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The cyclones she experienced as a child led her to work in hurricane risk

To clarify up front: hurricanes and typhoons are both types of tropical cyclones; typhoons are the term used to describe cyclones in much of the Pacific, while hurricanes are the term used to describe cyclones that affect the North Atlantic, including the East Coast of the United States. All these types of storms interest Chia Ying-Lee, an associate research professor at the university. Colombia Climate Schoolof Lamont-Doherty Earth ObservatoryHe first became curious about typhoons while growing up in Taiwan.

“I think, in general, everyone in Taiwan is interested in storms and cyclones because it’s a very common thing every summer,” Li said in a recent interview.

In college, Lee took a course in atmospheric dynamics, which sparked her interest in storm science. She has been studying extreme weather events ever since.In August this year, Li Co-authored a paper This reveals a counterintuitive finding about Pacific sea surface temperature patterns: While climate models predict that water in the equatorial Pacific will warm on average due to climate change, the opposite appears to be true. Water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific are cooler than average. colombia news sat down with Lee to discuss the paper’s findings and what they mean for weather patterns around the world and in New York City.

Can you describe the findings of this new paper?
Every few years, the Pacific Ocean experiences the El Niño Southern Oscillation, also known as El Niño or ENSO, which is a rise in sea surface temperatures near the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The tropical Pacific becomes warmer than usual. In other years, we experience La Niña conditions, where temperatures are cooler than normal in the area. Temperatures in the region influence not only weather in the Pacific, but also around the world.

As increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause the climate to warm, global climate models suggest that, on average, the tropical Pacific is moving in an El Niño-like direction, with overall temperatures warming more frequently. But our observations say the opposite: We see the Pacific Ocean cooling. It looks like a La Niña pattern, which suggests the model is wrong. Temperatures in the Pacific have global effects, and there also tends to be more hurricane activity in the Atlantic during La Niña years. So what we found is that if models underestimate the cooling activity of La Niña, they may actually underestimate the amount of hurricane activity we will face in the future.

We are in New York, quite far from the area you are looking at. Why are the findings of this article important here?
El Niño affects weather around the world. One of our key findings is that as the Pacific cools, we predict that East Coast hurricanes may be more intense than our current models predict – I know it’s always surprising to see the effect of temperature in one part of the Pacific over the Atlantic . There are other effects; many weather patterns are affected by El Niño. North America may see other weather changes, such as droughts or changes in the number of tornadoes.

How does this paper fit into your overall research?
I am interested in the timing, duration, and intensity of cyclones in the next season and in the distant future, and how they relate to climate change. Since arriving in Colombia, I have been working on tropical cyclone risk assessments to estimate the chances of a cyclone making landfall with a certain intensity. The tool I developed with my colleagues is called the Statistical Dynamic Downscaling Model. The model gathers information from global climate models and historical storms, then produces synthetic storms—models of how we expect future storms to develop. We then use this to estimate storm risk around the world. We have the private sector funding this work because the insurance and reinsurance industry is very interested in hurricane risk modeling. Obviously, we are very interested in the accuracy of existing global climate models because if these models are wrong, then our risk predictions will be wrong too.

You mentioned that your childhood in Taiwan got you interested in storms. Have you noticed that anyone you know in your hometown is noticing that the climate is changing (storm frequency or intensity)?
Several cyclones affect Taiwan every year. Because this situation is so common, at least in my hometown of Taipei, the adaptability is pretty good. Debris flows occur frequently, especially in inland areas. But the infrastructure I’m in is ready for them. I do remember a tornado flooding the subway, but then they built a preventive door to stop it from happening again.

What do you hope your research will accomplish?
This changes over time. In the past, I wanted to learn more about hurricane dynamics to improve the science of hurricane physics. Now I still hope so, but I also hope these models get better so that we can translate scientific knowledge into something that stakeholders can use to improve our resilience in the face of hurricanes.

This story originally appeared in Colombia News.

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