UAlbany student from Puerto Rico making waves in hurricane research

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Nathalie Rivera-Torres says as devastating as Hurricane Maria was for Puerto Rico in 2017, the latest storm system destroying parts of her home region is just as hard for her now that she’s away from her loved ones while studying in New York.

“Knowing what is going on and seeing all the people begging for help, it was really difficult not being able to do anything,” she explains following Hurricane Fiona’s landfall in Puerto Rico.

“Some roads are still closed, which is a big issue because [my family] cannot go to get some supplies or water. But yes, given that we were still recovering from Hurricane Maria, being affected again, I don’t know how long it’s going to take for them to get the power back, because the system is pretty fragile,” Rivera-Torres goes on to say.

She’s on a mission to change the world though for her beloved Puerto Rican people and anyone devastated by hurricanes. Nathalie is a UAlbany graduate student and part of an atmospheric sciences research group studying hurricane formation patterns. She says even as a young girl, she’s always had an eye for tracking storms.

“My grandparents worked as farmers, and yes, so I grew up and my grandma taught me how to track the forecast of the tropical cyclones, and so my interest was all about being entirely exposed to tropical cyclones,” she explains.

The group just got a three year grant from the National Science Foundation to study a fairly rare phenomenon called “downshear reformation”.

“Some tropical cyclones, when they’re still fairly weak, will undergo a process where a new center forms in the thunderstorms slightly displaced from the original center,” UAlbany Associate Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences Kristen Corbosiero explains.

These systems can cause the most devastation, because they’re so much harder to track. The last major downshear reformation happened during Hurricane Michael in 2018. These scientists say the same phenomenon has now been confirmed in Hurricane Fiona, and the fresh data may mean the difference in their discoveries.

“To have it be happening in real time, for people to notice it’s happening in real time, we can really look at what’s going on in the environment and start to get a better picture of the predictors that might help us forecast this better,” Corbosiero explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

“That really has given me the passion to try to figure out what is going on and what makes these cases so special so we can be better prepared,” adds Rivera-Torres.

She further says anyone who may be inspired to help the people of Puerto Rico should be sure to check where they’re donating their time, money, and items to make sure they go where they’re needed most.

“I think it is really important they identify community-based non profit organizations. They’re the ones there doing the work, so finding those community leaders will be really important in helping them directly when it comes to the aftermath of this hurricane,” Rivera-Torres concludes.

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