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FSU meteorology professor receives NASA award

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 6:18 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A meteorology professor at Florida State won an award from NASA to help study hurricanes.

Dr. Allison Wing was one of 38 recipients to receive the award out of the over 238 who applied for it, FSU said in a news release. The NASA New Investigator (Early Career) Award in Earth Science, worth $275,000 over three years according to Wing, will be used to study hurricane intensity with the goal of improving forecasts.

“Intensity and intensification [of tropical cyclones] is one of the things we have the hardest time forecasting,” Wing said in a FaceTime interview Tuesday. “Anything that can give us an edge is worth studying more.”

Wing co-authored research, published in 2020, that looked into the “cloud greenhouse effect.” This effect can enhance tropical cyclone development and strengthening.

The clouds in a developing tropical system can act like a greenhouse, according to the research. That is especially the case with deep, tall thunderstorm clouds. These clouds can trap heat and moisture, aiding in storm intensification. This is assuming that water temperatures and the environment are sufficiently warm, and there are no external factors such as wind shear and dry air intrusion to stop it.

“[The cloud greenhouse effect] is really critical helping [tropical cyclones] to develop and intensify quickly,” Wing said.

Wing was able to simulate it in models, and her next goal is to prove it in real life. This is where the NASA award will come in: Granting her access to satellite data to look inside the clouds and the atmospheric profile using a different kind of satellites that the public aren’t used to seeing on television or a weather app.

There is a group of satellites that move together in a line around Earth many times a day. One of the satellites in the constellation, according to Wing, is called CloudSat. It’s similar to how Doppler radar operates, but it detects cloud particles and can give a profile of the atmosphere. From there, algorithms can calculate radiative properties.

“It’s a really great sort of dataset to probe these different properties,” she said.

One limitation is the “swath” of data gathered from the satellites are much smaller than the geostationary satellites that many are used to seeing, and even smaller than the Advanced Scatterometer, or ASCAT, data pulled from another satellite spinning around Earth. ASCAT data are useful for measuring surface winds at the ocean surface where Hurricane Hunter reconnaissance aircraft either can’t reach or when they are not investigating a system. The smaller width of data gathered per one satellite pass will mean it could take some time to get a quality dataset of tropical cyclones.

Wing said she was “thrilled” to hear the news of receiving the NASA award, and excited to have that dataset into her research program.

“This is the first funding I have received from NASA, so I was really excited about that,” she said. “It was really rewarding for me to receive that, and know that the review panel was as excited about the project as I am.”

The data from the satellites will help determine how hurricanes develop and intensify. The goal is improving intensity forecasts, which would give officials and the public and idea of what kind of storm they are going to be dealing with.

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