During her Hollings internship at the National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office in Jackson, Mississippi, Dereka Carroll-Smith worked on optimizing the Weather Research and Forecasting Model to predict the potential for wet microbursts in the Southeast. Wet microbursts are columns of sinking air and rain that occur within thunderstorms, called ‘invisible killers’ because they can cause extensive damage and are dangerous for air travel. Dereka first became interested in severe weather when she experienced tornado sirens during a storm while growing up in Texas. Today, she is pursuing her doctoral degree in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Prior to her Hollings internship, Dereka was a Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) Protégé in Boulder, CO, which was her first experience with numerical modeling. As a Hollings Scholar, she had more independence, which pushed her to mature in her research. Her expertise was needed at the Weather Forecast Office in Jackson, and she felt more like a colleague than an undergraduate intern. Dereka even had the opportunity to shadow forecasters during a severe weather event. The NWS internship opened her eyes to all that NOAA does and sparked her desire to do more applied research. She was initially nervous to present her research at the NOAA Science & Education Symposium, but ended up winning third place for her presentation.
It’s really important for students not to doubt themselves or think they’re not good enough. Don’t shy away from opportunities – you don’t have to be Einstein. You just have to work really hard.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in Meteorology from Jackson State University, Dereka earned her Master’s degree from Purdue University in Atmospheric Sciences. For her Master’s thesis, she used an agent-based model to determine how successful evacuations were at reducing mortality. She then followed her research advisor to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she’s pursuing her PhD. She was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her research on climate change impacts on tropical cyclone tornadoes. Her dissertation has both a physical science and emergency management component.
In the future, Dereka hopes to build a career in decision-support and applied atmospheric sciences. She is interested in potentially being a Weather Forecast Office Science Operations Officer. To Dereka, it is very important to be part of the community that is affected by weather events, and she plans to build her career in the Southeast, where she first became fascinated by weather.