The man studying how extreme weather impacts our communities

2024-03-01

Portrait of Gabriele Messori in front of a weather map.

Gabriele Messori, Professor of Meteorology, is coordinator of the new Swedish Centre for Impacts of Climate Extremes, a centre of excellence inaugurated on 26 April. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

What causes extreme weather events such as storms, torrential rain, snowstorms and heatwaves? And how will climate change affect future storms and their impact on society? These questions are at the core of Gabriele Messori's research – Professor of Meteorology and coordinator of the new Swedish Centre for Impacts of Climate Extremes, a centre of excellence inaugurated on 26 April.

A key task of the new research centre will be to build up a new database on the economic and societal impacts of extreme weather events. The material to be collected and analysed could be newspaper articles, audio recordings, weather data, government reports or data from insurance companies.

“A few examples of areas we look at are public health, inequalities in the impact of extreme weather events, comparing different parts of society with each other and different parts of a city exposed to an extreme event,” explains Messori.

Extreme weather to become more common

All of this data is important in helping communities prepare for the risks of a warmer climate, due to which certain types of extreme weather are predicted to become more common.

“It is not sufficient to know what will happen in terms of the climate, we need to know whether these events actually have a significant impact on us. Most of the time we don't really know. All adaptation measures require a good understanding of what constitutes an event that causes major damage and what is an event against which we have good resilience,” continues Messori.

Gabriele Messori sitting on a bench.

In 2018 Gabriele Messori was tempted to join the Department of Earth Sciences here at Uppsala University and, in 2023, aged only 34, he was appointed Professor of Meteorology. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

He has devoted his entire scientific career to researching extreme weather, though this was mostly down to coincidence. He had originally set his sights on theoretical physics, which he began studying at Imperial College London. During his Master's studies, however, he realised that calculations of physical extreme values were useful in meteorology and became increasingly interested in the processes behind weather events. In fact, so much so that the head of the department gave him permission to write his Master's thesis on climate physics.

“The physical processes that lead to an extreme event are often very different from those usually observed in a system. It is precisely because of this that you have rare extreme events,” says Messori.

Starting grant

In 2013, he received his doctorate and completed his postdoc at Stockholm University. After a couple of stints in the UK and France, he returned to Stockholm University in the autumn of 2016 and found out pretty much immediately that he had been granted a starting grant from the Swedish Research Council. Two years later, he was tempted to join the Department of Earth Sciences here at Uppsala University and, in 2023, aged only 34, he was appointed Professor of Meteorology.

It is no coincidence that he has chosen to work in Sweden. As a postdoc, he enjoyed working here and felt that it provided the right conditions to do a good job.

“I mainly felt it was a nice research environment – not only at my department but at all the departments I have visited in Sweden. I would say it’s because you have the same level of research as other countries I’ve worked in, but in a much more pleasant collegial environment,” continues Messori.

Physical processes behind extreme weather

What he finds particularly stimulating about his research area is that it encompasses both basic research and practical applications. He can study the physical processes behind extreme weather events, such as why and how they form, but also the effects they have on us and how we can adapt our communities. As the climate warms, many types of extreme weather are predicted to occur more frequently. Heat waves have become much more frequent, for example, and communities have been forced to adapt to this.

“France had a catastrophic heatwave in 2003 that killed tens of thousands of people. It was almost as hot in 2006, but the mortality rate was much lower. The government had set up a warning system to warn about heatwaves as a result of 2003 and had a plan in place so that everyone knew what to do in nursing homes, hospitals and so on, instead of just trying to improvise,” Messori explains.

Important it is to make the right decisions

This example clearly shows how important it is to make the right decisions so that an extreme weather event does not necessarily have to lead to devastating effects. But for adaptation to take place, a strong base of evidence is needed. One question Messori would like to answer is how to create a stronger link between what is considered scientifically interesting and what can be practically applied when it comes to the effects of extreme weather events.

“Often, we researchers work on areas that we find very exciting, but they are then difficult to apply for a municipality or a region, for example. We study the large-scale processes in great detail as well as long time scales, while Uppsala Municipality on the other hand needs scales of a few kilometres and is not interested in the year 2100 but the next five or ten years. It is probably possible to adapt much of what we do to these needs. But we have to think about how to do this while preserving the basic research component to ensure we don’t merely focus on applications and fail to make progress in basic research,” explains Messori.

Åsa Malmberg

Facts: Gabriele Messori

Title: Professor of Meteorology
Born: Rome
Family: Partner and one son
Favourite way to relax: Cross-country skiing
Prefers to watch: Opera
Favourite weather: Lovely, cold, clear winter days
Favourite destination: Norway

News from the Department of Earth Sciences

Last modified: 2022-09-30