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Understanding the changing risk of severe thunderstorms by novel stochastic modelling of extreme hail and wind hazards (Funded by the QUEX Institute)

The Graduate School

Monday, August 31, 2020 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Severe thunderstorms are responsible for billions of dollars in damage to buildings, critical infrastructure and agricultural crops every year. Over the last decade, in Australia alone, there have been eight thunderstorm events that resulted in insured losses greater than half a billion dollars. The 2016 state-wide black out in South Australia was also triggered by severe thunderstorm winds that caused a number of high-voltage transmission lines to fail. Despite the clear and repeated impact of these events, limited tools exist for those exposed to this hazard (e.g., infrastructure operators, farmers) to sustainably manage or mitigate their risk. A lack of understanding about how severe thunderstorm activity will be influenced by climate change makes the sustainable management of this future risk even more complicated.

The aim of this project is to improve how severe thunderstorm risk is managed and mitigated. This will be achieved through the development of a stochastic, event-based thunderstorm hazard model that can be used to develop a severe thunderstorm climatology for a given region in the current climate and also determine how this climate will change into the future. This research will improve our understanding of severe thunderstorm activity and its drivers. It will also provide a decision support tool for policy makers, disaster managers and re/insurers who seek to better understand their exposure to severe thunderstorms and create innovative management solutions.

The stochastic thunderstorm hazard model will be developed using eastern Australia as a case study region, but the approach can be readily applied to other regions of the world. The general tasks required for completing the project include:

1. Identify the broad scale environmental conditions that lead to severe thunderstorm observations (primarily wind and hail) on the ground. This will require the coupling and analysis of surface weather, radar, satellite and global reanalysis databases.

2. Using global reanalysis data, determine the frequency of these thunderstorm conducive environments in the case study region.

3. Based on 2, develop a stochastic model of thunderstorm occurrence in the case study region. It will be important within this task to ensure the spatial correlation between thunderstorm events is maintained so the broad scale features that trigger them, e.g. frontal systems, are effectively modelled.

4. Repeat tasks 1-3 using historic data periods from within climate projection model outputs, then apply this new stochastic model to several future time periods and probabilistically quantify the expected change in thunderstorm activity.

Funding Notes

This scholarship includes a living stipend of AUD $28,092 (2020) tax free, indexed annually, tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover (where applicable). A travel grant of AUD $8,500 per annum, and a training grant of AUD $3,000 are also available over the program.

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