William H. Greenberg Fellowship Awards

Arielle Catalano

Former Greenberg Fellow
Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science

Dissertation Research: Storm surge-producing extratropical cyclones in the northeastern United States in observations and models

Arielle Catalano received a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science in the Department of Environmental Sciences.  Her research uses observations and a multi-century record from a high-resolution global climate model (GFDL FLOR) to examine extreme extratropical cyclones in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, which are storms that thrive on temperature contrasts and are more common during the cold season.  Extratropical cyclones are capable of producing major inundation events over this region due to the strong winds they produce, which threatens the well-being of coastal residents.  In addition, the increase in global temperatures that accompany the changing climate may influence the climatology of coastal storms due to changes in atmospheric moisture content and the meridional temperature gradient.  Therefore, understanding the historical climatology of extratropical cyclones is an important step toward evaluating future risks associated with these surge-producing events, particularly as sea levels rise.

Arielle’s work uses a clustering algorithm to determine similar synoptic characteristics among the most extreme surge-producing extratropical cyclones in the northeastern United States.  Her research then applies a tracking algorithm to identify all extratropical cyclones in the model, and analyze storm-track distribution and properties to determine storm climatology. As quantifying the risks associated with the most extreme storms is difficult owing to sparse observational records, Arielle also uses a long record from the GFDL FLOR global climate model to better sample the tail of the distribution of high-impact cyclones including severe winds. Climate models are mathematical representations of the climate system, and are used to improve our understanding and predictability of climate behavior by providing a homogeneous dataset that includes atmospheric components such as temperature, pressure, and wind.  Results from a comparison of measures of cyclone intensity (i.e., maximum near-surface wind speeds) with observations indicate that FLOR realistically simulates extreme extratropical cyclones, while also producing storms that have not been observed but are physically possible. Overall, this research characterizes the synoptic-scale features and circulation patterns associated with the largest storm surge events at these locations, and provides the foundation for a more accurate assessment of surge-producing extratropical cyclones as models improve.

Arielle has always been interested in natural disasters, particularly the effects of climate change on cyclones following the anomalous and devastating 2005 hurricane season.  Her scientific research career began in high school, and developed into a desire to educate others about climate change and the importance of research. Arielle notes, “The William H. Greenberg Fellowship supported my educational and research efforts, and it was an honor to receive this funding.  I am grateful for all that this fellowship provided, which included the freedom to expand my volunteering efforts while delving into the heart of my research.  The Greenberg Fellowship perfectly encompasses what is important to me as a scientist: understanding climate change impacts and improving public awareness of these consequences.” This Ph.D. work culminated in two publications:

Catalano, A. J., A. J. Broccoli, S. B. Kapnick, and T. P. Janoski, 2019: High-Impact Extratropical Cyclones along the Northeast Coast of the United States in a Long Coupled Climate Model Simulation. J. Climate, 32, 2131–2143, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0376.1.

 Catalano, A. J., and A. J. Broccoli, 2018: Synoptic Characteristics of Surge-Producing Extratropical Cyclones along the Northeast Coast of the United States. J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol. 57, 171–184, https://doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-17-0123.1.


greenberg photo