Q Does our current fast-paced, urban society separate us
from paying attention to the earth, sky and weather?
A Modern society tends to isolate us from the environment
around us. We go from our air-conditioned house to our
air-conditioned office, store, church, etc., in our air-conditioned
car and never truly experience the weather around us. We lose
any appreciation of the true variations in wind, temperature, etc.
The light pollution around our cities denies us the beauty of the
night sky. The buildings around us deny us the beauty of the
sunrise and sunset. For these reasons, I enjoy the open spaces
in the southwest, Arizona, New Mexico and others. A few years
ago, my wife and I drove every paved mile in the Navajo
Nation. In the open spaces, especially at night, you can really
enjoy the majesty of the creation!
Q You've written on uncertainty in weather forecasting.
Would you discuss some implications of that fact?
A Weather forecasting is important on many fronts. We all use
weather forecasts on a daily basis to make all kinds of decisions,
ranging from how to dress the children as they wait for the school
bus to planning outdoor barbecues or deciding if we carry an
umbrella with us. Uncertainty information is not very important in
these daily personal forecasts. But if you consider a forecast of a
major storm track, whether a major snow storm or a hurricane,
the uncertainty information is critical to determining the actions
that need to be taken to protect lives. A farmer needs to
understand the forecast uncertainty to decide whether to take
action for potential frost or freeze for sensitive crops.
Construction and transportation businesses have sophisticated
business models for weather-sensitive operations that take into
consideration the uncertainties in the forecasts to predict the
probabilities of successful completion of the tasks. When I was
Director of the National Weather Service, I always stressed to
the emergency management community that they needed to
know how we could help them in hazardous weather situations
and, equally important, what our limitations were.
Q What importance do you place on clear communication
in weather forecasting?
A The proper communication of the forecasts is as important as
the forecasts themselves. Without accurate, understandable
communications of the forecasts, correct actions to save lives
and property in the path of severe weather may not be taken.
The forecast should be communicated clearly, in terms
appropriate to the receiver, and include the estimates of
uncertainty in the forecast.
Q You wrote a commendation of women in the Weather
Bureau in World War II. What do you consider the major
contributions of women to the field?
A Historically, in this country, weather forecasting has been a
'man's profession.' It is interesting that in some countries today, it
is primarily a 'women's profession.' The historical reason for this
is probably attributed to the shift work nature of the job and the
belief, however erroneously, that shift work could not be handled
Today, an increasing percentage of the profession are women,
and they have clearly demonstrated that there is no difference in
the ability of the sexes. The president of the American
Meteorological Society two years ago was Dr. Susan Avery, an
outstanding scientist at the University of Colorado. Dr. Susan
Solomon discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica and
received the President's Medal of Science, the most prestigious
award this nation offers its scientists. Women have served in
senior management positions in the National Weather Service
and other weather-related organizations.
Q Is global warming a wakeup call or a sentence of doom?
A I do not believe that global warming is a sentence of doom;
the past climates of the earth show epochs when the world was
warmer than today and much colder as well. But things will
change. As a society, we need to be aware of the potential
impacts of climate change, and strive to improve our stewardship
of the planet. Efficient use of energy is important, not only to
reduce the global warming potential, but also to reduce this
nation's dependence on oil from politically unstable regions of the
globe. I have faith in the ability of our science and technology to
address these issues. Now we simply need the leadership and
will to do so.
Q As a person of faith, how do you balance faith and
reason in your life and work?
A As I have learned more about 'science,' I am increasingly
certain of the existence of God. I am amazed at His power and
the majesty of His creation. It is incomprehensible to me how
this creation could have resulted from the accidental alignment of
atoms and molecules. I do not engage in some of the current
debates contrasting religion and science. I believe that God is
God and we are not! God used whatever mechanism to create
the heavens and the earth, and I do not worry about how He did
it. I try to live my life with that in mind.
Paul tells us to be thankful in all things. Not thankful for all
things, but in all things, realizing that we are not in this alone;
rather we have the Holy Spirit with us to comfort us, regardless
of the situation. My wife has been battling a stage four cancer
for two and one-half years. We give thanks that God is with us
through all the ordeals of treatment and disease. He has blessed
us through this. Her cancer type results in a life expectancy of
two months after diagnosis. The extra time with which he has
blessed us has allowed us to come closer together with each
other and closer to God.
Dr. Elbert W. (Joe) Friday, Jr.
Elbert W. Friday, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of Meteorology at the University of
Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma. He recently served as a member of the National
Research Councilâ€™s Committee on Strategic Guidance for NSF's Support of
Research in the Atmospheric Sciences. Chair of the Science Advisory Team for the
Northrop-Grumman National Polar Orbiting Operational Environment Satellite
Program, he also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Weathernews,
America, Inc, a private weather services company.
He was director of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) at the
National Academy of Sciences from July, 1998 to May, 2002. As Assistant
Administrator for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he was responsible for
research and development programs that supported and enhanced both current
and future NOAA services. He also has served as Assistant Administrator for
Weather Services, Director of the National Weather Service (NWS) and US
Permanent Representative to the United Nations World Meteorological
Dr. Friday received his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics and his
Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. He
has served as Deacon, Elder, Trustee, and Chairman of the Board of Calvary
Christian Church in Burke, Virginia. He and his wife Karen have two children
and five grandchildren. I asked Dr. Friday these questions: