Michelle's Blog

Who is Michelle?
Michelle is studying atmospheric science with a focus on wind energy. She hopes to find real-world solutions to environmental issues.


Michelle's College Blog

Research Publications
Mar. 28, 2011

I recently found out about this publication at my university. It is called the Undergraduate Research Journal. This is the website if you want to look around: http://www.ncsu.edu/undergrad-research/urj/

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a graduate student now at NCSU. While I was an undergraduate, I learned about this publication during research I did at NASA. Often, schools have an undergraduate "symposium," which is an event showing research performed by students. Often people have posters describing their work. It's a great way to get experience in research, or to browse around and see what other students are doing in terms of research.

While I was at the symposium as an undergraduate, I heard about The Undergraduate Research Journal. I decided to submit the paper I wrote from a summer internship, and it was accepted for a future publication.

The journal is published two times a year, in the fall and spring, and gives students a chance to showcase their work. Most professional journals tend to publish articles from researchers in the work field or graduate students and their advisors, so this journal focused toward the undergraduate community is a neat idea to get students into research.

Other universities likely have similar publications, so it may be something for you all to keep in mind if it is of interest to you.

Weather Forecasting Models
Mar. 21, 2011

For my research, I am using something called the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. A lot of people in the research community use versions of this model to simulate weather events. I'm using Advanced Research WRF (WRF ARW) for my research. The way models work is they use equations that determine certain aspects of how the atmosphere works, and then generate forecasts of what will happen based on this.

It is pretty neat. You can change things about the atmosphere to see how the forecast will change. For example, you can learn more about terrain effect by altering the terrain in the model (such as making mountains taller, flatter, or removing a mountain range). It provides a lot of power in terms of learning about processes in the environment.

I am running the model to see if it can accurately forecast the low-pressure storms I will be working with. The way to compare is to look at observations of a past event, and simulate these past events with the model. By comparing multiple aspects, you can determine how well your model is simulating a particular storm of interest. Once it is simulated well, then you can look at certain aspects of the storm.

My master's thesis will take about two years, and I am in my first semester, so it is still early for me. To start out, I am working on simulating an extra-tropical cyclone, which is a low-pressure storm that occurs in winter months. I'm trying to simulate one that occurred in January of 2007 and hit Western Europe. I will look at the wind speed of these storms since they can create windstorms that cause a great deal of damage to the areas the storm hits.

If you want to know more about the WRF model, there is a website which talks about the different versions. There are the operational models which many people use to forecast the weather. This model runs faster than those used in most research projects because you need the output in time to forecast real-time events.

One major note: even the "fast" WRF models require super computers to run on your own. I wasn't able to use WRF until graduate school, and I have to "submit" my jobs remotely from a regular computer to a super computer and retrieve the files. It can be really fun to learn about this, though, especially if you want to get into meteorology as a forecaster or researcher. At this website you can however look at WRF forecasts that are generated by people in the field, which is very cool!

Learning More About the Weather
Mar. 14, 2011

I know a lot of people find weather very interesting. A good way to understand weather is to look at the forecast by the National Weather Service. Along with the forecast, they have a forecast discussion, which defines a lot of the terms they use. It provides justification as to why they forecasted conditions and has links to define terms they use.

Sometimes the discussions can be a little heavy and hard to understand, but they can be pretty interesting as well, especially during extreme weather. To see a forecast discussion, first go to: http://www.noaa.gov/ and find the seven-day forecast for your area by entering your city and state in the search bar. Once you have the seven-day forecast open, go to the bottom of the page under Additional Forecasts and Information and click on Forecast Discussion.

This is a great way to learn about what forecasters look for in order to determine their forecasts. It often has links in the discussion to define meteorological terms. An example is when they say "partly cloudy" -- the link describes this as when between 3/8 and 5/8 of the sky is covered by clouds.

In undergraduate studies, meteorology students learn a lot about how to forecast the weather. Many of the things that pop up in this site are things we have to learn about.

For those of you who want to know more about weather, there are other fun television channels including the Weather Channel, National Geographic, the Science Channel and Discovery. Many of you are probably already familiar with these channels. The Weather Channel is the only one strictly devoted to weather. They often have interesting shows on weather along with their frequent forecasts.

Wind Research
Mar. 7, 2011

It is spring break here, which for me means relaxing and visiting family and friends.

During most spring breaks when I was an undergraduate, I went back home to see my family. This year, I'll be splitting time between going home and being in town. I'm working on my graduate school research, which is really exciting and fun!

Over the break, I'll have a lot of free time to work on my research for my thesis. For those of you who are interested in research, I'll tell you a bit about my project. I'm working with extratropical cyclones, which are low-pressure systems that can cause extreme weather. I'm working on storms that hit Europe, often creating wind storms.

My final research will be on the climate change effects on the storm tracks of these storms. This is my first semester, so I'm doing smaller scale projects to work up to the full project. For one of my classes, I'm looking at damaging winds in these storms based on a damage index. I'm looking at possible ways to better predict and understand these damaging winds.

There are lots of opportunities to work on undergraduate research as well, if you think research might be interesting to you. A good way to find out if you would like doing research is to try it. My first couple years of college, I didn't think I would want to do research, but then I tried it and I loved it! Professors often help students get involved in these kinds of opportunities early on if you ask about them. It's a great way to gain experience, build your resume and explore your interests.