Penn State Distinguished Professor of Meteorology, Atmospheric Science dedicates research to tornado formation | Campus news in the university park


Paul Markowski was recently named a distinguished professor of meteorology and atmospheric science for his work at Penn State for the past 20 years. But Markowski has had a passion for weather and tornadoes since primary school.

“There was a tornado outbreak in western Pennsylvania on May 31, 1985 when I was in fifth grade, which fascinated me – and long story short – one weather book led to another, and eventually I was able to go to Penn State college Study meteorology. â€Said Markowski.

Penn State posted a position as a meteorology professor after Markowski’s graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, which led him to return in 2001, and he’s been “here ever since”.

Markowski said he was “honored” to be honored as a distinguished professor and “grateful to have people who helped him get to that point.”

“Colleagues and friends of mine invested a lot of time in the nomination because it is a pretty difficult nomination process,” said Markowski. “It is more than thought-provoking for them to give up what they did for it, and there are so many faculties on campus that deserve this recognition too.”

Markowski said his research is focused on influencing when and where tornadoes will form at any given time.

Tornadoes occur during thunderstorms when warm and humid air mixes with cooler air temperatures higher in the atmosphere, says Markowski. When the atmosphere is unstable and wind speeds are higher, tornadoes form, he said.

“The mechanics are complicated, but this is where the scientist comes in,” said Markowski. “The downdraft of the wind allows the tornadoes to hit the ground and cause damage.”

He also said he would like to see a policy change on tornadoes to save lives.

“Why are there no multilingual warnings about tornadoes or requirements for buildings with storm shelters on television?” Said Markowski. “We can do a lot to survive tornadoes, and we don’t have to look at them so fatalistically.”

Markowski said there was “a lot of misunderstanding” about tornadoes, adding to more danger around them.

A tornado in Stockville, Nebraska on May 17, 2019.

“Tornadoes occur on almost every continent on earth, and a lot of people think that tornadoes can’t happen here, which is not true,” said Markowski. “The atmosphere is independent of where people are and is subject to the laws of physics, which do not change with regard to location.”

Markowski also said technology has been “a great help” in tornado research and breakthroughs because “there are some equations that cannot be solved with pen and paper”. His research was able to program various technologies to create solutions to unsolvable problems, said Markowski.

Markowski said he was able to chase storms to send them technology, but he “doesn’t do that out there every day.”

“This is not a one-man show – this research,” said Markowski. “This recognition is the result of surrounding fantastic students and staff because it was a team effort.”

Markowski worked for David Stensrud, now head of Penn State’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences, as part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program when he was a student at Penn State, Stensrud said.

“He’s a great researcher and a great teacher,” said Stensrud. “It was always a pleasure to interact and work with him.”

Stensrud previously worked as a research meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a research laboratory in Oklahoma, where the two could continue to communicate.

“He is arguably the best researcher in our field who studies tornadoes and their formation,†said Stensrud. “The formation of a tornado is still a mystery, we know what it looks like and how intense it will be, but the processes by which it actually occurs are still unknown. Paul is leading the way in trying to solve this puzzle with technology. “


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Markowski has been advising Shawn Murdzek, PhD student at the Chair of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences, since his student days and has been working together for seven years.

“Working with him was really great,†said Murdzek. “He has always been so enthusiastic about tornadoes and will even send pictures of the storms to the group of students he advised.”

Murdzek also said that Markowski’s textbook titled “Mesoscale Meteorology in Midlatitudes” helped “increase its fame” and it had become “the standard book” in its field. Markowski wrote the textbook with Yvette Richardson.

“Everyone knows Paul,†said Murdzek. “He has so many connections and is known and respected in our field, and when I tell someone that I work with Paul, they always have something to say about their time with him.”

Murdzek said he learned, under Markowski’s guidance, to work “smarter, not harder†and to find the balance between work and personal life.

“He’s always there when I need him, with research help or general questions,” said Murdzek. “When researching, he always leads me to the answers without telling me the answers and challenges me again and again.”

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