USF Weather Center

University of South Florida
School of Geosciences
4202 E Fowler Ave, STOP NES107
Tampa, Florida 33620-5550

Office: NES 201
Fax: (813) 974-4808

Weather, Climate, and Society
Research Experience for Undergraduates

We have applied for the renewal of the REU program.  If successful we will host a live Q and A in the future but the earliest we would host is summer 2022. If interested in a water themed REU at USF, please contact Dr. Van Beynan at

REU participants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States.

This Weather, Climate, and Society (WCS) REU will be hosted by the University of South Florida (USF). We have an exciting interdisciplinary program that will focus on rising sophomores pairing each participant in a team with other WCS REU students, and with research mentors in the physical and social sciences. The teams will conduct research on one of a range of topics from the social and physical factors which affect hurricane evacuation decision-making, to assessing the social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities of coastal regions to sea level rise, and biological processes involved in climate change.

In addition to an intensive 9-week mentored research experience, the program provides experiential learning, professional development workshops, remote seminars that offer interaction with national and international scientists, trainings in social and physical research techniques and interdisciplinary perspectives on social and physical aspects, and impacts of severe weather and climate related disasters.

Students are paid a $500/week stipend along with free housing, food stipend, travel allowance to/from Tampa, FL, and a travel allowance to present their research at a national conference.

REU Products

Highlights from previous years:

Apply Here!       (Application Instructions)

Three projects:

1. Social Connections in Hurricane Preparedness Planning

The Gulf Coast of Florida has been hard hit by two strong storms in two years. Hurricane Irma in 2017 caused widespread destruction in the Florida Keys before impacting the Tampa Bay region. In 2018 Hurricane Michael caused catastrophic damage to property and resulted in the loss of lives as it made landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Some argue that climate warming contributes to the growing intensity and frequency of these storms. This project will begin with a Community Impact Assessment of the Tampa Bay area, exploring and documenting social and physical vulnerabilities that might hinder hurricane evacuation and increase disaster risk. Specifically, the project will engage local stakeholders through survey and focus groups to understand the role of social connections in preparedness planning particularly among the most vulnerable populations. Students will gain direct field experience in several research techniques including data collection and analysis. Outcomes from this project will include recommendations to emergency managers, disaster service organizations, and community leaders to incorporate the role of social connections into their comprehensive preparedness plans.

Mentors: Robin Ersing and Beverly Ward

2. Assessing risk perception and evacuation behavior: comparing the use of the Saffir Simpson Scale and an alternative hurricane severity scale

The Saffir-Simpson scale communicates about the severity of a hurricane. For decades, hurricanes have been ranked on this scale from Category 1 to 5, based on their maximum sustained wind speed. This scale, however, can give a false sense of security: Hurricane Florence (2018), for instance, made landfall as a Category 1, whilst its damage could be considered equivalent to a major storm. As a consequence, local authorities and broadcasting stations reported about Florence weakening as it approached landfall, though its true hazard (precipitation/storm surge) was still as high as before. This can result in people underestimating the storm’s true potential hazard, and thereby influencing their decision to take appropriate measures (such as evacuating). Since many people are unaware that the most severe threat during a storm is not wind, but water, and many people do not understand that the Saffir-Simpson Scale is simply a wind scale (not considering other hazards), their risk perception is skewed by the frequently-used Saffir-Simpson scale. Despite efforts made by meteorologists to inform the public of the true dangers present in hurricanes, such as Florence, the communications tend to be ineffective at conveying the information needed for an individual to conduct a proper risk evaluation. Due to this disparity between the Saffer Simpson scale and the damage caused by other factors such as storm surge, further investigation is needed. A scale has been designed and is being tested at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to include a more holistic representation of a storm's impact. This new classification should integrate the various ways in which hurricanes can cause major damage (e.g. wind, rain, storm surge) and be based on parameters that are available during the forecasting period in order to allow usage during the preparation phase before landfall.

Once the new scale is fully developed, a survey will be conducted and administered to record the effect the new classification affects risk perception, specifically evacuation behavior. This will be achieved by designing a theoretical hurricane similar to Hurricane Florence that will affect the surveyed area, and then assessing the individual’s risk perception and evacuation decision-making using only the Saffir Simpson scale as a baseline; this will then be followed up by the presentation of the storm as described by the newly designed classification system. Risk perception and evacuation behavior will be assessed again to see if there is a noticeable difference in perception depending on the scale matrix used. This could have far reaching impacts beyond better portrayal of storms: emergency management officials can better prepare people for what to expect when a hurricane impacts, individuals will be able to decide if they should evacuate or not on a more universal, accurate portrayal system, and more. REU students will be involved with this survey data.

Mentors: Jennifer Collins and Amy Polen

3. The Communicative Constitution of Weather

In our everyday communication, we are continuously assigning meaning to ambiguous events, people, and objects in the world. In this view, weather, both in its exceptional and everyday manifestations, is constituted in communication, that is, it is created and recreated in how we track, interpret, and speak about it across various modes of communication, be it NOAA announcements, news forecasts, Tweets, or emergency evacuation plans. Consider how, on September 1, 2019 President Trump issued a Tweet saying Alabama would be hit by hurricane Dorian. That same day, the National Weather Service in Birmingham issued a Tweet clarifying that Alabama would not be hit by hurricane Dorian, prompting a series of Tweets and responses from the President and an eventual statement from NOAA claiming Trump’s initial Tweet was correct. Many media outlets have called this a “politicization of the weather” and evidence that the Trump administration pressured NOAA to correct their earlier statement contradicting the President’s initial Tweet has led to an investigation by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The discourse surrounding the event culturally known as #Sharpiegate, so named because of a map of Dorian’s path with an added portion in black marker overlapping Alabama’s southeast corner shown by the President and shared via his Twitter account. For this project, students will become proficient in a close analysis of spoken, written, and mulimodal data, in order to contextualize #Sharpiegate and Hurricane Dorian in a broader argument about weather as a social and political accomplishment. As an outcome of the project, students will be able to develop recommendations for how we may act as more responsible communicators in light of increasingly common extreme weather events.

Mentors: Mariaelena Bartesaghi and Leanne Smithberger