It is hard to believe that the year 2020 is here. As I prepared to begin my term as your NWA President, my thoughts often turned to the fact of how enormously humbled and grateful I am to represent you in this capacity. It is an honor to serve this great organization and you. My plans are to do the best I can.
I would be remiss if I did not mention how lucky we were to have Past Presidents Paul Schlatter and Alan Sealls provide their guidance and leadership over the past two years. Likewise, I would also like to thank Lisa Spencer, Gina Eosco, Chad Gravelle, and Jon Zeitler for their service on the NWA Board of Directors. All are truly remarkable people and the positive effect they had on the NWA will echo into the future long after their terms end.
It is a tradition for the President to unveil the theme for the year in the January President’s Message. I thought long and hard about choosing a theme. During this process, I reached out to many of you to discuss how our organization can help its members grow and improve in the future relative to our mission of “connecting operational meteorologists in pursuit of excellence in weather forecasting, communication, and service.” In considering this input and in consultation with the NWA Board, we have decided on a relevant and important theme: Forward Together
Why this theme? Quite frankly, the challenges that artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and digital communications bring to our field are profound in both their potential to disrupt our work, and their tremendous opportunity to improve weather forecasting, communication, and services. Urgency was also at the forefront of choosing this theme. The pace at which AI, analytics, and digital communications are advancing and improving our science are faster than ever and getting quicker by the day.
Consider that AI and analytics will not only be doing the routine prediction many of us are involved in today, but will also be able to add a great deal of value to those predictions through the seamless integration of endless amounts of non-hydro-meteorological datasets. It will not be very long in the future when the public will have rapidly updating weather predictions (including warnings) automatically delivered to them with personalized decision aids that assist them in making choices. These interpretive services and decision aids have traditionally been the role of, or at least heavily influence by, the human in the forecast process.
Business models in the private sector are already changing to accommodate this general trend. Many are now playing around with coupling models to AI and analytics. Likewise, advances in digital communications has a significant impact on our broadcast community as customer trends show that information is being delivered more and more through smartphones, social media, and other apps on nearly a continuous basis. What does this mean for meteorologists and the traditional cadence of broadcasts? Many broadcasters are moving toward delivering story and context behind weather trends rather than just the forecast.
The operational research community will also be affected in profound ways as well. It is clear that someone will have to develop these AI and analytic systems that squeeze the most out of the nearly endless supply of data. What’s more, neural networks and machine learning continue to improve and may radically change how we solve prediction problems in meteorology. Many times the physical understanding of the meteorological processes involved is not at the core of these approaches or not even necessary. This is likely something that seems strange and counterproductive to how we have been trained and currently solve problems.
It should be noted that we are not the only professional sector where this AI and analytics transformation is occurring; medical, manufacturing, production, and engineering are but a few of the career fields having their status quo challenged. Each is dealing with this change in interesting ways. Some of these professions are further along in coping with these challenges than others. Can we learn from them? Can they learn from us?
One common theme in all this change is the uncertain role of the human in the process. This is where the heart of this year’s theme will reside. How will we deal with these transformational changes in our work environment? Will we behave like the Luddite textile workers of the 19th century that railed and rioted against the automation in factories that presumably took their jobs? Or will we take a more sophisticated approach in understanding these transformational changes and move Forward Together in preparing ourselves to take advantage of these new technologies and provide new ways in which we (as humans) can add value. I prefer the latter and thus our theme.
I am excited about our theme for this year. Even more exciting is the fact that I will be working closely with all of you over the coming year to advance our field to better serve society.