play Store. I am pleased that the AMS Annual Meeting App will debut at the meeting that I set forth the theme and planning for.  Information on the AMS Annual Meeting or the App can be found at:

The Society Needs Us All: I am by nature an inclusive, non-confrontational person. As such, if we are the American Meteorological Society, we should be open and accessible to everybody within or with an interest in our field. I posed the question a few years ago, “Does our current mix of services, resources, and awards effectively serve all members (researchers, meteorologists, operational forecasters, young professionals, environmental staffers, teachers, geographers, etc.)?”

I continued to build on existing partnerships or forge new ones.  It was an honor to sit in a room in Washington, DC with National Weather Association (NWA) President Bruce Thomas and others discussing the value of federal colleagues to our enterprise to NOAA and NWS leadership. Many members never see such meetings, input on new legislation affecting our community, or other “community sausage-making” activities with implications for us all. Trust me, they happen quite frequently, and even I have a new appreciation for the role the Society plays.

I enjoyed interacting with colleagues at the Royal Meteorological Society, ECMWF, the European Meteorological Society (EMS) and International Forum of Meteorological Societies (IFMS) this past year in Reading. It was humbling to experience how favorably AMS is viewed and respected internationally. AMS hosts the IFMS website, took steps this year to make AMS more accessible for colleagues in developing countries, and will have significant International activities at the upcoming annual meeting.

We held joint sessions at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) this Spring, building upon activities started by my predecessor, Dr. Louis Uccellini. I will continue the bridge building at the upcoming AAG meeting in Tampa. I am a member of the AAG and the current AAG President, Dr. Julie Winkler, is an active AMS member as well. I will participate in the AAG President’s Panel and Forum.

We also continue to have a strong relationship with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and have some exciting forthcoming news concerning our partnership on the journal, Earth Interactions. There are numerous other partnerships and agreements that are significant, but I am unable to mention explicitly.

Internal relations: I was very adamant about making internal community inroads as well. I felt that the constant assault on our federal and operational workforce was inexcusable. I was very vocal in the media and blogs about the impact of sequestration, shutdowns, and travel restrictions on our community and the nation. I argued repeatedly that weather resources and personnel should be valued as national priorities at the level of national or homeland security. 

As a proud member of NWA, I know the history of that organization and perspective of some segments of our community. AMS values the operational sector, and I look forward to weather service and operational colleagues engaging at ALL levels of the AMS. Hopefully, we can build on our lessons and experiences from the past rather than being “stuck” in them. We need AMS, NWA, Weather Coalition, and other relevant voices. I view the AMS as a critical collective voice and as I have learned this year, policymakers, the media, and other institutions do as well.

By the way, this is not lip service.  Many times this year, AMS, in ways that may not be obvious to average member, or I went to bat strongly for our members or community on an important range of issues this year (e.g., NOAA satellite gap issues, travel issues, sequestration, shutdown lunacy, irresponsible information on websites, and more).

I also really enjoyed getting to know our Broadcast Meteorologist colleagues better this year. It was very important for me to attend the AMS Broadcast Meteorologist Conference in Nashville. Broadcast colleagues are “our doorway” to the public. I know that because of sweeps week, many broadcast meteorologists often cannot attend the AMS Annual Meeting. The separate Broadcast Meteorology conference is a necessity. However, I have often felt that it inherently creates a "disconnect." This community disconnect is not malicious on either side. It is what it is. However, I wanted to firmly establish that AMS values our broadcast colleagues and encourage them to be more deeply immersed in the broader functions of the Society (e.g., nominating peers for Fellow/Awards, Board/Committee activities, Council, etc.). There is more that unites us than divides us. It was such an honor to finally meet colleagues like James Spann, Jim Gandy, Mike Smith, Greg Fishel and others that I respect (and appear on WeatherBrains J).  It was equally an honor to make several new acquaintances and see numerous old friends (you know who you are J). Immediately after the Nashville meeting, Nate Johnson, Keith Seitter, myself and others reached out to the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA) on ways to improve coverage of life-threating weather in the same market.

Speaking of uniting and dividing, the climate change discussion is with us and will be for some time. AMS has a Statement on Climate Change, and it is based on the science. There have been an array of media stories on broadcast sector views. There has also been a shameful mischaracterization of a recent AMS member survey on the topic. Keith Seitter spoke eloquently on the latter at

On this issue, I know that there are different viewpoints. We have to get past this. I don’t know what it will take, but I am pleased that AMS has established a committee to provide respectful, science-based discourse and ideas. I am not a zealot on this topic, but I know that some in the Twitter or Blog Sphere that are building careers and reputations on taking certain sides of the issue. God Bless them.  I have no interest in that. For the rest of us, let’s find ways to have respectful conversation and let the science guide us. My thoughts on this are nicely summarized in my recent CNN Guest Op-Ed: As with any marriage or partnership, we will not always agree. I disagree with my spouse or or close friends often, but I don’t walk away from them when I disagree or conclude I cannot work with them.  An organization of this size cannot possibly be monolithic. The greater value of our Society transcends one or a few issues.

Our academic and research community also continues to be very important to our Society. Our journals, scientific conferences, statements, and science perspective is considered a gold standard. I briefed the U.S. Senate this year and appeared in the media frequently, and it was clear that we are seen as an honest, respected broker of science information. We must maintain that standing. Our academic and researchers are critical. As such, we established a new committee to make sure that AMS is adequately meeting the needs of the academic/ research community. AMS is a Professional Society AND a Science Society.

“Resources”: Our new membership in AIP provides AMS with access to one of the most respected science demographic databases in the world. Along with our UCAR partnerships, this will continue to guarantee that AMS is a key source for employment, salary, demographic and other data.  Additionally, AMS members now have access to the great Physics Today magazine.  Another key resource development, perhaps not visible to members, is the hiring of Mr. Tom Champoux as Director of Communications. Tom will move us forward in communicating about AMS, externally and internally. He will also help broaden and anchor the AMS brand. AMS is broader than “meteorology” in the same way that IBM is broader than “business machines.”  We all have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the AMS brand.

In summary, I believe we moved the “meter” on these issues.  Beyond the aforementioned goals, it was very important to also make the AMS seem more accessible to members and external stakeholders and partners.  I did a scientific analysis of peer science Society dues and services, and we were a "bargain" relative to the services provided.  I would be a member of the AMS even if I never received an issue of BAMS, attended a conference, had access to scholarships, or participated in valuable networking. The Society serves a greater good that is well worth my dues.  I spent quite a bit of personal energy trying to make AMS not seem like this “Big Impersonal Thing” but rather an organization that belongs to all of us.

The Annual Meeting should be on everyone’s bucket list to attend at some point. You interact with people that wrote your textbooks, appear on TV and in journal articles, and provide diverse viewpoints from around the world. I look forward to the science, meetings, and fellowship. I want to thank Drs. Phil Ardanuy and Eileen Shea, the 2014 Program Chairs, for leading an outstanding committee that planned the upcoming Annual Meeting. I also want to thank Dr. Margaret Davidson and her colleagues for work on the Presidential Forum. I am in awe that colleagues like Andy Revkin, Craig Fugate, Peter Webster, and many others will participate.

Concerning AMS, I still hope to see a “Did You Know or AMS101” feature similar to “AMS News You Can Use” that periodically highlights different facts about the Society, how it works, and how to be more engaged. I also hope to see a student member on the AMS Council in the future. I also look forward to helping the Society move into its 100th year. 

There are many challenges facing the community. For example, I am particularly concerned about the random “forecast and dissemination” websites and blogs sprouting like weeds and in some cases delivering information contrary to the National Weather Service. Is there a role for the Society or NWA? There are other issues that I am certain to speak on going forward.

The Society is in good hands going forward with President Bill Gail, President-Elect Sandy MacDonald and the new Council. The leadership is important to some degree but the various Departments, Commissions, Boards, Committees, and Member Volunteers (multiple hundreds) are the lifeblood of the Society.

I want to thank Dr. Keith Seitter and the AMS staff. It is clear to me why AMS was voted one of the best places in Massachusetts to work in 2013. The staff professionalism is unchallenged, and it has been a pleasure working with each and every person walking the halls of 45 Beacon Street in Boston and the AMS offices at the AAAS building in DC. I can’t mention all of you by name, but I am appreciative. I believe in fellowship and collegiality. I also believe in family. AMS is a family, and one who’s back I will have as long as I am alive. Joyce Annese even knows me well enough to always have one sandwich without any mayo or sauces :)

And speaking of family, thank you to my wife and kids for bearing with me through all of the travel, conference calls, and meetings.  They sacrificed a ton for me to serve in this capacity because they know the passion that I have for this field. I would like to also thank the University of Georgia, my colleagues in the Department of Geography/Atmospheric Sciences program, and our students for the various level of support as well.

See you in Atlanta!