Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Weston Anderson

(Assistant Research Scientist)

Weston Anderson's Contact Card & Information.
Org Code: 619
Mail Code 617
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

I’m an agroclimatologist studying the dynamics of climate variability and its relation to food security using reanalysis products, remote sensing observations and model simulations. I’ve recently been working on how global-scale modes of climate variability pose a structured risk to food production and how to use this information to build preseason crop yield forecast systems. For more information on my research see my Google Scholar

Current Projects

Experimental extended crop yield outlooks for early warning

Food Security

The actions required to prevent natural disasters from developing into food crises often require significant time to plan and execute. Forecasts of crop conditions at lead times of up to a year could therefore be valuable inputs for early planning and preparation activities. In this research I'm leading a multi-agency team of researchers from NASA, USGS, NOAA, UC Santa Barbara, and UMD to develop and evaluate a novel, experimental long-lead crop yield outlook system. The system is currently being run routinely to produce crop condition outlooks, which are skillful up to a year in advance in some regions, for the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET)

FEWS NET crop production dataset and working group

Food Security

Crop yield forecasts and agroclimate analyses for food security often require subnational crop yield data but such data is difficult to collate and quality control, particularly in food insecure countries. No global dataset of subnational crop yield statistics is currently freely available to researchers and practitioners. Together with USAID, USGS, NASA Harvest, and UC Santa Barbara, this project builds and quality controls an entirely open access global crop production dataset to be used in agroclimate analyses. Doing so will reduce duplication of work and catalyze research that requires crop yield statistics in the agroclimate research community

Using terrestrial water storage to improve S2S hydrologic forecast skill

Hydrology / Water Cycle

Terrestrial water storage, including surface water reservoirs, soil moisture, and groundwater, is critical to agriculture and food security in Africa. This project uses remote sensing observations and the NASA FLDAS-Forecast model to understand and improve S2S forecasts of terrestrial water storage.

FEWS NET Land Data Assimilation System (FLDAS) Forecasts

Hydrology / Water Cycle

I provide technical leadership in the continued development and upgrading of the FLDAS-Forecast system, which provides routine forecasts of soil moisture and streamflow that are used in food security early warning systems. As part of that work I jointly produce the routine monthly hydrological forecasts


Assistant Research Scientist

University of Maryland, Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center - College Park, MD

June 2021 - Present

Scientific objectives:

  • Lead a multi-agency collaboration between NOAA, NASA, UCSB, and USAID to develop an experimental preseason crop yield forecast system at lead times of up to a year, which is well beyond existing lead times of crop yield forecast systems
  • Coordinate work across a group of researchers and practitioners from UMD, NASA Harvest, USGS, UCSB, FEWS NET Hub, and FEWS NET Early Warning Team to build a global subnational database of crop yield statistics to be used to evaluate crop yield forecasts and in agroclimate analyses for food security
  • Coordinate work with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on the potential risk of multiple breadbasket failures
  • Support routine production and interpretation of soil moisture forecasts using the NASA FEWS NET Land Data Assimilation System (FLDAS-Forecast) model

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Columbia University, Earth Institute - New York, NY

September 2018 - June 2021

  • Advisors: Lisa Goddard, Walter Baethgen

Scientific objectives:

  • Develop methods to evaluate the impact of the Madden-Julian Oscillation on maize yields throughout the tropics using remote sensing observations and models of soil moisture, maximum temperature, and precipitation in combination with crop yield statistics and crop models
  • Understand how drought interacts with socioeconomic and abiotic stresses to influence food security in Africa using remote sensing-based observations of precipitation, soil moisture, and vegetative stress
  • Understand how co-occurring extremes of extreme temperature and drought affect crop yields in the present and future climates

Sr. Research Assistant

International Food Policy Research Institute - Washington DC

June 2013 - August 2014

  • Advisors: Liangzhi You, Ephraim Nkonya

Scientific objectives:

  • Evaluate spatial models of crop type maps, including the importance of remote-sensing based inputs
  • Analyze the potential expansion of irrigated agriculture across Africa from both large-scale and small-scale irrigation technologies

Risk Analyst

Risk Management Solutions - Hoboken NJ

June 2012 - June 2013

  • Assessed natural catastrophe risk using analytical and physically-based models


2014 - 2018 Columbia University, New York, NY
PhD, Earth and Environmental Science
  • Advisor: Richard Seager
  • Committee: Mark Cane, Walter Baethgen

2007- 2012 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
BS/MSE Environmental Engineering
  • Research advisor: Ben Zaitchik, Erica Schoenberger
  • Academic advisor: Bill Ball

Professional Service

Associate Editor, 2022 - present
Earth Interactions

US CLIVAR Panel Member, 2023 - 2026
Predictability, Predictions, and Applications Interface Panel

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Action Committee, 2020 - 2021
IRI, Columbia University

Reviewer for

Science, Nature Communications, Nature Food, Nature Sustainability, Journal of Climate, PLOS Climate, Environmental Research Letters, Geophysical Research Letters, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, Earth System Dynamics, Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, International Journal of Climatology, AGU Advances, Earth’s Future, Earth System Dynamics, PNAS Nexus


Earth Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, 2018 - 2020

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 2014 - 2018

Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Fellow, 2014

JHU Whiting School of Engineering Dean’s Master’s Fellowship, 2012

JHU Wolman Award for Interdisciplinary Study, 2011


Using terrestrial water storage to improve S2S hydrologic forecast skill - NASA - Awarded: 2023-01-01

Dates: 2023-01-01  - 2025-01-01

Amount 261,000

Correlated climate risks to the global food system - International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) - Awarded: 2022-01-01

Dates: 2022-01-01  - 2024-01-01

Amount 176,000

Climate services for livestock management - The Earth Institute, Columbia University - Awarded: 2020-01-01

Dates: 2020-01-01  - 2021-06-01

Amount 100,000

The climate science concierge - The Brown Institute - Awarded: 2020-09-01

Dates: 2020-01-01  - 2021-01-01

Amount 50,000



2023. "The long-term impact of multi-season droughts on livestock holdings and Pastoralist decision-making in Marsabit, Kenya." Journal of Arid Environments 211 104928 [10.1016/j.jaridenv.2022.104928] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Increased probability of hot and dry weather extremes during the growing season threatens global crop yields." Scientific Reports 13 (1): 3583 [10.1038/s41598-023-29378-2] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Climate variability and simultaneous breadbasket yield shocks as observed in long-term yield records." Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 331 109321 [10.1016/j.agrformet.2023.109321] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Compound heat and moisture extreme impacts on global crop yields under climate change." Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 3 (12): 872-889 [10.1038/s43017-022-00368-8] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Multi-year La Niña events and multi-season drought in the Horn of Africa." Journal of Hydrometeorology [10.1175/jhm-d-22-0043.1] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "The impact of flooding on food security across Africa." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119 (43): [10.1073/pnas.2119399119] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Climate change may outpace current wheat breeding yield improvements in North America." Nature Communications 13 (1): 5591 [10.1038/s41467-022-33265-1] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Increased wheat price spikes and larger economic inequality with 2°C global warming." One Earth 5 (8): 907-916 [10.1016/j.oneear.2022.07.004] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "The Influence of Intraseasonal Oscillations on Humid Heat in the Persian Gulf and South Asia." Journal of Climate 35 (13): 4309-4329 [10.1175/jcli-d-21-0488.1] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Research priorities for global food security under extreme events." One Earth 5 (7): 756-766 [10.1016/j.oneear.2022.06.008] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Enhanced risk of concurrent regional droughts with increased ENSO variability and warming." Nature Climate Change 12 (2): 163-170 [10.1038/s41558-021-01276-3] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Violent conflict exacerbated drought-related food insecurity between 2009 and 2019 in sub-Saharan Africa." Nature Food 2 (8): 603-615 [10.1038/s43016-021-00327-4] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Decadal variability modulates trends in concurrent heat and drought over global croplands." Environmental Research Letters 16 (5): 055024 [10.1088/1748-9326/abeb35] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Amplified risk of spatially compounding droughts during co-occurrences of modes of natural ocean variability." npj Climate and Atmospheric Science 4 (1): 7 [10.1038/s41612-021-00161-2] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Supporting interdisciplinary careers for sustainability." Nature Sustainability 4 (5): 374-375 [10.1038/s41893-020-00679-y] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "ENSO Teleconnections and Impacts on U.S. Summertime Temperature during a Multiyear La Niña Life Cycle." Journal of Climate 33 (14): 6009-6024 [10.1175/jcli-d-19-0701.1] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "The Madden‐Julian Oscillation Affects Maize Yields Throughout the Tropics and Subtropics." Geophysical Research Letters 47 (11): [10.1029/2020gl087004] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Climate impacts of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation on South America." Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 1 (4): 215-231 [10.1038/s43017-020-0040-3] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "MJO teleconnections to crop growing seasons." Climate Dynamics 54 (3-4): 2203-2219 [10.1007/s00382-019-05109-0] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Synchronous crop failures and climate-forced production variability." Science Advances 5 (7): [10.1126/sciadv.aaw1976] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Trans-Pacific ENSO teleconnections pose a correlated risk to agriculture." Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 262 298-309 [10.1016/j.agrformet.2018.07.023] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "Crop production variability in North and South America forced by life-cycles of the El Niño Southern Oscillation." Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 239 151-165 [10.1016/j.agrformet.2017.03.008] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Life cycles of agriculturally relevant ENSO teleconnections in North and South America." International Journal of Climatology 37 (8): 3297-3318 [10.1002/joc.4916] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "Chinese Rice Production Area Adaptations to Climate Changes, 1949–2010." Environmental Science & Technology 49 (4): 2032-2037 [10.1021/es505624x] [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "An analysis of methodological and spatial differences in global cropping systems models and maps." Global Ecology and Biogeography 24 (2): 180-191 [10.1111/geb.12243] [Journal Article/Letter]

2012. "Towards an integrated soil moisture drought monitor for East Africa." Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 16 (8): 2893-2913 [10.5194/hess-16-2893-2012] [Journal Article/Letter]

Teaching Experience

Faculty – Climate and Society Master’s program, Columbia University
Dynamics of Climate Variability and Change (Fall 2020): co-taught with Dr. Alessandra Giannini
Threats to Urban Food Security (Spring 2021): reading seminar, co-taught with Dr. Cascade Tuholske

Teaching Assistant - Columbia University
Regional Climate Dynamics: Dr. Andrew Robertson and Dr. Pietro Ceccato (2016, 2018)
Dynamics of Climate: Dr. Ron Miller (2017)
Dynamics of Climate Variability and Change: Dr. Alessandra Giannini and Dr. Lisa Goddard (2017)

Guest Lecturer – Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Intro to Global and Population Health (2019, 2020)

Guest Lecturer – Washington State University
How the Earth's climate system works (2022)

Course Materials

Below are course descriptions for courses that I have taught, including the course objectives and course syllabus

GR5400 - Dynamics of Climate Variability & Climate Change
(Climate and Society Master’s Program, Columbia University) - 2020 Course Syllabus
This course provides an understanding of the physical workings of the climate system, and it underpins the goals of the rest of the C+S program. Building on that, students learn through lectures, readings, discussions and exercises, how to interpret climate information like forecasts and observational maps. We cover the physical and methodological basis of forecasts – from weather to climate change – as well as their uncertainties. Students are encouraged to critically assess the suitability of different types of climate information to answer questions of societal interest in discussion and within a group project. Given that climate variability acts on a number of time and space scales, which may be further influenced by man-made climate change, we also address how these aspects of the climate are realized, forecast, interpreted. Solid understanding of the physical system and appropriate usage of climate-related terminology will be emphasized throughout the course.

Skills Developed:
      Physical understanding of the climate system
      Forecast interpretation
      Climate literacy
      Initial basis to determine suitability of information to society
      Communication of scientific material

Earth Science Notes

Below are links to a set of notes that I’ve developed based on my own courses and study. These notes are not formal course material, but I have found them helpful and I hope you may as well.

Climate Dynamics

Primitive equations


Geostrophy and Thermal Wind

Overview of the mean climate

Radiative Convective Equilibrium and the Greenhouse Effect

Overturning Circulations (Hadley and Ferrel cells)

Rossby Waves

The stratosphere (QBO and Brewer-Dobson)

The El Niño Southern Oscillation

Atlantic Climate (NAO and AMOC)

Atmospheric Dynamics

Overview of large scale atmospheric circulations

Greenhouse effect

Primitive equations


Geostrophy and Thermal Wind

Overturning Circulations (Hadley and Ferrel cells)

Rossby Waves

The stratosphere (QBO and Brewer-Dobson)

Ocean Dynamics

Primitive equations


Geostrophy and Thermal Wind

The Wind-driven Circulation

Atlantic Climate (NAO and AMOC)


Plant Ecophysiology


Volunteer, 826 DC nonprofit writing workshop, 2020
“Rewrite the stars” space writing camp
Co-organizer - Field trip to Lamont for Cayuga Center children, 2019
Mentor - Secondary School Field Research Program, LDEO,  2015, 2017
Internship program focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion
Citizen Teacher – Harlem Renaissance Leadership Academy, 2015
Semester-long Earth science course: A Tour of Earth’s Natural Disasters             
Volunteer - BioBus, 2014-15
After school science programming for populations underrepresented in the sciences
Volunteer scientist - Big Green Theater Project, 2014
An annual eco-play writing program for elementary school children

Blog posts

ENSO blog - July 22, 2021 - ENSO as a climate conductor for global crop yields
State of the planet - July 9, 2019 - How much do climate fluctuations matter for global crop yields?

Climate-based creative writing prompt

This project explores possible alternate climates using artists renditions of potential planets, writing prompts for short stories and, for college-level students, academic papers. For K-6 students the activity focuses on using an artists’ rendition of a tidally-locked planet and following this link to a video describing the tidally-locked planet as the basis for a short writing prompt about characters that would inhabit such a planet. Students then share their characters and, for a longer writing prompt, build a story around those characters.

For college-level students, the artists rendition can be combined with the first-principles understanding and the climate simulations of Merlis and Schnider (2010) in an activity in which students are provided the constraints of negligible rotation and the location of insolation maximum, then based on first-principles students work in groups to describe the main climate-features of such a planet before coming back together as a class to discuss their solutions and those of Merlis and Schnider

Research Interests