What Do Recent Historic Heat Waves Mean for Us? A Q&A With SJSU Meteorologist and Climate Scientist Alison Bridger

The SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center truck overlooks the drought-stricken landscape of Coyote Valley on the outskirts of San José. More wildfires, severe droughts and extreme heat waves are all results of climate change. Photo: Robert C. Bain

Last month, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest reached historic and dangerous levels, like nothing the region has ever experienced before.

In fact, more than 100 Oregon residents died from heat-related illnesses during the record-shattering heat wave, which drove temperatures up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the state. Compare that to 12 hyperthermia deaths reported statewide between 2017 and 2019, according to CNN.

Parts of British Columbia hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit during the heat wave — the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science

What should we make of this phenomenon? Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science at San José State, has some answers about why this extreme weather occurred in an area known for its cool climate — and how likely it is to happen again.

Q: We know the recent record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest was extremely dangerous. Can you give insight as to just how abnormal it is to see temperatures that high in that area?

AB: In the old days, when a high-temperature record got broken, it would be by 1 or 2 degrees. The Pacific Northwest heat dome was shattering records by as much as 10 degrees, which is why there was so much buzz.

It also remained very warm at night, providing little chance for anybody to cool down. Plus, it was in an area where few people use air conditioners — and stayed in place for days — so there was a lot of potential for heat stress, which is when the body can’t get rid of excess heat. As a result, there were many sudden deaths in the Pacific Northwest and in Western Canada.

One more thing is in the west, the highest temperatures tend to occur in July and August, not June.

Q: You used the term “heat dome.” Can you explain what that is and why it’s important?

AB: We meteorologists measure and pay attention to air pressure. In particular, we pay attention to areas where air pressure is higher or lower than average. Our weather is closely linked to whether we have a high- or low-pressure area over us.

Low pressure is associated with warm and cold fronts, clouds and rain — the kind where it rains all morning. High pressure areas are generally clear and dry with no clouds and no rain.

So a heat dome is an example of a high-pressure system — with clear skies, long days and the sun high in the sky. These are typical in the Southwest on really hot days in Death Valley, Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc. When they form, they can sometimes spread their influence further west and can even reach us at the coast, hence our Bay Area heat waves that occur one to three times a year.

We had another notable heat dome event this year, which was centered south and east of us and resulted in a temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. This was a very strong heat dome and covered much of the west. We got over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in San Jose!

Q: How likely is it that we’ll see these temperatures again soon? Will this become a regular occurrence?

AB: I think so. Climate scientists have been warning about the impacts of climate change for decades, and here we are, seeing those predictions come true. More extreme heatwaves? Check. More rain in the Northeast? Check. More drought in the Southwest? Check. Melting ice caps? Check.

We might not see this type of occurrence every year, but it’s going to be more frequent and will likely occur again within the next five years. As we continue to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we will continue to warm, and new extreme events will continue to emerge.

Q: What kind of impact do higher than normal temperatures have on our environment?

AB: Here are some major impacts:

  1. Changes to growing seasons — but if there’s less or no water for irrigation, that won’t matter.
  2. Less snow in the mountains, hence less water in reservoirs for western cities.
    More electrical demand for AC.
  3. Drier forests (trees and vegetation dry out more rapidly after rains due to warmer temperatures), leading to more wildfires.
  4. Animals that live in the mountains are being forced uphill to cooler areas. But when they reach the top, then what?
  5. I’ll bet there’s a human stress impact. People have been told for decades that climate change is coming, and now it’s obviously here, and we’re not doing anything. I know I’m stressed!

Q: Is there any hope that we can make improvements and possibly limit this in the future? If so, what needs to happen?

AB: If we were to suddenly stop adding more greenhouse gases and our carbon dioxide levels become stable, I think the atmosphere would continue to change for maybe 10 to 20 years due to its inertia. Then in 20 years, say, things would settle down to a “new normal,” which would be warmer, but we could start to deal with the consequences.

But, if we wait another 20 years and keep adding greenhouse gases, and then do the above, we’ll be at a warmer new normal, with more impacts that are more extreme and more widespread.

One way we could tackle this is to move faster on colonizing the moon and Mars, so we have an escape hatch. Or, we could work to fix this by moving much faster on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This has to be a global effort, but we in the U.S. can get started regardless.

Let’s generate more solar, wind and tidal energy; do a better job on battery storage; do a better job on power transmission; and use smart devices to use less energy. And let’s provide serious incentives for getting these big tasks done.

Learn more about the SJSU Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

Green Ninja stickers

Pedaling for the Planet

Green Ninja team

The Green Ninja Climate Ride Team (courtesy of The Green Ninja Project).

Green Ninja in the classroom.

In the classroom (courtesy of The Green Ninja Project).

After months of training and fundraising, the Green Ninja Climate Ride Team is set to take off in the Northern California Climate Ride. The ride starts in Eureka on May 17, and ends five days later in San Francisco on May 21.

The eight team members will bike 320-miles along the Northern California coastline to raise awareness about climate change and support environmental non-profit organizations like the Green Nina Project — an SJSU environmental outreach program that teaches middle school students about climate change and inspires them to take action.

300 ninja

A custom-designed jersey (courtesy of The Green Ninja Project).

We are excited about the ride, but also a little nervous,” says Professor Eugene Cordero, a climate scientist in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

The team is made up of two professors, one alumna, one staff member and three students. Some are avid cyclists, while others are beginning bicyclists. Even though their skill level varies, they all share a common goal — a commitment to maintaining a healthy planet and reducing climate change.

Follow the team

You can follow the team and encourage them on via SJSU’s official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, using the hashtag #SJSUclimateride.

Climate Ride team

Green Ninja Team Joins Climate Ride

Climate Ride

Climate Ride team members before training in Woodside. Left to right, they are Ramya Shenoy, Huong Cheng, Kelly Chang, Eugene Cordero and Clare Cordero (photo by Steve Branz).

A team of Spartans will pedal hundreds of miles along the California coast this spring to raise awareness about climate change, and support SJSU’s environmental outreach program, The Green Ninja Project.

Before joining the team, the last time Ramya Shenoy, ’15 Computer Science, rode a bicycle was 11 years ago to pick up groceries for her parents in India. She recently rode 47 miles, and is determined to complete The Climate Ride, which runs May 17-21.

“I’m putting all my willpower into training for this. I think anything is possible, if you really put your heart into it,” Shenoy said.

The Team

The Green Ninja Team, a diverse group of SJSU students, alumni, and faculty and staff members, is participating in the California Climate Ride. They’ll be biking 320 miles in five days from Eureka to San Francisco to raise awareness about climate change and support environmental non-profit organizations like the Green Ninja project.

Shenoy and several other team members work for the Green Ninja Project, a non-profit environmental outreach program designed to educate middle school kids about climate change and inspire them to take action.

The Green Ninja Project is the brainchild of Professor Eugene Cordero, a climate scientist in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.  Convincing Professor Cordero to participate in the Climate Ride wasn’t too difficult.

“I love cycling, I’m passionate about promoting solutions to climate change and our SJSU team is so inspiring,” Cordero said.


Each team member must fundraise $2,800 to ride, but they hope to raise $5,000 a piece.  Kelly Chang, ’13 Biological Sciences, the team captain, loves getting active outside and hopes to inspire others to get outdoors through the Climate Ride. She’s actively promoting the ride, and trying to get more riders and sponsors to sign up.

We’re always looking for new riders, and we welcome all levels of bike riders,” Chang said.

Chang has been contacting local businesses to partner with and support the team. So far, Good Karma Bikes has graciously donated a bike, which will be raffled off in an upcoming silent auction.


The Green Ninja team has organized training rides every other Sunday and they recently completed their longest ride of 47 miles. Huong Cheng, ’15 Animation/Illustration, learned to ride a bike just one month ago.

“I want this to inspire my friends and family to take on challenges in life with a can-do attitude. I know once I finish this ride, I will not be afraid of any obstacle I come across,” Cheng said.

Learn more about SJSU’s Green Ninja Team and support their fundraising goals. Want to join the team?  Contact Kelly@greenninja.org.

campus gate with clouds

California Shatters Weather Record

campus gate with clouds

Climate change hit home in 2014, when California shattered hot weather records, according to the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science (David Schmitz photo).

California shattered its all-time annual temperature record in 2014 with record highs throughout the state. Data from San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science shows the annual average temperature in the state spiked unexpectedly in 2014.

The average temperature in the Golden State in 2014 was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. That is 4 degrees above normal and more than 2 degrees hotter than the previous high set during the Dust Bowl era – 1934.

While many of us were worrying about the drought, we were quietly crushing previous temperature records for our state,” said Alison Bridger, chair of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

Professor Bridger attributes the record heat to climate change, driven by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases. Last week, both NOAA and NASA announced that 2014 was the warmest year on record when averaged for the entire globe.

“The record California heat brings the reality of climate change closer to home for all of us in the state,” she said.

El Nino, Drought

Data from the state has long shown steady warming, but 2014 was exceptional. Eugene Cordero, professor, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, says the rising temperature can impact the state in many ways:

“Warmer temperatures directly affect our agriculture, not to mention precious water resources,” Professor Cordero said.

Both Bridger and Cordero emphasized that the global warmth of 2014 is particularly remarkable since it was a non-El Nino year.  Oceans store heat, which is pumped into the atmosphere during an El Nino event.  When the next big El Nino develops, scientists around the world expect the atmosphere to heat up even more.

The data comes from the Congressional Temperature Trends report compiled by Professor Cordero, University of Maryland Associate Research Scientist, Clark Weaver and colleagues.  The report uses annual temperature records from NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.

Green Ninja Receives 2014 STEM Innovator Award

ninja 530

The Green Ninja takes action with recycled oil (Green Ninja Project image).

Contact: Pat Harris, 408-924-1748

SAN JOSE, Calif.— San Jose State’s Green Ninja Project is one of four endeavors to receive a 2014 Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Innovation Award from the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. The project will be recognized during the foundation’s signature annual event, Pioneers & Purpose, on Oct. 1 at the Fairmont San Jose.

“These organizations represent the best in the country working to provide STEM experiences that strengthen and inspire students to explore their curiosity in STEM fields,” Silicon Valley Education Foundation CEO Muhammed Chaudhry said.

Green Ninja project pupet

“The Green Ninja Show” features animation, live action and puppetry (Green Ninja Project image).

Multidisciplinary Initiative

The national award recognizes pioneering programs that have demonstrated innovative methods in STEM education and includes a cash prize.  The Green Ninja Project uses a collection of humorous films and hands-on learning experiences to help young people develop the inspiration and tools to do something about our changing climate.

“By blending science, engineering and the arts, the Green Ninja Project aims to become a nationally recognized icon for education and action on climate change,” said Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero.

Million YouTube Views

The project is a multi-platform climate science education initiative that is driven by a strong collaboration between faculty members and students across various departments including Meteorology and Climate Science; Geology; Computer Science; Science Education; Primary Education; Television, Radio, Film and Theatre; and Animation and Illustration.

To date, the project has worked with more than 100 teachers and reached more than 2,000 students. Episodes of “The Green Ninja Show” have had more than a million views on YouTube and TeacherTube. The $5,000 prize will support students working on the show’s second season.

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

Faculty Notes: Research, Recognition and Recent Publications

Robert Dawson photographing the Main Library, Detroit, Mich. (Courtesy of Dawson)

Robert Dawson photographing the Main Library, Detroit, Mich. (courtesy of Dawson)

Photographer Robert Dawson, a lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, published The Public Library – A Photographic Essay (Princeton Architectural Press). Over the past 18 years, he has traveled the country, photographing libraries large (the New York Public Library) and small (Tulare County’s one-room library, built by former slaves) to compile the most comprehensive visual survey of American libraries ever published. Accompanying Dawson’s photographs are essays, letters and poetry extolling libraries by Amy Tan, Bill Moyers, Barbara Kingsolver and others.

San Jose State Precision Flight Team

San Jose State Precision Flight Team (courtesy of the team)

Department of English Lecturer Kelly Harrison, who also serves as coach and faculty advisor of the San Jose State Precision Flight Team, celebrated her flight team’s second-place finish in the National Intercollegiate Flight Association Regionals, held in Arizona in February. Teams compete in ground and flying events that range from computer accuracy to short field approach and landing. SJSU’s team is now eligible to compete in the NIFA Nationals Tournament to be held at Ohio State University in May.

School of Library and Information Science Lecturer Michelle Holschuh Simmons, Assistant Professor Michael T. Stephens and Lecturer Melba Tomeo received Excellence in Online Teaching awards from the Web-based Information Science Education (WISE) consortium. All three teach in the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, which is delivered exclusively online. This is the fourth win for Simmons, who teaches courses in information literacy and information resources.

Claire Komives

Claire Komives (Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering photo)

Professor of Chemical Engineering Claire Komives received a 2015 Fulbright Scholar research grant. She will spend the academic year working at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Dr. Komives’ research will focus on developing a low-cost antidote for snake envenomation. The highly competitive Fulbright grants, one of the most prestigious awards programs worldwide, provide international educational opportunities for a select group of students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists.

CommUniverCity San Jose, led by Executive Director and Department of Urban and Regional Planning Department Professor Dayana Salazar, received the Bold Steps for Children Award at the 2014 Santa Clara County Children’s Summit. The Children’s Summit is sponsored by Kids in Common, Santa Clara County’s child advocacy organization. Started in 2005, CommUniverCity engages SJSU students in local, service-learning initiatives that help to build community and solve neighborhood issues.

Susan Shillinglaw

Susan Shillinglaw (Peter Caravalho photo)

Susan Shillinglaw and Assistant Professor Nicholas Taylor, Department of English, read and signed their latest books at Barnes and Noble in San Jose on March 19. Steinbeck scholar Shillinglaw’s On Reading The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Books) is described by Bookpage as a “concise, penetrating study.” Kirkus Reviews calls Taylor’s The Setup Man, written under the pseudonym T.T. Monday, “a treat for readers of mystery or baseball novels.” Both authors also published books in 2013. Shillinglaw contributed the dual biography Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage (University of Nevada Press), and Taylor, under his own name, published a historical novel, Father Junipero’s Confessor (Heydey).

Assistant Professor Elizabeth (Elly) Walsh, Department of Meteorology and Science Education, published a peer-reviewed article in the April issue of Nature Climate Change, an interdisciplinary journal devoted to climate change and its impacts. In “Social Controversy Belongs in the Climate Science Classroom,” Walsh argues the importance of including social context and cultural values when teaching climate change in K-12 and college classrooms.


NBC Bay Area: SJSU Examines Typhoon For Weather Models, Trends

Helping Typhoon Victims

Professor Alison Bridger discusses the typhoon.

Posted by NBC Bay Area Nov. 8, 2013.

By Damian Trujillo

Aid workers are still assessing the damage caused by the huge typhoon that struck the Philippines Thursday.

Back here in the Bay Area, experts are awestruck about the size and magnitude of the storm.

The storm’s size is estimated at about 500 miles wide, bigger than Katrina, said Alison Bridger, San Jose State University’s meteorology department chair.

View the full story.

Helping Typhoon Victims

Helping Typhoon Victims

Helping Typhoon Victims

U.S. Marines carry an injured Filipino woman on a stretcher for medical attention, assisted by a Philippine Air Force airman at Vilamore Air Base, Manila (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb Hoover).

Spartans are organizing relief efforts for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which impacted more than 4.2 million people across 36 provinces when it hit the Philippines on Nov. 7.

Student organizations including Akbayan SJSU, Delta Sigma Phi, Alpha Kappa Omega, Alpha Kappa Omicron and Alpha Tau Omega will collect monetary donations, non-perishable food and personal hygiene supplies 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12-14 in front of the SJSU Event Center. More information is posted on Facebook.

Helping Typhoon Victims

Professor Alison Bridger discusses the typhoon.

Piano students will collect donations for the American Red Cross during intermission at their concert 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 in the Music Concert Hall.

“They are presenting an all piano team event featuring piano four hands, eight hands, on modern and historic instruments,” said Gwendolyn Mok, keyboard studies coordinator and professor of music.

Typhoon Haiyan “was definitely up there among the worst five storms ever in terms of sustained winds speeds as the storm was coming ashore,” said Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Alison Bridger in an interview with NBC Bay Area.

During the interview, Bridger voices concern for Vietnam, which was also in the path of the typhoon. At this writing, it appears the storm’s ferocity has abated, but remains a cause for concern.


Chasing Blazes, Saving Lives

Chasing Blazes, Saving Lives

Chasing Blazes, Saving Lives

The SJSU Fire Lab’s mobile atmospheric profiling system is loaded on this truck, now at the Rim Fire (courtesy of Craig Clements).

As firefighters struggle to contain the Rim Fire near Yosemite, an instructor and his students are on the scene collecting data that could one day save lives.

Craig Clements, an associate professor with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, studies conditions inside and around blazes, seeking to learn how the fire and atmosphere interact, with the goal of predicting how fast and far the blaze will burn.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Clements developed a mobile atmospheric profiling system. Cisco recently produced this video about the truck, which pulls a compact trailer loaded with the latest tech tools including lidar and sodar, using light and sound waves to track winds.

“This Thursday we are planning a deployment with NASA who will be flying the plume with an aircraft to collect air chemistry data,” Clements said.

This will be the team’s fourth visit to the fire: “On Aug. 21, my students went to Groveland, but couldn’t get close enough to get valuable data. On Aug. 23, they went to Dodge Ridge ski resort and scanned the downwind plume from below. Yesterday, they left at 8:15 a.m., drove to Yosemite and scanned the plume from the Crane Flat lookout near Highway 120 within the park. My students are processing the data now.”

The San Jose Mercury News sought out Clements expertise. He is one of the only scientists in the world studying wildfire-atmosphere interactions. You can follow the action via webcam, the incident website, and the SJSU Fire Lab’s Twitter account.

MarketWatch: Our Infrastructure Isn’t Ready for Climate Change

Commentary: Valuation and sentiment supports contrarian strategy

Posted by MarketWatch (the Wall Street Journal) April 29, 2013.

By Ed Maurer and Eugene Cordero

Ed Maurer is an associate professor in the Civil Engineering Department of Santa Clara University. Eugene Cordero is a professor in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (MarketWatch) — Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its latest Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, a measure of the condition, capacity, and maintenance of the nation’s vital systems, accounting for their ability to meet future needs and ensure public safety and health.

How did we fare? D+. That composite grade includes things like our energy systems (D+), drinking water systems (D), waterways and levees (D-), roads (D), schools, (D), transit (D) and on and on. The brightest spot was a B- for how we deal with solid waste.

This discouraging assessment appeared on the heels of news documenting how climate change is affecting us now: 2012 shattered the record as the hottest year ever recorded in the U.S. Global warming shares some of the blame for last summer’s drought that impacted nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states, and for the unprecedented intense heat of the Australian “angry summer.”

Satellite observations confirmed that in September 2012, Arctic sea ice levels were by far the lowest ever recorded, covering about half the area of 30 years ago. Yet another scientific report, this time from the U.K. Met Office, demonstrated that natural influences in the past decades lean more toward cooling, but humans have emitted enough greenhouse gases to warm the planet anyway.

How are these impacts of climate change connected to our infrastructure? One need only remember Hurricane Sandy, which caused more than $70 billion in damages to New York and New Jersey alone. The strong storm surge was superimposed on a sea with a baseline level four inches higher than in 1950, caused by planetary warming. The proposals to prevent damages from future storms all involve major infrastructure improvement.

Public investment is the best option for us to build the coastal defenses to protect low-lying urban areas, water and wastewater systems that are resilient to rising seas and increased rainfall intensity; transportation systems that move us more efficiently; and energy systems that can function in extreme heat, producing energy with limited carbon emissions.

The good news is that investing in infrastructure is one of the most economically productive things we can do. Rebuilding the systems that have served us for decades, but have outlived their useful lives, can create millions of jobs. The return on these investments outpaces the economic benefits we would see from other stimulus options.

If we focus on green infrastructure, promoting renewable energy sources, and crafting the most efficient water and transportation systems we can, we will also create a more sustainable world in the process.

The bill for such improvements is estimated at $3.6 trillion through 2020, roughly twice what we have spent over the past 10 years on the Iraq war. So this is within our reach, if our representatives in Washington hear a broad public appeal for action. Creative measures, like the upstream carbon pollution fee included in the Sanders-Boxer Climate Protection Act, would generate funds for improving infrastructure while creating a more climate-friendly economy.

We could hang our heads in shame at receiving such low marks on our report card. Or we can realize that our habits are not what they need to be. We must demand from our representatives a serious commitment to rebuilding the systems that sustain our lives.

We must do this with all the 21st century ingenuity we can muster, creating a model for how we do this while also reducing greenhouse gas pollution, addressing the federal deficit and promoting a sustainable future.




Studying Wildfires, Saving Lives

SJSU’s resident wildfire weather expert hit the road recently, driving all the way to Texas to learn more about the super dynamic atmospheric conditions inside and around blazes so we can better predict wildfire behavior, saving lives and property. Craig Clements, an associate professor with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, and his graduate students tested their mobile atmospheric profiling system, a truck pulling a compact trailer loaded with the latest tech tools including lidar and sodar, which use light and sound waves to track winds. Clements’ and his team led a group of over 50 scientists in an experiment called FireFlux II, which included airborne imagery from a helicopter that flew over the 150-acre controlled burn ignited by the Texas A&M Forest Service. Clements’ groundbreaking research is funded in part by a $900,000 grant from The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty members nationwide. In 2011, Professor Clements received the SJSU Research Foundation‘s Early Career Investigator Award, which recognizes tenure-track faculty members who excel in research, scholarship and creative activity, and have secured funds for research early in their careers. View a related television news report.

Wildfire Researcher Receives $900,000 National Science Foundation Grant

Wildfire Researcher Receives $900,000 NSF Grant

Wildfire Researcher Receives $900,000 National Science Foundation Grant

Clements and his student researchers will use this custom-designed mobile atmospheric profiling system to develop a better understanding of the physical mechanisms responsible for wildfire-atmosphere interactions (Rie Onodera image).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Craig Clements, an assistant professor with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, has received a $900,000 National Science Foundation grant to continue his groundbreaking research on wildfire weather.

The funding will allow Clements to obtain new observations from a comprehensive field program tracking wildfire-atmosphere dynamics, and to integrate these observations into education and community outreach.

In practical terms, this means Clements and his team of student researchers now have the funding needed to deploy their mobile atmospheric profiling system, a truck pulling a compact trailer loaded with the latest tech tools. These tools includes lidar and sodar, which use light and sound waves to track winds.

The grant will allow the team to chase wildfires (in a safe way, of course!) throughout the West. Their overall goal is to learn more about the super dynamic atmospheric conditions inside and around blazes so we can better predict wildfire behavior, saving lives and property.

Clements received this grant through The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty members nationwide.

In 2011, Professor Clements received the SJSU Research Foundation‘s Early Career Investigator Award, which recognizes tenure-track faculty members who excel in research, scholarship and creative activity, and have secured funds for research early in their careers.

Here’s his NSF project summary.



The career development plan (CDP) represents an ambitious effort to advance the understanding of wildfire-atmosphere dynamics by obtaining new observations from a comprehensive field program and integrating these observations into education and community outreach. The key objectives of the CDP are:

(1) To develop a better understanding of the physical mechanisms responsible for
wildfire-atmosphere interactions and how these processes influence fire behavior.
(2) To improve student understanding of fire weather science through the development of an innovative fire science and fire safety outreach and education program.

The research component of the CDP, which expands on the PI’s field measurement experience, seeks to identify the processes responsible for fire-atmosphere interactions that affect fire behavior. The research methods are based on executing an intensive measurement program that incorporates carefully planned experiments with rapid-deploy wildfire monitoring (RaDFIRE) using the newly NSF funded CSU-MAPS, mobile atmospheric profiling system. The observational dataset will be used to study:

  • The dynamics of fire-induced winds and their impact on fire behavior.
  • The thermodynamic structure of fire plumes and the near-surface environment.

The education component of the CDP is a plan designed to build a university program in fire weather research that links San José State University and the community. This component will integrate fire weather content into general education courses, improve 6th grade science learning through a teacher training workshop, and develop fire danger awareness among students living in fire danger zones by providing a novel and modern fire safety education program. The component concepts are:

  • Integration of fire weather content into university courses.
  • K-12 Teacher Training workshop called Weather of Wildfires.
  • Red-Flag Days: A community outreach program for middle schools in the Wildland-Urban Interface aimed at providing fire safety education.

Intellectual merit. The proposed CDP will potentially transform wildfire research by measuring critical wildfire-atmosphere properties that have rarely been observed. This will provide the first comprehensive data set for the validation of coupled atmosphere-fire modeling systems. New observations of extreme fire-induced winds and plume thermodynamic structure will lead to major advances in knowledge and understanding of wildfire dynamics. Resources at the PI’s institution including CSU-MAPS are adequate for the proposed work. Educational activities are developed to improve student understanding of fire weather processes by developing new teacher training modules and a novel middle-school program aimed at fire danger awareness with the use of red flags as fire weather props.

Broader impacts. The expected outcomes of the proposed CDP include:

  • Greater understanding of critical fire-atmosphere processes responsible for extreme fire behavior.
  • Increased firefighter and public safety from the development of better prediction tools.
  • Support for graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral training.
  • Integrated university curriculum on fire weather and teacher training program.
  • Improved fire danger awareness targeted to students at underrepresented middle schools.
  • Field program will provide unique hands-on training for graduate and undergraduate students.

Green Ninja Wins Grand Prize

March 30, 2012 — Macquarie University, The University of Melbourne and Monash Sustainability Institute have announced that the short animated film “Green NinjaTM: Footprint Renovation,” has won the Grand Prize of $5,000 at the Green Screen Climate Fix Flicks festival in Sydney, Australia.

The film is one of a series that has been produced by students in the film and animation departments at San Jose State University as part of The Green Ninja Project, led by Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero. With funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and PG&E, Professor Cordero has led a collaboration of students, scientists, and media artists to create the Green Ninja, a climate action superhero who forms the center of an education and behavior change program targeted at reducing our collective carbon footprint.

“Our goal with the Green Ninjafilm series is to communicate important topics of climate science in a way that is accessible and fun for everyone,” said Cordero.  “I am delighted that we are reaching a global audience with this work.”

Cordero in a Vimeo video box, click on the photo to connect to the video

Cordero explains The Green Ninja Project (TEDxSanJoseCA video).

“Footprint Renovation” was also screened in March at the San Francisco Green Film Festival, and won high marks from a panel of Hollywood TV and film directors, assembled at the American Geophysical Union earlier this year, for its excellence in conveying scientific ideas in a way that is easily understood by the general public. The next screening of “Footprint Renovation” will happen in Korea as part of the Green Film Festival in Seoul.

“I am really proud of the animation team and the SJSU students who have made the Green Ninja come to life,” said Assistant Professor of Animation and Illustration David Chai, who led the team of students who created the film.

Professor Cordero will be speaking at the TEDxSanJoseCA conference on April 14, 2012 in San Jose.

For more information, visit the Green Ninja website or contact Eugene Cordero.

Students holding giant weather balloon atop Duncan Hall.

Meteorology Professor Explains Our Dry Winter

Students holding giant weather balloon atop Duncan Hall (David Schmitz photo).

Meteorology and climate science students prepare to launch a weather balloon off Duncan Hall's rooftop (David Schmitz photo).

By Alison F.C. Bridger, Professor and Chair, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science

(Editor’s note: We’ve had long spells of sunshine, a dash of rain, and just enough snow to ski and snowboard. Are we experiencing permanent changes resulting from climate change?We asked the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, the only one of its kind in the entire CSU, to explain.)

As we all know, day-to-day weather in our latitudes can be quite variable. Although we do have extended dry and settled periods in winter, we also experience stormy periods lasting several days. This results typically in a lot of day-to-day variability. This winter has been exceptional for its lack of day-to-day variability. As we are all well aware, we have entered into record-breaking territory. In the Bay Area, of all Decembers on record, only two were drier – and both of those featured no rain at all! And now here we are in mid-February with an accumulated rain amount of just over 2 3/4 inches since July 1 last year! Many locations in the United States can expect to receive this much rain in just an hour!

The variability of the weather is one of the causes of our inability to forecast much beyond about 10-14 days with any accuracy. When we make seasonal predictions, they are more “broad brushed”, with vague statements such as “drier than normal” for the entire western United States. Although weather forecasts for the next three-to-10-day range have become measurably more accurate in the past two decades, atmospheric scientists still have a lot to learn about the factors that contribute to unusual weather events such as prolonged wet or dry or hot or cold spells.

Which brings us to our current unusually dry winter in California. Is our very dry year “normal”? In looking back over about 100 years of data, we can easily calculate how much rain we get in an average year. We can also find when that rain typically falls (i.e., which month), and whether we get a lot of light-precipitation storms, or just a few heavy-precipitation storms; climate change studies show that we will experience more of the latter as we head through the 21st century. From the data, we can also see how wet (dry) our wettest (driest) years have been, and how often we might expect to get very wet or dry years. Consequently, since rainfall received in the current year so far resembles what we got in the 1976-77 dry year, it’s very possible that we are simply experiencing the kind of dry year we get in California from time-to-time.

Some of you may remember the very wet year of 1982-83 which was associated with a very strong El Nino event. We’ve recently experienced the opposite – a very strong La Nina which peaked in 2010-11, then decayed before strengthening again. The last big La Nina was in 1975-76, intriguingly just before the drought of 1976-77 when many California reservoirs ran dry. Although this is a good example of a statistical connection between La Nina and our dry conditions, for atmospheric scientists this doesn’t count as proof that our lack of rain is due to La Nina. Scientists world-wide are working on understanding the cause(s) of the unusual weather that is being experienced everywhere, and many of these studies are focused on the impacts of El Nino and La Nina. La Nina is a tantalizing explanation for our dry winter, but scientists prefer to have concrete proof – and so far that is lacking.

So finally, what about the possibility that we’re seeing the “new normal”, with drier and milder winters? The idea of the “greenhouse effect” has been well understood for decades and is not new. The belief that our climate overall will warm up as we add more greenhouse gases is also very well-founded, and all observations show very clearly that the global climate is warming as the levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise. It is a bit more difficult to pin down the regional climate changes that will occur in the next 50 years – our lifetime.

Here, scientists turn to very sophisticated numerical (computer) models of the atmosphere for answers. We have now been using and improving these models for decades, continuously incorporating new understanding of how the atmosphere (and oceans) work, and also continuously comparing these simulated atmospheres with observations of the “real” atmosphere. We have high confidence in these models, and we use the models to predict the impacts of climate change on California and other regions. Some of the predictions these models make include: warming temperatures overall, especially at night; the “storm track”, which brings our winter rains, will gradually move away northward – taking storms with it; our rainfall will increasingly come via fewer and more intense storms.

Our climate is a very complex system, but our understanding of it is being advanced every day. So does our hard work on climate change leave us able to say that our unusually dry winter is a result of climate change? No. The best we can say at the moment is that the mild, dry winter is consistent with predicted changes due to climate change. If we have several of these dry winters in a row, we can start to attribute them to climate change. As we saw above, the dry winter also fits the La Nina pattern, and is also no drier than past winters we’ve experienced.

Bay Area Science Festival Features Green Ninja

Bay Area Science Festival Features Green Ninja

Bay Area Science Festival Features Green Ninja

The sign says, "I have plants in my backyard, and I don't watch TV!"

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

The Green Ninja, a climate action super hero created at San Jose State, made a personal appearance at the Bay Area Science Festival Nov. 6 in AT&T Park.

This inaugural event sought to engage Bay Area residents in a region-wide celebration of its scientific wonders, resources, and opportunities by exploring the role of science, engineering, and technology locally and in the world.

The Green Ninja is a climate-action superhero who fights global warming by inspiring informed personal action. A series of webisodes, written and produced by SJSU student/faculty teams, highlight the adventures of the Green Ninja as he negotiates some of the trickiest areas in climate science.

The meteorology and climate science, animation/illustration, and TV, radio, film and theatre collaborated to bring the Green Ninja to life. At the festival, he and his team met participants and staffed a table where they played a carbon game.

Hurricane Katia off the Northeastern US Coastline Viewed from the space station, Hurricane Katia presented an impressive cloud circulation as its center passed the northeastern coast of the United States on September 9, 2011.

Sustainability Matters: Our Changing Planet Viewed from Space

Hurricane Katia off the Northeastern US Coastline Viewed from the space station, Hurricane Katia presented an impressive cloud circulation as its center passed the northeastern coast of the United States on September 9, 2011.

Viewed from the space station, Hurricane Katia presented an impressive cloud circulation as its center passed the northeastern coast of the United States on September 9, 2011 (courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory).

Date: September 29, 2011

Time: 3-4:30 p.m.

Location: Morris Dailey Auditorium

Summary: The first event of the Fall 2011 Sustainability Matters Speakers Series will be “NASA’s Earth Observations of the Global Environment: Our Changing Planet Viewed from Space,” by Michael D. King, Laboratory for Atmospheric & Space Physics, University of Colorado. A bird’s eye view of the Earth from afar and up close reveals the power and magnificence of the Earth and juxtaposes the simultaneous impacts and powerlessness of humankind.  Dr. King will present Earth science observations and visualizations in a historical perspective.  See the latest stunning images from NASA remote sensing missions, which will be visualized and explained in the context of global change and our impact on our world’s environment.  Spectacular visualizations of the global atmosphere, land and oceans show how much the temperature of the Earth’s surface has changed during the 20th century, as well as how sea ice has decreased over the Arctic region, how the sea level has and is likely to continue to change, and how glaciers have retreated worldwide in a response to global change.

Dr. King will present visualizations of global data sets currently available from Earth orbiting satellites, including the Earth at night with its city lights, where and when lightning occurs globally, and dramatic urbanization in the desert southwest since 1910. He will show images of flooding resulting from tropical cyclones and satellite imagery of fires that occurred globally, and discuss how new satellite tools aid understanding of environmental change and can be used to help fight environmental disasters from spreading further.

Dr. King is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, a fellow of the American Meteorological Society, and recipient of the Verner E. Suomi Award of the AMS for fundamental contributions to remote sensing and radiative transfer. He has also received the Space Systems Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for NASA’s Earth Observing System Team. Other honors include an honorary doctorate from Colorado College, selection as a Goddard Senior Fellow, and recipient of the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He has also received the William Nordberg Memorial Award for Earth Science, Goddard’s highest scientific achievement award.

Sponsors include the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science with support from the Office of the President and the Department of Communication Studies. For more information, email Professor Anne Marie Todd.

— Submitted by Professor of Communication Studies Anne Marie Todd

Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero

Professor Cordero and Al Gore to Serve on Climate Reality Project Panel

Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero

Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero and former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore will serve on the same panel for “24 Hours of Reality,” a full day of webcasts to raise awareness and action on climate change. Cordero is packing now for his flight to New York, where he will take part in three of 24 panel discussions, including one with Gore at 8 p.m. Sept. 14 (PST). The Climate Reality Project is staging the show, which will feature one live webcast from each time zone, with the tag line: “24 Hours of Reality. 24 Presenters. 24 Time Zones. 13 Languages. 1 Message.” The locations will vary from Greenland to the Solomon Islands as well as New York City, making this the sustainability event of the year. Learn more about The Climate Reality Project.

Clements at work at a controlled burn.

Meteorology Research Team Prepares for Wildfire Season

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

As wildfire season bears down on California, and tears across Texas, San Jose State researchers are preparing to hit the road in their quest to learn more about wildfire behavior. Firefighters will use the results to improve their ability to predict the direction and speed of blazes, thereby saving lives and property. Headed by meteorology Assistant Professor Craig Clements, the group uses a few truckloads of equipment, including a custom built metal tower and a wind profiler that looks like a giant funnel to measure conditions in and around blazes. Unless we are hit by a real wildfire first, the team will test its equipment next month, when Cal Fire stages a “controlled burn.” While firefighters practice dousing the blaze, Clements and his students will employ one of their newest pieces of equipment. LIDAR uses a laser to scan the blaze and produce an image similar to the weather radar we see on television news programs every night. A National Science Foundation grant paid for the LIDAR equipment, which San Jose State shares with San Francisco State. Rob Mayeda, an NBC Bay Area meteorologist, attended a controlled burn near Mount Hamilton over the summer and produced an excellent news story on Clements’ research. You can also learn more by viewing Clements’ website.

K-12 teachers in an SJSU classroom for professional training

Teachers Try New Ways to Engage Students in the Earth Sciences at BAESI

teacher using a straw to move goldfish crackers from place to place

At BAESI, teachers work in groups to try classroom activities before their students do. In this simulated “fishing” game, teachers explore depletion of shared resources (photo by Elena Polanco).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Where do teachers go during the summer? SJSU!

More than 30 elementary, middle and high school teachers hit Duncan Hall July 26-28 for “Earth Science, Society, and Sustainability.”

The group also included educators from the California Academy of Sciences and Literacy for Environmental Justice.

SJSU’s Bay Area Earth Science Institute hosted the gathering, which was funded by a grant from Intel.

Now in its 21st year, BAESI offers a comprehensive, year-round professional development program for teachers of grades 4-12.

In reality, this means gathering in a college classroom surrounded by tools of the trade from globes to fossils to the periodic table to share the latest on all sorts of earth science topics from energy and water resources to climate change.

It’s a two-way conversation at all times, with workshop leaders setting the agenda, but participants taking the floor to discuss classroom experiences.

Los Gatos High School science teacher Roozbeh Nazari, now in his fifth summer of learning with BAESI, especially appreciates the opportunity to “pilot out” lesson plans, meaning teachers work in groups to try projects before their students do.

“This is super helpful to me,” Nazari said. “These workshops are a great source of background science knowledge, reinforcing what I know as well as sharing what’s new.”

After graduating from Humboldt State with a bachelor’s in environmental science, Nazari settled into a teaching career that this fall will include his first year instructing a sustainable agriculture class.

Labs include work in a campus garden growing veggies and ornamentals, making BAESI’s current emphasis on sustainability and climate science a big plus.

This summer’s workshop was offered in collaboration with Michigan-based Creative Change Education Solutions, a national leader in sustainability education.

Instructors include SJSU Professor of Geology Ellen Metzger and Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Eugene Cordero.

What’s next for this dynamic duo? More BAESI workshops of course, plus a new pilot project involving the Green Ninja, a climate-action superhero who fights global warming by inspiring personal action.

Metzger, Cordero and colleagues recently received a $386,000 NASA grant for “Improving Sixth Grade Climate Literacy using New Media and Teacher Professional Development.”

The funds will be used to expand and publicize the Green Ninja series that Cordero created in collaboration with SJSU’s film and animation faculty and students.

Like BAESI, the Green Ninja aims to reach middle school students with news and info on climate change and sustainability.

So stay tuned, and check the Green Ninja website to follow the action!