Government Shutdown Takes Toll on Weather Conference

The American Meteorological Society’s 2019 Annual Meeting starts in Phoenix this weekend. But thanks to the government shutdown, at least 500 fewer attendees are expected. AMS is preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.

Imagine if little more than two weeks out from your organization’s annual meeting, a partial government shutdown meant that more than 10 percent of your expected 4,000 attendees—many of whom are government employees, researchers, and contractors—could likely no longer attend.

Unfortunately, that’s not a scenario Claudia Gorski has to imagine. Since December 21, the director of meetings for the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and other staffers have been working to mitigate the impact of the current shutdown on its 2019 annual meeting, which begins Sunday in Phoenix.

Unfortunately, we’re just getting more and more cancellations, and nothing is happening at the government level.

“Certainly, over the last week—and it’s really stepped up the last couple of days—we’ve had more and more cancellations,” she said.

On Thursday morning, Gorski estimated those cancellations to be somewhere between 500 and 700, but that number is still very much in flux. That’s partly because it’s tough for attendees affected by the shutdown to contact AMS. “They can’t log on to their government email addresses,” she said.

Despite not yet knowing what those final cancellation numbers will be or what impact reduced attendance will have on overall revenue, Gorski and AMS have been working hard to help affected attendees mitigate their financial losses and to ensure that those who do make it to Phoenix have an excellent experience.

For attendees affected by the government shutdown, Gorski reached an agreement with the conference’s six hotels to extend the cancellation deadline from 72 hours out to 24 hours.

“What that allowed us was time for Congress to come back in session and hopefully be able to either pass the budget or get it to the point where the furlough would end and people would be able to commit to coming to the meeting,” she said. Without this change, attendees would have had to cancel their reservations by December 27 or 28.

In addition, AMS adjusted its own cancellation deadline, even though it had to give counts for food and beverage. Attendees had until Thursday—three days before the start of the meeting—to cancel and get a refund (minus a $75 processing fee). And thanks to the convention center and headquarters hotel, excess food will be donated to the local community.

“We were hoping the extra time would allow the government shutdown to end and for people to get funded to come,” Gorski said. “But, unfortunately, we’re just getting more and more cancellations, and nothing is happening at the government level.”

While exhibitors are still on board and speakers scheduled for the meeting’s presidential forum and town halls are set to take the stage, AMS’s technical program has not fared as well.

The shutdown means government researchers can no longer attend and present on their work. To fill these gaps, AMS program and session chairs are working with researchers’ colleagues to see if they can speak instead of the regularly scheduled presenters and are looking into having poster presentations reconfigured into oral presentations. And, if the government does reopen, AMS will facilitate some remote presentations to give those researchers the opportunity to speak.

“It’s changing each day, but we have all these plans in place, so we can act in whatever capacity required,” she said.

Despite lower attendance numbers and the scramble to fill presentation holes, Gorski is optimistic the meeting will be a success.

“It will still be a very vibrant meeting,” she said. “The reality is that we’ll still have more than 3,000 people here.”

She attributes a lot of that optimism to members of the AMS community. “We’ve had a number of them step up and say, ‘I’m coming to the meeting. How can I help?’” AMS is connecting these volunteers with program chairs in case they’re needed to do presentations, participate on panels, or judge competitions.

“It’s a difficult situation, but we’re seeing a lot of really great things come out of it and people coming together to make sure that meeting is strong,” Gorski said. “And that is something we’ve been really blown away by. It will have a huge impact on the meeting, and we’re thankful for that.”

(MILANTE/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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