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Rebecca Barnard

2016-08-25 10:23

Meet Cloudy’s resident meteorologist, Prof. David Schultz.

My name is David Schultz, and I am Professor of Synoptic Meteorology at the University of Manchester. I was born in Pennsylvania, but the winds of education and career have blown me all across the United States from Boston to Seattle, to upstate New York, to the plains of Oklahoma, before moving to Europe.

I like to say that I don't make the forecasts, but I make them better. My primary research interests are on low-pressure systems, fronts, and convective storms. I worked at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma where bands of instrumented vehicles roam the plains to collect data on tornadoes (although I did not chase any tornadoes myself). I was honored to be selected to be one of the National Weather Service forecasters for the Winter Olympic Games in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

In 2006, I moved to Helsinki to help get academic research on weather systems into forecasting practice for the Finnish Meteorological Institute (the equivalent of the Met Office in Finland) and the University of Helsinki. Although Finland is certainly not as stricken by severe weather as in Oklahoma, I worked with students who were passionate about convective storms, and we were able to map for the first time the locations of tornadoes, lightning, and large hail across Finland. I also wrote a book about helping scientists become better communicators: Eloquent Science: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker, and Atmospheric Scientist.

In 2009, I moved with my wife to York, and eventually found a job at the University of Manchester. Since coming to Manchester, I've won five teaching awards, and have developed an online course on Earth's climate that is free for anyone to take. We built the first freely available weather and air-quality forecasting web site: ManUniCast.com. My research group and I have investigated how low-pressure systems evolve to form occluded fronts, where tornadoes occur most frequently in the United Kingdom and how they form, how the Met Office weather radars detect precipitation, what causes the strong winds in low-pressure systems (such as with the Great Storm of October 1987), and what the weather and climate was like in the Jurassic. However, of all the research projects that I have been involved in, Cloudy with a Chance of Pain is one of the most special to me.

Because Cloudy (as we often abbreviate it amongst our team) brings together experts from different disciplines, one of the exciting aspects of the project for me is to see how different researchers perform their research. Health researchers have different challenges than meteorologists do when conducting research. For example, when conducting research on humans, even just collecting the data requires passing rigorous tests on how the data will be collected, used, and stored to ensure the privacy of individuals. I've never been asked to safeguard the privacy of a thunderstorm before!

Also, I bring the knowledge of how weather data is collected to this project, which is essential because previously published studies on the relationship between weather and pain have generally not had meteorologist involved, so their use of weather data is less than ideal. For example, in Cloudy, we relate the daily weather conditions to participant's self-reported pain symptoms and their individual level of activity. But, in other studies in the past, average weather conditions have been used, with much less specificity to the particular conditions that the individual is experiencing. We believe that our approach will provide the required level needed to answer our principal research question. Also, how we measure the weather may make a difference to our results. For example, although there are different ways to measure the amount of moisture in the air (whether it be the dewpoint temperature or the relative humidity), we believe that the dewpoint temperature is the most relevant for human comfort. In contrast, most previous studies have used the relative humidity.

Another motivation for me is that both of my parents have arthritis, and I will likely be susceptible to arthritis as I age. My parents have told me that the weather affects their pain, so a better understanding of the effect that pain has on my family and myself is personal.

If Cloudy can yield some insights into the types of people who are sensitive to the weather and what kinds of weather cause pain in these individuals, then, in the not-so-distant future, we can make forecasts for pain. Such forecasts would allow susceptible individuals to plan their activities to avoid strenuous activity on days with forecasted pain. We hope that these forecasts help sufferers better manage their lives. Furthermore, if we discover which particular weather parameter is most strongly correlated with pain (whether it be humidity or pressure changes or temperature changes), then we might be able to design ways to treat or minimize the pain.

David has a new course 'Our Earth: Its Climate, History, and Processes' launching this week on Coursera, a website for free, online courses - Click here to find out more.