Faculty Spotlight: Allison Wing, Assistant Professor of Meteorology

| Fri, 05/31/19
Allison Wing is an assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, part of Florida State University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in White Plains, New York, a suburb of New York City. In high school I decided that I wanted to study atmospheric science and from that point never really looked back. I majored in atmospheric science at Cornell University. After a summer research internship at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory convinced me that I enjoyed both scientific research and studying hurricanes in particular, I went to graduate school at MIT. After a few years as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, I joined FSU as an assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science.

When did you first become interested in topics such as tropical cyclones and climate?

Many meteorologists have an “origin” story, some sort of personal experience with an extreme weather event that sparked their interest in the field. For me, I had an encounter with Hurricane Bob when I was 5 years old while on vacation in Cape Cod with my family; later, I dutifully watched The Weather Channel every day in middle school. In high school, I loved physics, but when deciding what to study in college, I realized I was drawn to something with more immediate applications — and so I decided to combine my early interest in hurricanes with my love of physics and study atmospheric science.

What are your current research interests, and what makes you passionate about them?

My research interests revolve around tropical cyclones [known as hurricanes here in the United States] and other cloud systems in the tropics. I study how clouds clump together into clusters, what impact this clustering has on the larger-scale climate, and how this process might affect and respond to climate change. I also study how tropical cyclones form and how they are affected by climate change. I find tropical cyclones to be fascinating from a scientific perspective — they are nature’s version of the most efficient type of heat engine — but I’m also motivated by how important they are to people and society.

What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?

My research focuses on some of the biggest unanswered questions in atmospheric and climate science. The response of clouds to warming is the biggest uncertainty in projections of future climate change, and my research on the role of cloud clusters in climate hopes to narrow down that uncertainty.

With regard to tropical cyclones, we have again been reminded by recent storms like Irma, Maria and Michael that they have the potential to cause a great deal of devastation and destruction. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we understand them as well as possible. This enables us to make better predictions to help people and societies prepare — both in terms of forecasting for individual storms and thinking about long-term projections in a future climate.

A lot of my research is focused on how tropical cyclones form, because one of the big unanswered questions is what controls the number of tropical cyclones around the world in a given climate. It is about 90 per year, but we don’t know why it isn’t instead nine, or 900.

Who are your role models? Who has influenced you most in your life?

My Ph.D. adviser, professor Kerry Emanuel, is a scientific role model, both because of the contributions he has made to our collective scientific knowledge and because of how respected he is by his peers across the field. I owe a lot to research professor Suzana Camargo and professor Adam Sobel, who set me on the path of doing tropical cyclone research when they introduced me to my first scientific research experience back when I was a summer undergraduate intern with them, eight years before I worked with them again as a postdoc. I also benefited from many outstanding science teachers in middle and high school — in fact, I still encounter my eighth-grade Earth science teacher at scientific conferences!

What brought you to Florida State University? Why do you enjoy working at FSU?

FSU has one of the oldest meteorology programs in the country and is well known for tropical meteorology, which is my area of expertise. I was excited to be offered a faculty position here — the program is a good fit for me! I have great colleagues in the EOAS department and am impressed by the breadth of expertise that we have. I enjoy teaching our passionate and engaged undergraduate students and working with my excellent graduate students.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I get to do many different things. I wanted to be a professor because I like doing research and teaching, and I wanted to work with students. Some days I have the satisfaction of a new research result, some days I get to travel to share my science with others, while other days I get to see a student’s eyes light up when they understand something for the first time. It is also very rewarding to see your students be successful.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The same as my favorite part — that there are so many different things to do! There are many demands on my time, and I always wish I had more time to spend on each aspect of my job.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I spend my free time with family and friends, and try to get outside as much as possible. My absolute favorite thing to do is to go to the beach.

If your students only learned one thing from you (of course, hopefully they learn much more than that), what would you hope it to be?

I teach Atmospheric Dynamics, which is an undergraduate class that covers the derivation and interpretation of the equations that determine how weather systems form and move. I hope my students gain an appreciation for why they are required to take so many math courses first and are able to see how the long, tedious equations relate to the weather phenomena that sparked their interest in the subject.