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Shirley Murillo
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/ Categories: Weather, Women in Research

Shirley Murillo

Collecting hurricane data from inside the storm

Shirley Murillo is a research meteorologist at NOAA's Hurricane Research Division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla. She specializes in examining how hurricane winds change as they make landfall to assist forecasters in producing accurate and timely warnings for coastal communities.

Profile update: Shirley sat down for a Q&A at NOAA's National Hurricane Center in 2013. 


Why does your research matter?

The research I do matters because it helps the science community understand the behavior and structure of the hurricane surface wind fields. During the hurricane season, I create analysis maps of the surface wind field in real-time using all the available weather data. It is available to forecasters, the storm surge community and the public. These images visually explain the extent of the hurricane’s wind field and where the strongest winds lie.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I enjoy working with the data that we collect during the hurricane research flight missions. I like gathering the data while flying in the storm and analyzing it. It’s like playing detective trying to uncover what the storm is doing. Is it intensifying or weakening? Is the track of the storm changing?

Where do you do most of your work? In a lab? In field studies?

Most of my work is performed in my office with a computer. During the hurricane season I get to participate in hurricane flight research missions onboard NOAA P-3 aircraft.

What in your lab could you not live without?

My colleagues. I truly enjoy the science interactions I have with them. It can be in the form of a science meeting, a seminar or even chatting with someone in the hallway. Sometimes these interactions spark new research ideas.

If you could invent any instrument to advance your research and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?

If I had a magic wand and could invent an instrument it would be an unmanned aircraft that can carry the types of instruments (airborne radars, Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer, GPS dropsondes, etc.) that we use on the NOAA P-3s as well as newer state of the art instruments that can measure all the tropical cyclone meteorological parameters we need and can fly for 2-3 days without the need to fuel. Essentially I want an instrument (that is equipped with all the bells and whistles) to continuously take observations inside tropical cyclones.

" I like gathering the data while flying in the storm and analyzing it. It’s like playing detective trying to uncover what the storm is doing."

When did you know you wanted to pursue science?

I was always a curious kid and enjoyed learning about science. The first time I thought I could be a scientist was when I learned about the first American woman go to space –Sally Ride. It wasn’t until I experienced Hurricane Andrew (1992) in Miami, FL did I know that I wanted to become a meteorologist.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

The first book that comes to mind is Inside the Hurricane by Pete Davies. Pete spent one summer here at the Hurricane Research Division and shadowed many scientists. He also got the opportunity to fly into a hurricane and wrote about his experience in the book.

And how about a personal favorite book?

I have a few favorite books but my current favorite is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It is about a young boy who is lost at sea after the ship he was traveling in sinks. He stuck on a lifeboat with a myriad of zoo animals (a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a tiger) that were also traveling on the ship. It is an interesting tale of survival that can be applied to daily life.

What part of your job as a NOAA scientist did you least expect to be doing?

I didn’t expect to be doing any media and outreach activities when I first started with NOAA. I now find it rewarding to able to communicate the research I do to a wide audience.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I have a few personal hobbies. I enjoy gardening and crocheting. I’m a foodie too. I love reading about food, talking about food and most of all tasting food. I also like to experiment in the kitchen by testing out recipes.

What would you be doing if you had not become a scientist?

That’s a tough one! Perhaps I would own and operate a vineyard.

Who is your favorite historical scientist and why?

Joanne Simpson. She was the first woman to obtain a PhD in Meteorology. I admire her for the scientific breakthroughs she made as well as her tenacity for pursuing a career in this field. She recently passed away.


Shirley Murillo earned a bachelor's degree in meteorology at Florida State University and a master's degree in meteorology from the University of Hawaii. She has participated in numerous research flights into tropical cyclones aboard NOAA's WP-3D aircraft over the Atlantic Basin and Gulf of Mexico. 


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