Alyssa Stansfield, a third year PhD student in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and a member of the Climate Extremes Modeling Group, recently had some of her thesis work exploring the impact of climate change on Hurricane Florence in September of 2018 published in Science Advances. Before beginning graduate school at Stony Brook, she earned her B.S. in meteorology from Rutgers University. Her fascination with hurricanes began when Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal New Jersey, including her hometown of Wall, in 2012. Witnessing the power of the storm and how it changed her home state forever, she wanted to understand what made hurricanes so destructive and if more of these storms would hit the Northeast in the future. This experience solidified her decision to major in meteorology at Rutgers and to pursue graduate school to study how climate change is impacting hurricanes. 

Florence rainfall forecasts

Left: Standard Forecast in the world that is. 
Right: Modified forecast in a world without climate change.

The Hurricane Florence research project, completed with her advisor Dr. Kevin Reed and two other co-authors, gave her the opportunity to do exactly that. The goal of the project was to quantify the influence of human-caused climate change on Hurricane Florence, before it had even made landfall in North Carolina in September 2018. To do this, Alyssa had to learn how to run the Community Atmosphere Model (CAM), a climate model that is run on a supercomputer. With no previous experience running climate models, she learned to run the model in the months before the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season with the help of her collaborators and added new capabilities in the code that created ensemble members with slightly different model settings. As Hurricane Florence was approaching the coast of North Carolina, she ran multiple ensemble members of CAM with current climate conditions that include climate change and with climate conditions that estimate a “world without climate change.” With these model runs, the team was able to estimate how much climate change impacted Florence’s forecasted rainfall totals and outer size. 

In performing this work before the landfall of the storm, Alyssa and co-authors Michael Wehner, Colin Zarzycki and Kevin Reed wanted to get the public talking about the very real impacts of climate change while they were actually happening and impacting people. Alyssa’s interests in science communication made her especially invested in sharing this research with the public, especially regarding the impacts of climate change. Through her participation in the Science Training & Research to Inform DEcisions (STRIDE) program at SBU as a 2019-2020 Fellow, Alyssa hopes to learn the best strategies to communicate climate change research to the public. The effects of climate change may impact people in ways that they may not expect but can be very dangerous, such as through the combined impacts of storm surge, sea level rise, and hurricane rainfall. For the remainder of her graduate studies, she wants to further explore how climate change is impacting rainfall from hurricanes so that she can help prepare society for the hurricanes of the future. 

For a press release about the Science Advances paper, please visit the SoMAS website.


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