Once a month, I get a special email from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Communication in Washington, D.C. As a federal agency, part of NOAA's job is to provide environmental information to the public. To do that, NOAA has data portals, like ncei.noaa.gov, and issues forecasts, warnings, advisories, and general press releases, for example through its website www.noaa.gov and via email, which are often published by media outlets. NOAA also holds press calls with their own scientists for journalists to learn about and discuss current topics that relate to weather and climate. And that's what this special email was about. This morning was such a press call, and I attended as listener.
Today's call discussed the recent heat wave in Europe (June set a new record there as the hottest recorded June ever, surpassing the previous record by almost 1ºC or 1.8ºF) and conditions and outlook in the U.S. For me as a researcher and science blogger, these calls are really interesting. They're a good way to learn about current developments in the fields of weather and climate, and they're great to experience how scientists and journalists interact, what vocabulary, jargon, and graphics are common, to track what information makes it into the news, and to understand the news cycle in general.
Clear graphics are essential, and ahead of time NOAA publishes a PDF with presentation slides that their researchers discuss on the call. These figures could end up in Tweets or Facebook posts (with citation of course), so communicating a clear message is key. Short summary statements in the slides can also get copied into tweets, or make headlines or highlights in an article. Here are some examples:
But good graphics are only half the story. Answering essential questions with confidence and good language is also key in these calls. What, where, when, why, who cares, and so on, without diving into methodological details or listing all the limitations of the results (although, touching on them might not be a bad idea).
Being too much of a scientist (i.e., going on and on about minute details and using too much jargon) you could run the risk of "losing" a person, or even worse, make them misunderstand and misinterpret important information, and then unknowingly misinform millions of people. One of the journalists on the call, Seth Borenstein, writes for the Associated Press, and his reporting from today (all accurate by what I could tell) was published by the Washington Post, several regional news organizations in the U.S., and even an Italian news website.
After 45 minutes, I got back to my own research, made some more progress, and at the end of the day (literally, 5.45 pm) finally got some graphic results myself. They're not quite ready for sharing, yet, but they generally suggest that in the next decades, drought years similar to 2011 or 2012 could occur much more frequently, with extremely dry or wet years representing up to five years per decade in the Southern Plains, especially after the 2050s, and one to two years in the Northern Plains.
I still have a lot more analysis ahead of me, most importantly to understand what this means for ranchers, but this is a very important and valuable step.
Here are Friday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. And if you wonder what this about, here is the intro blog post.