When The Wind Blows: Predicting How Hurricanes Change With Climate

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Three graduate students studying atmospheric science at MIT recently participated in a WGBH/NOVA Science Café outreach event to engage the public on the topic of hurricanes and climate change.

Watch this video at WGBH Forum Network 

The 2017 hurricane season was the most expensive on record for the United States, inflicting a staggering $268 billion in damage. Areas of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are still rebuilding after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria made landfall last summer. The occurrence of three devastating hurricanes in a single season highlights the importance of research on the relationship between climate change and the strength of hurricanes. Now that that 2018 hurricane season has begun, scientists are working to predict what's in store for this year and for years to come as sea surface temperature continues to rise.

In their recent talk, filmed at the WGBH studios, MIT graduate students Sydney Sroka, Tom Beucler, and Jonathan Lin, who are each studying various aspects of hurricane predictability and atmospheric physics at MIT, presented a short talk during which they described how hurricanes intensify, the state-of-the-art technology of hurricane prediction, and the way climate change is expected to influence hurricanes.

"NOVA’s Café Science program provides an opportunity for the community to meet with local scientists to discuss contemporary research in a casual cafe environment," explains Sroka, who Beucler credits as the mastermind behind their outreach activity. "Each event aims to encourage dialogue between specialists and a broad audience with a short presentation followed by a Q&A session". 

"When the Wind Blows" prompted discussions on several interesting topics including: the differences between extra-tropical cyclones and tropical cyclones, the types of data that remote sensing missions collect, and how landfall influences a hurricane’s dynamics.

"The outreach event was wonderfully successful," Sroka says. "We are most grateful to NOVA Outreach Coordinator Gina Varamo for coordinating and facilitating the event."



Sydney Sroka is a Graduate Student in MechE advised by Kerry Emanuel in EAPS. With expertise in computational fluid dynamics, she studies the air-sea transfer of enthalpy and momentum in the hurricane spray layer. Sroka received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship upon entering graduate school and hopes to continue studying air-sea coupling after she graduates.

Tom Beucler is a fourth-year PhD candidate in atmospheric science affiliated with the Lorenz Center at MIT, and co-advised by Timothy Cronin and Kerry Emanuel. His expertise is in environmental fluid dynamics and atmospheric physics and he is interested in the way radiation influences a hurricane’s growth rate and intensity.

Jonathan Lin is a first-year graduate student, also advised by Kerry Emanuel. He graduated from Princeton with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in 2017 and, for his PhD, is studying hurricane predictability. Lin is both an American Meteorological Society and a Rasmussen fellow.