BHM is not just Birmingham’s Airport
Alan Sealls, NWA President 2018
Imagine you are on a February vacation in the warm South Pacific seeking dinner. You find a packed restaurant with a five-star rating. When you look in the window, you notice that everyone is over 7 feet tall! The restaurant across the street is also five-star, but when you peer through the open door you see a variety of people of different heights. Which restaurant would you enter? I’m guessing it would be the one with people more like you—under 7 feet tall. Is that a bias against really tall people or an affinity for people near average height? In social circles, we tend to gravitate toward others of a similar background, age, gender, class and race.
February is BHM—Black History Month. The National Weather Association makes history with our first Black president in 43 years. Oh, that’s me! It’s not something I focus on, except in the broader context of America’s story and our profession. The atmosphere is an equal-opportunity delighter and sometimes offender. We are all trying to understand it.
In conference sessions I sit up front. I absorb more from a presentation when there are fewer nodding heads and glowing devices between me and the screen. There’s always a moment when I turn around and scan the sea of attendees and think, “Where are the Black meteorologists?” This also happens at AMS conferences, and in many of the forecast operations I’ve visited around the country.
You can replace Black with Latino or Native American or Asian American. Numbers for these groups are low in operational meteorology. In my journey, I’ve often been the lone Black face in my core classes, department, or position. It doesn’t make me uneasy, but it is uncomfortable for many people to be the only one like themselves in a group.
We can change low racial minority involvement in meteorology and in the NWA. The fix is simple: Share your love for weather when you talk to young people. Mentor and support anybody who has a career interest in meteorology, especially if they are one of the many underrepresented groups in NWA or in your sector, or in your office. Don’t just notice the person who reminds you of yourself; embrace the one who is different and may seem intimidated or hesitant for whatever reason. Invite them to join the NWA community and to contribute to one of our committees.
The NWA and operational meteorology will thrive with a greater ensemble of weather nerds and geeks of all heights, colors and persuasions to bring a variety of strengths and perspectives, and better serve and represent society.