Skip to main content

Walter Robinson

Professor & Co-director Climate Change & Society Program


Jordan Hall 5150


View all publications 


Date: 09/01/22 - 8/31/25
Amount: $298,959.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Overview Warm season weather and climate extremes—flooding rains, heat waves, and droughts— have devastating impacts on people and nature. These extremes and their impacts are expected to become more severe as Earth warms, a trend that is increasingly being observed. These phenomena challenge our scientific understanding and our modeling systems, because they involve disparate processes operating across wide ranges of scales, both spatially (regional to global) and temporally (convective to seasonal). Moreover, there is growing evidence of interactions among these scales. For example, the large-scale flow that results in a heat wave, which is then amplified by local interactions with the land surface, may, in turn, be modified by the presence of that regional heat. Likewise, the latent heating of the atmosphere associated with heavy rains may influence the circulation on much larger scales. Simulating such phenomena with sufficient veracity to address associated scientific questions and to project their responses to climate change, therefore, demands modeling approaches that span as wide a range of scales as is feasible, allowing model outputs to be interrogated at meso- or even cloud-scales. Here we propose a program of research, focused on how climate change will affect warm-season weather and climate extremes in North America. The research will comprise analyses of existing output of climate models contributed to the 6th Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) in addition to our own high-resolution (15-km grid) numerical experiments using the Model for Prediction Across Scales-Atmosphere (MPAS-A). These simulations will start from a 30-year baseline run simulating the current climate. Future simulations will include resimulations of extreme events native to the control run under future climate conditions and 30 free running warm season time-slices. Extreme events from the time-slice simulations will be re-simulated to enable hour-by-hour analyses of physical processes within the model to determine how they are modified by climate change. Event re-simulations at convection permitting resolution will also be explored. Intellectual Merit The intellectual merit of this research is in building a predictive understanding of future changes in warm-season climate extremes, by building on existing (CMIP) climate simulations and using modeling strategies that include the multiple relevant scales of the physical climate system that participate in these extremes and the interactions among them. The PI team’s expertise spans weather and climate dynamics, and the influence of climate change on extreme events. Broader Impacts Broader impacts of this work will include better informing the public about future climate extremes and developing future climate scientists. The latter will be accomplished via graduate student training, undergraduate research participation, and collaboration with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in activities for high school students that will introduce them, through hands-on activities, to climate science and will inform them about pathways to future careers in climate science, and STEM generally. An open data-access strategy that facilitates classroom and project use of weather and climate datasets, including those produced by this project, will help to build data science, programming, and analysis skills for undergraduate and graduate students at NC State and Northern Illinois Universities.

Date: 09/01/16 - 8/31/23
Amount: $1,165,132.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Persistent anomalies in the atmospheric circulation are unusual states of the atmospheric flow and conditions that remain approximately fixed over periods longer than a few days. Such states disrupt the daily march of weather in the extratropics. Many impacts of weather on human and natural systems are cumulative: the desiccation of soils and vegetation in a drought, the saturation of the ground during an extended period of rain, and the toll taken on people and societal infrastructure by prolonged heat or cold. Thus, persistent anomalies produce significant human impacts. Understanding and ultimately projecting how the frequency, distribution, and intensity of persistent anomalies will change with changes in global climate is necessary for projecting the impacts of climate change on nature and society. Interactions with extratropical cyclones are critical for initiating and sustaining persistent anomalies. The work proposed here focuses on these interactions and builds on the PIs’ prior research exploring the changes in cyclones with climate. It was found that the increases with global warming in specific humidity leads to increased release of latent heat in storms, with consequent effects on storm structure and intensity. The representation of these effects was shown to exhibit strong sensitivity to model resolution. The studies proposed here are motivated by hypotheses that address the importance of cyclones, especially strong cyclones, for persistent anomalies, through their initiation and maintenance and through their conditioning of the large scale circulation on which persistent anomalies occur. Simulations will include ensemble studies of individual persistent anomaly events and the climatology of persistent anomalies in multi-year experiments, under present-day and future climate conditions. It is anticipated that model configurations (resolutions and choices of parameterizations) that produce better hindcasts of individual events will yield better climatologies of persistent anomalies under present-day conditions. These configurations can then be applied to future events and climatologies, by imposing global warming conditions. Results will be analyzed using potential vorticity and Rossby wave-breaking diagnostics and cyclone tracking. Key precursors to persistent anomalies in the case studies will be determined using model “surgery”, in which dynamical features can be deleted from the initial conditions. A single-layer model will be used to obtain dynamical understanding of the importance of changes in cyclones and the background flow in producing changes in persistent anomalies.

Date: 06/20/17 - 5/31/22
Amount: $148,840.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service

The campus of North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, NC is emerging as an epicenter for regional efforts on climate change impacts and response. The State Climate Office (SCO) has been on NCSU’s campus since the 1981 and has collaborated in research and public service with multiple colleges and state and federal agencies. In 2009, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) selected NCSU as the host institution for the Southeastern Climate Science Center (SE CSC). In the same year, the DOI also located the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (SALCC), one of six LCCs in the southeast, on NCSU's Centennial Campus. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also established the Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH), located on NCSU's Centennial Campus. NCSU is itself a regional leader in climate change research, and as Land Grand University, has a significant extension capacity. Due to both physical proximity and synergistic missions among these entities, there is tremendous opportunity to develop strong collaborative working relationships with regional implications. This agreement will build on previous work completed between the SCO and USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH), specifically providing outreach, support, and development of a variety of data visualization and decision support tools.

Date: 10/01/16 - 10/31/21
Amount: $231,097.00
Funding Agencies: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

NCSCO proposes a new data interface for DEQ/DWR designed to integrate the various point-based data sources housed at DEQ/DWR, along with weather and water data from the NCSCO. The long-term goal is to develop a web-based application programming interface (API) service that allows data to be pulled across these sources into a common output format, which will allow DEQ/DWR staff and stakeholders to more easily access weather and water data (quantity and quality) to meet regulatory, planning, and stakeholder needs.

Date: 05/08/18 - 6/01/21
Amount: $29,402.00
Funding Agencies: US Fish & Wildlife Service

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the purposes of improving water management capabilities on project lands to 1) aid in prescribed burning and wildfire management, 2) more closely approximate natural groundwater and surface water regimes, and 3) restore and enhance habitat characteristics for wetlands and associated wildlife. As part of this effort, approximately 1,300 acres of drained pocosin habitat (known as the Clayton Blocks) at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (PLNWR) has undergone hydrologic restoration. TNC now seeks to quantify the groundfire risk reduction benefits that accompany such restoration through soil moisture monitoring and analysis at both a restored and drained reference site. This study will build on the previous research and ESP modeling techniques used at other southeastern coastal sites with organic soils in order to predict the risk of groundfire.

Date: 08/01/16 - 3/05/21
Amount: $523,046.00
Funding Agencies: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The North Carolina State Climate Office (NCSCO) at North Carolina State University (NCSU) has provided IT support for the SERCC since its inception in 2007. The relationship between SERCC and NCSCO takes advantage of the information technology and climate data management capacity and expertise at NCSCO, but also helps ensure state- and local-level needs are constantly considered as part of SERCC product and service delivery. NCSCO maintains the computing that hosts ACIS and the SERCC website. It works closely with SERCC staff, including monthly in-person coordination meetings, to ensure that technology services meet SERCC needs. NCSCO staff consists of 8 applied climatologists with scientific and information technology expertise. With a combined 60 years of experience, NCSCO specializes in developing climate data tools and products that translate climate science and data into user-driven visualization and decision support tools. As part of this contract NCSCO will continue to design, develop, test, and maintain, and enhance climate database and web services for SERCC. The focus for this period will be on maintenance of the Applied Climate Information System, the SERCC website, and the associated climate information tools. Additional effort will be focused on development of new climate information tools and services to support the mission of SERCC.

Date: 05/10/17 - 9/30/20
Amount: $83,751.00
Funding Agencies: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

As a comprehensive resource for weather and climate information, the State Climate Office of North Carolina (SCO) has a mission to use weather and climate observations and science for the benefit of state and local government agencies. Data archived by the SCO is widely used for drought, agriculture, transportation, and air quality decision support. Similarly, these observations are available for decision support for the forest resources community. Beginning in 2011, SCO contracted with the NC Forest Service to develop an integrated Fire Weather Intelligence Portal (FWIP) that leverages the many high-quality weather observations across North Carolina to provide fire danger guidance to better meet NC Forest Service risk management and monitoring requirements. The SCO database processes weather observations from more than 10,000 monitoring stations every day, 402 of which are processed every hour from North Carolina and neighboring states. These data provide real-time monitoring capabilities for many applications. Sensor data collected by SCO are pushed into the USDA Forest Service Weather Information Management System (WIMS), which then generates fire danger output according to the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS). National Weather Service-provided fire danger forecasts are also available in WIMS. This NFDRS output is then captured by SCO and ingested into our CRONOS database for further manipulation. This is done seven times per day to ensure the most current information is available. Using a GIS-based Internet mapping system, observations and calculated indices are displayed across North Carolina. This mapping tool allows users to display single or multiple variables, zoom quickly to areas of interest, and handles both vector and raster (gridded) data. SCO has worked closely with the NC Forest Service project managers to refine the user interface to address both statewide and local user needs. As part of the ongoing collaboration between SCO and the NC Forest Service, we propose to continue providing the Fire Weather Intelligence Portal to meet the needs of the state fire agency and its partners.

Date: 01/17/18 - 4/06/20
Amount: $356,001.00
Funding Agencies: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

North Carolina State University shall provide support to Synoptic Data Corp (Synoptic) in the continuation of the National Mesonet Program. The National Weather Service (NWS) desires to continue delivery of the National Mesonet Program capability that meets the needs of a broad and diverse set of constituents across the weather enterprise. This capability will enable NWS to improve forecasts and warnings for severe weather, enhance numerical weather prediction capabilities, and achieve effective collaboration among disparate network operators to promote NOAA’s objective of a Weather-Ready Nation.

Date: 04/15/17 - 3/31/20
Amount: $101,648.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Newly available out from a suite of medium- and high-resolution global atmospheric modeling experiments, conducted by the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, will be used to test the joint sensitivities of the mid-latitude storm tracks to global warming and to model resolution.

Date: 11/01/18 - 10/31/19
Amount: $2,000.00
Funding Agencies: Monsanto Co.

The State Climate Office (SCO) will install and maintain temperature sensors at additional levels (1 & 3 m) at 25 ECONet observing stations for the purpose of measuring low-level temperature inversions. Such inversions are relevant to the problem of pesticide drift. Hourly data from these and existing sensors on ECONet towers will be recorded and made available to the sponsor.

View all grants