Josh Aikins

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

Lumpy Ridge - The Needles

I recently completed my PhD graduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder) in the Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences (ATOC), where I received a PhD in Atmospheric Science. I received funding for my first year of graduate school through the AMS Graduate Fellowship Program. I received subsequent funding through a Research Assistantship (RA) with Professor Katja Friedrich in ATOC and through the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). When I am not working on research I enjoy hiking, skiing, weather forecasting, and traveling. I consider myself a radar meteorologist and feel I have merged my passions in life with my career. Below I have provided a brief overview of the numerous field projects that I have worked on in pursuing my PhD as well as some volunteer field work dedicated to collecting exciting scientific datasets.

ASCII 2012
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 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 was identifying small-scale dynamical mechanisms and their impact on cloud microphysics in winter orographic precipitation systems. My first peer-reviewed journal article on this ASCII research was published in Monthly Weather Review (Aikins et al. 2016).

CalWater2 (2014/15)
In August 2014, I 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). Part of my work with NOAA focused on analyzing Doppler radar data from a tail-mounted radar aboard the NOAA G-IV aircraft collected 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 US West Coast and how they impact precipitation in California and other states along the US Pacific Coast. My airborne radar analysis has being incorporated into two co-authored research papers published in Monthly Weather Review (Neiman et al. 2016; Neiman et al. 2017). The G-IV tail Doppler radar analysis is the first of its kind and provides a rare view of precipitation processes within a poorly observed part of the world.

IPHEx 2014
Starting July 2015, I started working on analyzing radar and precipitation data from the Integrated Precipitation & Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) that took place in the southern Appalachian Mountains during May and June 2014. The NOAA X-POL (NOXP) mobile X-band dual-polarimetric radar and the NASA S-band dual-polarimetric (NPOL) radar were deployed during IPHEx along with numerous rain gauges, PARSIVEL disdrometers, and vertically-pointing Micro Rain Radars (MRRs). My research focused on understanding small-scale dynamical and microphysical mechanisms within the mountainous Pigeon River Basin region of western North Carolina. Specifically, I investigated the orographic impacts of the southern Appalachian Mountains on a mesoscale convective system (MCS) passing through the IPHEx region. Few research studies have focused on documenting in high-resolution the modification of MCSs by terrain, especially observationally. This research is currently being worked into my second journal article.

From January into March 2017 I assisted CSWR and CU Boulder with the Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: The Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE 2017) field project in the mountains of western Idaho. The goals of the SNOWIE project are to 1) understand the natural dynamical and microphysical processes by which precipitation forms and evolves within orographic winter storms and 2) 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 CU Boulder instruments that were deployed in the mountains north of Boise, ID as well as operate the Doppler On Wheels (DOW) radars that were positioned on the top of Packer John Mountain (7,000 ft elevation) and Granite Peak (8,000 ft elevation). We had to snowmobile to and from the DOW locations during the project and stayed on the mountain in campers between intensive observational periods (IOPs). I even got to do a live TV interview with The Weather Channel! Additionally, some of my GoPro footage during deployment was used in a CNN video. Data collected during this project have documented the best evidence of enhanced snowfall through airborne cloud seeding, something that has rarely been observed. Since the field phase of the SNOWIE project, I have assisted the CU Boulder team with a fuzzy logic de-cluttering algorithm for the DOW radar data. Preliminary analysis from SNOWIE has been incorporated into two research journal articles, including an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (French et al. 2018) and a co-authored Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society article recently submitted (Tessendorf et al. 2018). These and future papers are ground-breaking for glaciogenic cloud seeding research.

Volunteer Work
As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to volunteer my time to chase tornadoes, hurricanes, nocturnal thunderstorms, and eclipses with the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR). All of these volunteer experiences (listed below) have increased my understanding of the atmospheric science field, working with instruments, how to manage teams of people (especially in times of fast-paced and dangerous environments), and the logistics behind scientific field projects. It has also allowed me to see parts of the world I otherwise may have never been able to.

ISAAC 2012: My wife and I chased Hurricane Isaac in 2012 with CSWR 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). It has also opened up my eyes to just how destructive hurricanes and tropical storms can be, as well as how it impacts the local populations.

ROTATE 2013: I also assisted CSWR in two 5-day tornado chase deployments in May 2013, which included the Moore, OK tornado (20 May 2013) and the El Reno, OK tornado (31 May 2013). 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).

PECAN 2015: I was able to assist CSWR for three weeks 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. We were stationed out of Hays, Kansas and would deploy scout vehicles and radars after dark anywhere between Nebraska and Oklahoma to document nocturnal thunderstorms. I was in charge of driving scout vehicles and deploying weather pods in front of developing thunderstorms and mesoscale convective systems.

ECLIPSE 2017: I deployed with CSWR to eastern Wyoming to document the boundary layer response to "The Great American Eclipse" on 21 August 2017. We took three DOW radars and three scout vehicles with 15 weather pods to measure wind, temperature, pressure, and boundary layer depth changes caused by the moon blocking out the sun's rays. We positioned ourselves so that we were within the path of totality. It was an event I will remember for the rest of my life, and I'm glad I could help collect some interesting meteorological data for science in the process.

Check out the Research tab to learn more about my research.