September 7, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
While Minnesota certainly has a wide range of weather, it does not have it all, so it was a learning experience for Azara Boschee when she interned at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. She narrowly missed studying Hurricane Hilary up close, but her time taught her much about weather models and predicting flood damage.
“I’ve wanted to be a meteorologist since I was a kid,” Boschee said. “I used to have a fear of storms. I got over that eventually because I looked into things immensely, and in high school, I started getting into research and teaching and had that idea of something I’d want to go into.”
Raised in Sauk Centre, Boschee is currently studying meteorology as a senior at St. Cloud State University. To further her experience, she was interested in a summer internship somewhere with heavy precipitation and weather extremes, so she was eager to apply at SIO.
“When I saw they were doing an internship, I was like, this place is exactly what I want to do in the future – dealing with weather, water and flooding,” Boschee said. “Their main thing is dealing with atmospheric rivers, which bring a lot of weather to the West Coast and California, and it can lead to flooding and other events, but it’s a big driver of how they get their water.”
After she was accepted, Boschee traveled to San Diego and started her internship June 24, although she talked with her mentors before the project and was able to get preparation work out of the way beforehand.
Boschee’s internship involved research and coding, and attending small seminars on topics such as conducting research and making presentations. She worked with other interns from California, but there was one from Florida and another from the United Arab Emirates.
“I got to know them very well,” Boschee said. “We had great conversations about weather. We’d be talking about something we have in our climate that’s different from other areas, and the other interns would be like, ‘What? No way.’ It was always fun to learn like that, on the personal level.”
One of the stranger facts Boschee could share was how Minnesota gets warmer than San Diego during the summer.
“In Minnesota, the humidity feels worse because it’s normally hotter when you get really humid,” Boschee said. “In San Diego, it’s constantly humid, but it’s 70 every day in the summer.”
Contributing to San Diego’s humidity was the marine layer, a cloud bank that rolled in every night and usually was dispersed by the morning sun.
“It was very foggy in the morning,” Boschee said. “I woke up one morning, and the ground was drenched – not because it rained, but because it was 100 percent humidity and fog. I could probably see 20 feet in front of me before the fog would haze it off.”
All SIO interns had their own projects they completed with the help of mentors. Boschee’s mentors were Tom Corringham and Weiming Hu, and their project was a method of predicting flood damages with machine learning, using hydrological data and damage data from previous flood insurance claims.
“With the machine learning model, you get a prediction of where the damage is likely to occur and an estimate of its magnitude,” Boschee said. “The idea is that governments and other organizations can use it to help for flood mitigation and response efforts.”
The original plan was for their project to work across the United States, but because of time constraints, they were only able to focus on California.
“The results of our predictions were not that great, but it was a pretty simplified model because it was my first time using machine learning,” Boschee said. “I am continuing the project for my senior thesis at St. Cloud State, so I plan to improve the model, and it can hopefully be a good paper too.”
In her time off, Boschee enjoyed looking around the San Diego area. One time, she went with a fellow intern to the San Diego Comic-Con. While they could not get into the event, they checked out other smaller downtown attractions. Boschee also went to the ocean for snorkeling and surfing, through which she encountered marine wildlife such as sea lions, seals, stingrays and leopard sharks.
Boschee flew back to Minnesota Aug. 19, and the next day Hurricane Hilary – a tropical storm at that point – hit San Diego. That made Boschee disappointed to leave, depriving her of the chance to directly witness the important meteorological phenomenon.
“We’re leaving, and there’s this historic event happening here,” Boschee said. “You don’t see a tropical storm actually impact California. I think the last one was in 1939.”
In spite of the incoming tropical storm, and anticipated storms around the Rocky Mountains, Boschee had a smooth flight to Minnesota – aside from minor turbulence. She has resumed her studies at SCSU for the 2023-24 school year.
Looking back at her time in San Diego, Boschee was glad to have the opportunity to study weather in a new climate.
“Being there is a lot different,” she said. “It’s like a culture shock – but like a climate shock. Along with that, I think the area itself is super fun.”