Friday, April 23, 2010

Why do I do what I do?

To kick off the VORTEX 2 season, I thought I'd start with some stories about why I'm interested in weather, and tornadoes in particular. I am Tanya Brown, a PhD candidate in Wind Science and Engineering at Texas Tech, and I just successfully defended my dissertation yesterday (so after 10 years in college, I will finally hang em up in August)! I have a B.S. in Atmospheric Science and a M.S. in Water Resources Science both from the University of Kansas. But my interest in weather began far before my first year of college.

When I was a young child, I lived in Kansas and Oklahoma until I was 9 years old. Living there, you either grow up terrified or fascinated by severe weather. I was on the fascinated side. I can remember many times being woken up in the middle of the night by my mom, and driving to a nearby church, friend's house, or Grandma's, where we could find safety in the basement. But I don't ever remember being really scared. I thought storms were beautiful and powerful.

My interest really kicked into gear when I was about 10 or 11. My dad called one evening in May to tell my sister and I that his house in northern Oklahoma had been destroyed by a tornado, and that he had escaped by driving the 2 mile drive to my grandma's to seek shelter in her storm cellar shortly before the storm hit. These were the kinds of things that happened to other people, not my family. At the time, we were living in Hawaii, as my stepdad had recently been assigned to an Army post there. So this didn't even affect my daily life, yet it is the moment that I consider to have permanently set me on my course, even though I didn't know it at the time.

It was in Hawaii that I got my first taste of another kind of threatening weather....hurricanes. We lived on the island when Hurricane Iniki made landfall in 1992. As fate would have it, we left Hawaii in 1995 to move to North Carolina, which was pounded by hurricanes multiple times in the late 90's. Again, I never remember there being a fear, but more a respect and fascination.

It was in high school that I really decided my career course. A lot of my friends knew they wanted to be doctors or lawyers or teachers or join the military. I wasn't so sure, but it was a high school boyfriend that suggested looking into studying meteorology. And that was it.....I never for a second considered doing anything else. I spent four years at KU learning about and teaching students about the weather. When my four years were up, I knew I wasn't done learning, and I definitely wasn't ready to stop teaching lab classes, so I applied for and was admitted to the Water Resources graduate program through the School of Engineering. The majority of my studies focused on flooding hazards, but I got a real taste of some of the true civil engineering courses. And I realized that it was possible to not only study weather, but to study how to keep people safer from destructive storms.

This realization brought me to Texas Tech in 2006. I was admitted to the PhD program, and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to study wind damage. I wanted to understand not only the events, but how they damaged structures, so that one day we could make them even safer, and so people like my dad wouldn't lose their homes, and would have more time to get to safety. I've spent the past 4 years working towards this goal. I've completed several ground damage surveys, and have used aerial and satellite photos to assess windstorm damage as well. This year marks the 4th year that I've participated in Tech's severe storm field research programs. And it all feeds back to the idea of making people safer from severe weather, by giving better forecasts and warnings and building better structures.

I believe in fate. And for me, it all started with a tornado in Burbank, OK in the early 90's......

1 comment:

  1. Great story Tanya! It's be such a pleasure to watch you go through your studies over the last several years. You are such an inspiration to women in the sciences! Hope you guys have a successful 2010 storm season!