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FSU professor recognized as one of ‘10 most brilliant scientists’ in US

An FSU meteorology professor was recognized for her research into clouds and how they could impact hurricane development and climate modeling.
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 6:43 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A five-year-old Allison Wing and her family had to evacuate their vacation home in Cape Cod, Mass. as Hurricane Bob aimed for New England in 1991.

“I imagine it was stressful for my parents,” Wing recalled. “But I was like ‘this is so cool! We’re getting hit by a hurricane.’”

Thirty years later, she would be recognized by a national publication for her research into clouds and how they impact hurricane development. Popular Science featured the FSU meteorology professor as well as nine others for the return of the magazine’s “annual roster of early-career scientists and engineers developing ingenious approaches to problems across a range of disciplines.”

“That event (Hurricane Bob) definitely sparked my interest in weather, in general,” Wing said. “I always found hurricanes to be just incredibly fascinating scientifically but just also so incredible that nature could produce something so beautiful and so destructive at the same time.”

The Cornell University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate says that there is still the need for research and understanding about the rapid intensification of hurricanes and other topics.

“We still lack a complete understanding of what controls the number of hurricanes that we get,” Wing said. “There is still a lot of room for us to discover new things and make things better for people and their preparedness.” That’s where her research, featured in Popular Science, on the “cloud greenhouse effect” comes in. The question, Wing said, is how clouds cluster together, organize, and what the mechanisms are that cause that. Also, if and how those cause feedbacks into the Earth’s climate system, and how those clouds coming together help to develop tropical cyclones.

Wing co-authored a story in 2020 on the clouds and how global climate models handle them. They found that climate sensitivity to clouds may be underestimated in climate models, meaning they are missing an important variable in climate prediction.

“The response of clouds to warming and warming from greenhouse gases is the biggest uncertainty in terms of our future projections of climate change,” Wing said.

Also in 2020, Wing co-authored a paper on how clouds impact tropical cyclone development. They ran model simulations on Hurricane Maria in 2017 and Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 using one with clouds and clouds that were “invisible” in the model. They found that the clouds were able to provide a feedback mechanism, acting like a greenhouse, to trap heat and moisture and allowed the storms to use that trapped energy to gain intensity.

“That (cloud setup) favors rising motion, and more thunderstorm development and moistening in that same area,” Wing said. “It strengthens the overturning circulation of the hurricane. It helps it form and intensity.”

She said, based on her research, it could take hurricanes twice as long to develop in a cloud-free zone.

Wing said she was surprised and but excited to be selected by Popular Science as one of the top ten up-and-coming early career scientists.

“I was really honored to be considered for, and never expected that I was actually gong to be selected,” she said. What means the most to Wing is the research collaborators, mentors and her students that have helped her work along the way. “That’s something I really like about this field,” she said. “It really is a community, and our community collectively enables great progress of these questions.”

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