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Legacy of CSU hurricane researcher to be upheld by colleagues

The hurricane research at CSU that has predicted a near average hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin for 2016 is able to do this by focusing on the prediction of Atlantic hurricanes on a seasonal timescale. This work was pioneered by William Gray, professor emeritus of atmospheric science at CSU, in 1984. Gray died April 14 of this year.

“Our group tries to predict prior to the Atlantic hurricane season how active it is likely to be,” research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science Phillip Koltzbach wrote in an email to the Collegian. “We use a variety of atmosphere and ocean conditions such as El Nino and Atlantic basin water temperatures to make these forecasts. These predictions are based off of historical relationships between how weather conditions around the globe impact Atlantic hurricane activity.”

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Until his death, Koltzbach said he would speak with Gray for close to one hour every day. 

“I intend to continue the seasonal forecasts for as long as I can,” Koltzbach wrote. “I hope to uphold Dr. Gray’s legacy of studying global tropical cyclone activity. I’ll also continue to research other modes of tropical variability.”

Carl Schreck, research scholar at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in North Carolina, has also worked with Gray and Koltzbach and sees great possibility with carrying on Gray’s research for the future.

“Dr. Gray pioneered a lot of the statistical and intuitive methods for forecasting,” Schreck wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Today, our computer models are getting better and better to the point where they can start to compete with Dr. Gray’s methods. Going forward, I see a lot more hybrid approaches that leverage human knowledge about climate signals with the computer’s ability to forecast them.”

According to Schreck, one way that they are addressing differences in hurricane data around the globe is through CycloneCenter, where they invite citizen scientists to help them classify satellite images of hurricanes from around the globe.

“We’ve had over 550,000 classifications from more than 11,000 volunteers,” Schreck wrote. “These classifications are providing us with a consistent record of tropical cyclone strength and structure to help us continue Dr. Gray’s work on hurricane climatology.”

Koltzbach also plans on carrying on Gray’s hurricane research for the future.

“The primary focus of my research is on hurricane variability from the sub-seasonal (e.g., 1-2-week) to seasonal and even multi-decadal (e.g., 25-40-year) timeframe,” Koltzbach wrote. “I’m currently working with collaborators at various institutions around the country as well as around the world on these topics.  Some of my current projects include an update to Dr. Gray’s classic papers of the late 1960s through mid-1970s on global tropical cyclone variability. I’m also building a real-time global tropical cyclone monitoring website which will allow users to keep track of activity in real time and allow for comparisons with activity in prior years.”

Collegian Reporter Ashley Haberman can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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