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Why are storms getting worse?

Prestigious grant will fund faculty member’s climate change-related research

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​The world's climate is getting warmer. Severe storms are causing billions of dollars in damage across the globe each year.

To help improve our understanding of the link between a globally warming climate and the increase in the number and severity of storms, Central Michigan University faculty member John Allen, in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has received a grant of nearly $660,000 from the National Science Foundation to study severe convective storms, or thunderstorms.

The research goal is to improve our understanding of the link between a globally warming climate and the increase in the number and severity of storms.

"We can't stop the problem, but if we have better education and forecasting, we can better prepare people and mitigate the amount of damage," said Allen.

Allen is CMU's third recipient of a CAREER Grant — the NSF's flagship grant to support the development of early-career, pre-tenure faculty as teachers and scholars.

The grant will support two doctoral students and five undergraduate summer experiences at CMU's College of Science and Engineering and lead to the development of educational resources pioneered at Central and several other universities around the country.


A thunderstorm makes its way across Oklahoma farmland.

Global goals

The research has three objectives:

  • Explore the processes that drive the production of severe storms and why the United States has a greater number and more hazardous severe storms than other countries.
  • Gather and analyze global data to get the most up-to-date picture of the problem worldwide.
  • Make the new data and analyses available to communities worldwide, and develop and share educational materials.

"The problem is there is a lack of educational material to talk about this problem, so we don't have a good way of communicating how these events are going to transpire, what the underlying frequency is," Allen said.

As part of the educational goals, he will work with the National Center for Atmospheric Research to develop a module that will allow students to explore and visualize data to see what would happen in the current climate and a warming climate.

Student researchers at all levels

At CMU, students from undergraduates to doctoral will have opportunities to take part in the research.

"It's not often that undergraduates get the opportunity to do research on funded projects," Allen said. "This gives them that opportunity to develop their skills, explore new ideas and see whether research is for them."

The students will be able to learn to code and analyze data with the latest tools available, he said.

One of the projects will be to look at storms that have occurred in different parts of the world and postulate why there are differences.

"Students will get to take ownership of their project and see how it fits into a larger advance of our science," he said.

Allen also will work with several universities across the U.S. and to develop materials for K-12 science teachers, he said.

"The idea is to get this program out to every undergraduate meteorological program in the country as a resource for educators, and get information about severe thunderstorms into the community," he said. "The material that currently is available is at least 10 years old or more."

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