Josh Aikins

Graduate Student
University of Colorado at Boulder
Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences (ATOC)

Lumpy Ridge - The Needles

I am currently enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder) in the Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences (ATOC), where I am in my fifth year on the Atmospheric Science PhD track. I received funding for my first year of graduate school through the AMS Graduate Fellowship Program. I received subsequent funding by a Research Assistantship (RA) with Professor Katja Friedrich in ATOC, and am now funded through the CIRES Graduate Research Award (GRA). As part of my research at CU Boulder, I have analyzed observational data from a multitude of surface-based and airborne radar, remote sensing, and in-situ instruments designed to observe precipitation and other meteorological variables for the AgI Seeding Cloud Impact Investigation (ASCII) 2012 field project. This project has allowed me to work with top scientists from the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the University of Wyoming. The focus of my research with the ASCII 2012 project is understanding small-scale dynamic mechanisms and their impact on cloud microphysics in orographic winter precipitation systems. My first journal article on this ASCII research was recently published in Monthly Weather Review (an AMS journal).

Since August 2014, I have also started working with Rob Cifelli, David Kingsmill, and Paul Neiman in the Physical Sciences Division (PSD)
at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL) through the CIRES GRA. One part of my work with NOAA has focused on analyzing Doppler radar data from a tail-mounted radar aboard the NOAA G-IV aircraft during research flights over the Pacific Ocean in February 2014 and January 2015. The research flights are part of the CalWater2 experiment that aims to increase our understanding of Atmospheric Rivers off the Pacific West Coast and how they impact precipitation in California and other states along the Pacific Coast. My airborne radar analysis has being incorporated into a co-authored research paper published in Monthly Weather Review (March 2016), and a second analysis is being incorporated into a second co-authored research paper to be submitted in March 2017. The G-IV tail Doppler radar analysis is the first of its kind and provides a view of precipitation processes within an unobserved part of the world.

Since July 2015, I have also started working on analyzing radar and precipitation data from the Integrated Precipitation & Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) that took place in the Southern Appalachian mountains. This work will lead to my second research journal article on my way to my PhD. The NOAA X-POL (NOXP) mobile X-band radar and the NASA S-band dual-polarimetric (NPOL) radar were deployed during IPHEx and will be the focus of my analysis. My research will focus on understanding small-scale microphysical mechanisms within the poorly-observed Pigeon River Basin region and how precipitation evolves from top to bottom within the mountainous environment of the Great Smoky Mountains.

As a graduate student, I have also had the opportunity to volunteer my time to chase tornadoes and hurricanes with the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR). My wife and I chased Hurricane Isaac in 2012 and collected mobile mesonet data (wind, temperature, pressure) from a 14 ft tall levy as the eye of the storm sat over us for several hours. Luckily, the storm surge was 13 ft. However, we were left stranded for a day as the levy North of us broke and flooded homes and businesses. We had to evacuate the area by driving along the levy to a ferry that took us across the Mississippi River. Hurricane chases like this have lead to research on small-scale boundary layer structures within hurricanes (e.g., Kosiba and Wurman 2014). I also assisted in two 5-day tornado chase deployments in May 2013, which included the Moore, OK tornado and the El Reno, OK tornado. The El Reno tornado is famous for being the widest tornado ever observed and killing 3 well-known and respected researchers/storm chasers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_El_Reno_tornado). The data collected by the CSWR Doppler On Wheels (DOW) radars lead to an in-depth analysis published in BAMS on how the multi-vortex characteristics of the El Reno tornado lead to the storm chaser fatalities (Wurman et al. 2014). Additionally, I was able to assist CSWR during the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field project in May 2015 to collect radar and mesonet data on elevated convective nocturnal thunderstorms on the US Midwestern Plains.

From January - March 2017 I assisted with the SNOWIE (Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment) field project in Idaho. The SNOWIE field project's goal is to understand the natural dynamical and microphysical processes by which precipitation forms and evolves within orographic winter storms and to determine the physical processes by which cloud seeding with silver iodide (AgI), either from ground generators or aircraft, impacts the amount and spatial distribution of snow falling across a river basin. My role as a graduate student on the project was to maintain the University of Colorado instruments that were situated in the mountains north of Boise, ID as well as operate the Doppler On Wheels (DOW) radar that was positioned on the top of Packer John Mountain (7,000 ft elevation). We had to snowmobile to and from the DOW location during the project and stayed on the mountain in campers between intensive observational periods (IOPs). Data collected during this project may finally have documented enhancement of snowfall through airborne cloud seeding, something that has never directly been observed before.

My overall research interests include investigating intense precipitation events (particularly wintertime snowfall events) due to severe weather, alpine & mountain meteorology,
Arctic & Antarctic climate, and climate change effects on the frequency of high-precipitation events & severe weather. I hope to contribute more knowledge on these fascinating areas of research. Check out the Research tab to learn more about my research.