Emily Tinney's senior research project has good news for future Michigan severe storm chasers, not-so-good news for builders.
The Central Michigan University meteorology major from Haslett, Michigan, has determined through computer models that there could be a 35 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense storms in Michigan.
"Knowing this will help us to prepare by building our infrastructure better and taking steps to protect our agriculture from more damaging storms," said Tinney, who compared storm data from 1990-2005 to 2085-2100.
"No one has looked at how the change in weather patterns will impact Michigan in the future from a life-and-property standpoint."
She presented her findings Tuesday, April 24, at the state Capitol during CMU's 17th annual Capitol Scholars event, which showcases CMU's student research projects to the public and recognizes how they advance the understanding of science and technology.
Eyes on the storm
Tinney's interest in weather began in childhood.
"A lot of meteorologists will tell you of a defining moment that got them interested in the weather," she said.
Her moment came while visiting her uncle, who repaired cars and had a number of them on his Eaton County property. A tornado had come through the area in the 1970s and threw cars everywhere.
"As a kid, I would walk through the woods and see trees growing through the cars. It was the coolest thing. It was amazing to me that weather could make that happen."
After that, whenever young Tinney heard tornado sirens, she would try to dash outside to see the approaching storm, she said.
Destined for CMU?
Her interest in weather gathered strength through her high school years and became the focus of her college searches. Her grandfather had his own choice in mind.
"My now-deceased grandpa always wanted to have a CMU granddaughter or grandson," she said. "He never went to CMU, he had no ties to CMU, but he just wanted someone to be a Chippewa. And we still don't know why."
Tinney was impressed that CMU's undergraduate meteorology program is the only one in Michigan that meets all the requirements set by the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Service. But she wanted to look around.
“As a CMU student, you don’t feel like you’re so tiny in a big place, but it’s large enough that you have many opportunities to learn.” — Emily Tinney, CMU senior
She considered nearby Michigan State University, in addition to other large universities around the state and country, but their size just didn't feel right to her.
After Tinney's two visits to campus and winning a full-ride Centralis scholarship, her grandfather got his wish.
Benefits of 'small'
"As a CMU student, you don't feel like you're so tiny in a big place, but it's large enough that you have many opportunities to learn. It's big enough that you can meet lots of different people, but having the small Honors Program inside the larger university is great.
"Plus, the small size of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences allows you to make really good one-on-one connections with the professors and be involved in their research projects. They are always available, and that has been a huge help."
Her faculty adviser, John Allen, agrees the student-faculty relationship is an advantage.
"There's a real personal aspect here," he said. "The professors are approachable and know the students. I know what all my students' problems are, and they know that if something happens I can help them. It's a more tailored experience."
Plus, undergraduates have opportunities to get involved in research, he emphasized.
"At the larger universities, you are one of 160 students. Here, you are one of 30 or so students."
But the program is growing. The introductory class has risen from 20 students to the mid-30s in just a few years, he said.
“All the other programs in the country are getting smaller. We are getting bigger," Allen said. "Which says that we are doing something right.”
While Tinney will attend graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, considered one of the top meteorology schools in the country, she is confident that the close friendships she has made here will be strong long into the future.
"We always say that we are a big meteorology family."