Alexandra Caruthers

2014 Research Experience for Undergrads

Washington Windstorms: Seasonality and Relationship to ENSO

AlexThrough the JISAO summer internship program, I had the opportunity to spend nine weeks in the beautiful city of Seattle.  Born and raised in the Midwest, I was excited to experience life on the west coast for a summer. From the moment my plane touched down at SeaTac and I was given the first view of Mt. Rainier, I was captivated. Having taken a few geography classes at my university - Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana- I knew enough about Mt. Rainier to fully appreciate its beauty. My summer in Seattle was off to a great start. 

I spent my time at JISAO working with Nick Bond and Karin Bumbaco of the Office of the Washington State Climatologist. The focus of my research was Washington windstorms and their relationship to ENSO. Conventional wisdom suggested that strong and powerful windstorms that affect the state of Washington are more prominent in the neutral phase of ENSO. My task was to investigate this claim. 

The state of Washington was categorized into three regions based on geography:  the coast region, Puget Sound area, and everything east of the Cascade Mountains. I used hourly wind observations from 12 ASOS stations across the state, dating from 1948 (or the earliest date of available data) to 2013. If the station had an ideal perfect record, that equated to nearly 600,000 hourly observations!  Thus, a majority of my time this summer was spent simply sorting through the data. 

Primarily, I investigated all available data from 1948-2013. I focused on the monthly and yearly seasonality of the wind observations for each station, as well as the distribution of wind speed and wind direction. To make the large dataset more manageable, further analysis was done using only the top 0.1% of all hourly wind observations for each of the 12 stations. Using the smaller datasets, I analyzed the seasonality of just the strong wind observations, compared the wind observations to the ENSO3.4 Index, qualitatively defined “strong wind events”, and quantitatively calculated a measure to compare the accumulated energy of each event within the top threshold. In the end, I produced results that went against the original belief and indicated that at a few of the 12 stations, strong wind storms may be more likely in the La Niña phase! 

My summer in Seattle was not all work. While at JISAO I went on a research cruise around Puget Sound, was a student help at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Climatologist in the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge, took a trip to Mt. Rainier, and spent countless hours downtown exploring the city! The internship at JISAO was such an awesome experience! A huge thank you to my mentors, Jed Thompson, my fellow interns, and JISAO for making possible.

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Alex's research poster

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