Daniel Chavas

Studying Hurricanes in their Infancy

By Stacy Kish on August 4, 2010

Fellow: Daniel Chavas
Hometown: Madison, WI
Undergrad: University of Wisconsin
Graduate school: MIT
Keywords: Department of Energy, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Office of Science, Graduate Fellow program, Hurricane, Computer Model

Growing up in Wisconsin, Daniel Chavas was deeply affected by the weather. “I think it all started when a tree fell on my house when I was young,” he begins. Chavas cultivated an early obsession with weather into a professional career. Today, he is a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellow.

Chavas explains, “I study hurricanes and try to understand how they form and what controls their size.” In the last few decades, a considerable amount of work has been completed on predicting and tracking these powerful storms. “At this stage, the storm is in its adolescent or mature phase,” continues Chavas. “I am interested in hurricanes when they are still babies.” Chavas is working to connect the complete life-cycle of a hurricane.

Chavas studies hurricanes using theoretical computer models. He uses data from reanalysis data sets that provides the best estimate of atmospheric conditions at the time of a storm. The data consists of temperature, moisture, and wind speed at different pressure levels in the atmosphere.  “There are very few observational data available for a storm” he said. Young hurricanes form in remote regions of the ocean where it is expensive to fly planes and gather data. “Planes are typically only flown in when a storm when it is reasonably well-developed and within aircraft range, which means that we have very little data from during their formative stages,” he said.

Using the computer models, Chavas can recreate atmospheric conditions ideal for hurricane production. “The models help us understand all of the variables that describe air at different levels and could ultimately lead to the formation of a hurricane,” he said.

Chavas concludes “This fellowship will allow me to meet other graduate fellows, especially working in atmospheric and climate studies.” Chavas’s graduate fellowship is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Stacy Kish is a Science Writer with the Office of Science