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New Book By USF Professor Looks At Florida Weather

Sep 26, 2017

Even with two months left in the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, it's already been one of the more active ones in recent years, at least here in Florida.

While such action may not be good for most of us, it’s exactly the reason that Jennifer Collins came to the Sunshine State. The London-born Collins is an associate professor in the University of South Florida School of Geosciences.

Her new book, Florida Weather and Climate: More Than Just Sunshine, was co-authored by Charles Paxton and Robert Rohli and published by University Press of Florida. 

Here are some highlights from this week's University Beat extended interview with Collins. You can also hear her speak about some of the records Hurricane Irma set in the clip at the bottom of this story.

Can we expect busier hurricane seasons or stronger hurricanes in the future? If so, why?
"People often try and attribute seasons and what's going on to a certain event. In the past, a lot of people tried to attribute it to El Nino, these days, people are asking if it's climate change. Attributing a single storm or even a single season to climate change is very difficult."

"However, there's been some good research out there - Kerry Emanuel, a respected colleague from MIT, posted in the Washington Post about natural disasters. Hurricanes, flooding, all that is 'natural,' but the 'disaster' is really because of the high coastal population that we have, the inadequate infrastructure. He's noted that the population who are exposed to hurricane hazards has actually tripled since the 1970's."

"There's no doubt that these storms are going to get worse - research shows that there doesn't seem to be a change in the global frequency of hurricanes, but there does appear to be a change in the intensity of them."

Jennifer Collins, Associate Professor in the USF School of Geosciences.
Credit USF College of Arts and Sciences

What did she learn about Florida weather in writing her new book?
"One of the interesting chapters to me is on beaches...we discuss meteotsunamis. They're like tsunami-type waves, and they occur because you have rapid changes in pressure that move quickly as you go over shallow continental shelves offshore."

"These waves are awfully small, but the first well-documented case in Florida occurred in 1992 around the Daytona Beach area, when a large wave just came out of the dark at night and swamped people's cars that were parked along the beach."

Collins has picked up grants for Hurricane Irma-related research and an effort to get more students interested in meteorology
"The National Science Foundation grant I got for Irma was to quickly go out and do field research, so a team of USF students were trained to conduct surveys and we interviewed people as they evacuated, as well as after the storm, those who didn't evacuate. We were really interested in the geophysical and social influences which affected people's decision to evacuate."

"The other exciting grant is the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduate Students. This will target sophomore students, those at universities and community colleges. As we bring them into USF during the summer for the next three years, they will learn all aspects of weather, climate and society, and the program has a significant research component: the students will conduct mentored research programs with faculty at USF."

How does a London native end up studying hurricanes in Florida?
"It was actually on my birthday in 1987 (Oct. 15-16) that the Great Storm came through England - it was sometimes referred to as a hurricane by the public, but it wasn't a hurricane, it didn't come from tropical origins, however, it did have hurricane force winds."

"It caused places in London to lose numerous trees - a place called 'Seven Oaks' in London because of the seven large oak trees, became known as 'One Oak.'"

"It affected me because my birthday plans got cancelled, good news was my dreaded German test got cancelled too because there was no school."

"But I got really interested in this storm and wanted to find out how it occurred and when I did my PhD, I got the opportunity to come to lots of conferences in the U.S. and got connected and interested in the weather over here."