University of Alabama part of tornado research project

University of Alabama part of tornado research project
Meteorologist Jake Reed, left, and social scientist Dr. Laura Myers are leading a project to understand how people respond to and prepare for severe weather events. (University of Alabama)

Students at the University of Alabama will observe nearby volunteer households to record how people react to severe weather events.

The students will be trained as part of tornado research across the Southeast that is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. The goal of the broader study, called Vortex SE 2019, is to gain an in-depth understanding of what vulnerabilities communities face when taking action during severe weather events.

“There’s never been research on what actually happens in a home when they first become aware of pending weather,” said Dr. Laura Myers, director and senior research scientist of UA’s Center for Advanced Public Safety, who is leading the project at the university. “We want to observe how they get their weather alerts, what they do when they get it, do they have a plan, when do they enact their plan, when do they think they are safe and so on.”

CAPS will hire and train UA students to conduct interviews and conduct observations of Tuscaloosa volunteer households before, during and after severe weather events during the fall and spring severe weather season.

The researchers will contact participants as forecasts of severe weather become available. For example, if a 10-day outlook highlights possible severe weather, researchers will communicate with participants to see if they are aware, Myers said. Communication will continue as forecasts evolve. The day of the event, researchers will embed with the household to observe the hours leading to the event.

“We hypothesize that people prepare more than we might think,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to watch it actually evolve in a real event.”

Tuscaloosa residents sit in a tornado-ravaged neighborhood. Students from the University of Alabama are participating in a research project to determine how people across the Southeast react to the potential for severe weather. (file)

The study wants to capture differences in risk perception among people forecast to encounter severe weather and capture when weather alerts spur people to prepare, if at all, Myers said.

The study will control each household for factors such as knowledge of how to prepare for severe weather, past experience with severe weather and the tools used to receive weather alerts.

The information will be reported to NOAA and Vortex-SE programs to share the data with weather professionals to improve distribution and communication of tornado warnings as well as publication of findings in academic journals and books.

A series of public outreach events will take place throughout Tuscaloosa County to foster greater knowledge of weather safety and preparedness actions during the beginning of the research project.

“We want to provide outreach to everyone involved about how they can be better prepared no matter what their circumstances are,” Myers said.

Student researchers will be managed by a meteorologist with CAPS, who will advise researchers of dangers so all will be out of danger before impacts. No student researcher will embed with a family overnight.

To apply for a research position in the project, students may contact Jake Reed at [email protected] A meteorologist and social scientist at CAPS, Reed is managing the project. Available research positions will be posted on the UA student jobs website at

Church groups and households interested in participating in outreach events and this research project can contact Myers at [email protected]

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

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