A Tale of Two Studies: Varied Perspectives at the AMS Meeting

January 5, 2015 · 0 comments

by Maggie Christopher, Valparaiso University

On Sunday students presented nearly 200 posters of their research in grad school and summer internships. With so many topics covered, the session covered a variety of perspectives—often multiple perspectives on similar questions.

For example, two students from different universities did individual studies of the socioeconomic factors in fatalities due to tornadoes. But while Shadya Sanders from Howard University compared two case studies, Omar Gates, from the University of Michigan, set one tornado case in a climatological perspective.

Sanders compared the Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, tornadoes in 2011. Sanders looked at the differences in death rates for race, age, gender, and housing structures in each storm. She found, for example, a high rate of death amongst women, which she said is unusual compared to other data she looked at. Women generally will take the suggested protective action when warnings are issued.

Sanders also noticed that in Tuscaloosa people aged 21-30 died at a higher rate, probably because the University of Alabama is located in the city of Tuscaloosa. By contrast, in Joplin, more retail business were located in the path of the storm, rather than houses.

Similarly, Gates studied the effect of tornado outbreaks as climate changes. He hoped to show the risk of tornadoes striking cities. He focused his research on Oklahoma, and specifically the May 3, 1999 tornado in Moore. Gates used reanalysis data with the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), and also utilized 2010 Census Data, which included demographic information such as gender, race, age, and housing units.

Using ARCgis, Gates put together risk assessment maps for vorticity, moist static energy, and wind shear. These maps were then put together, along with the actual storm track, to locate the highest risk of tornadoes for that day.

Even with different approaches, Shayda and Gates had similar goals for their work. Shayda held focus groups in both cities to see what kinds of warnings citizens would find most helpful. She wants to insure that warnings get out to everyone, and she hopes to continue her research throughout the rest of the United States. Similarly, Gates hopes that continuing to look at the socioeconomic effects of tornadoes will lead to watches, outlooks, and warnings that are easier for people to decipher, saving lives.