Scott Sheridan, PhD
Kent State University

Research Interests

To my homepage
Below is a narrative of some of my major research areas. You can find a list of completed student dissertations and theses, along with my funded grant record, at the bottom of the page. As department chair, my time is more limited than it was before, but I am still eager to talk to potential future graduate students or collaborators.

Synoptic Climatology

Synoptic climatology, as defined by Brent Yarnal in his 1993 book, 'integrates the simultaneous atmospheric dynamics and coupled response of the surface environment'. Synoptic climatological methods typically aim at assessing the holistic nature of a component of the atmosphere. This typically means a collective assessment of the pattern of a single variable across space or of multiple variables at a given location, though there are many permutations.

Synoptic methods can be used to assess climate variability as well as to connect climate variability with a surface environmental response, be it insect populations, human health, snow cover, or agriculture. Indeed it is the application of our understanding of the atmosphere to a better understanding of the surface environment that many synoptic climatologists assert is at the heart of our discipline.

One commonality of virtually all synoptic climatological studies is that they involve the classification or grouping of different types of atmospheric circulation. There are many ways in which this is done, using many statistical methodologies, levels of the atmosphere, spatial and temporal domains, and variables analyzed. Most of my synoptic work is based upon work I did initially for my dissertation, in which I redeveloped the Spatial Synoptic Classification (SSC) system. The SSC takes in surface weather observations for a station and classifies them into one of seven weather types. Day-by-day "calendars" of weather types are available for over 450 stations, mostly in North America and Europe, for periods of up to 70 years. Over 10,000,000 days have been classified.

If you're interested in knowing more about the SSC, I've set up the Spatial Synoptic Classification information page for that purpose.

The SSC has already been utilized as a tool in much research; a bibliography can be found at the link above. Personally, I have worked on weather-type variability across different teleconnections (such as El Nino), the change in weather-type frequencies over time, how the urban heat island varies according to weather type, as well as variability in atmospheric aerosol concentrations across North America. I have also used statistical methods to use GCM output to project future SSC types for the state of California, and am currently working on historical reconstructions as well. Other researchers have incorporated the SSC into assessments of variability in snow cover, snow water-equivalent, transportation, physical activity, forest regeneration, and atmospheric pollution transport, among others.

One newer synoptic meteorological method in which I've had interest is Self-Organizing maps, in which atmospheric patterns are classified in a continuum of patterns along a multi-dimensional grid. My colleague Cameron Lee and I wrote review paper on the method and have been using it in several research projects.

Students of mine have also utilized the synoptic climatological methods in their work. Jason Senkbeil utilized the SSC in his dissertation as part of his assessment of irrigation's influences on precipitation in the Great Plains. He also utilized the SSC in evaluating tree-ring growth in Alabama as a follow up to his master's thesis work. Tom Ballinger has used the SSC as well as other circulation pattern catalogues to assess Arctic sea ice variability and its relationship with North American climate. Cameron Lee used future climate model data in his thesis to predict circulation patterns that are associated with tornadic outbreaks, and has also developed a gridded weather-type classification system similar in philosophy to the SSC. Three current advisees of mine are using self-organizing maps in their research. Rafiq Islam is using SOMs to analyze the variability in the South Asian Monsoon. Tyler Smith and Ryan Adams are using SOMs of atmospheric patterns across eastern North America to analyze cold air outbreaks, and bomb cyclones, respectively.


My main applied climatological interest is in bioclimatology, specifically the impacts of climate upon human health. My main contribution in this regard is in working on the development and implementation of heat watch-warning systems for more than 50 cities worldwide, including Rome, Toronto, Phoenix, Dayton, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Seoul, and Chicago. These systems are all based on analyzing patterns of how human health in each locale in the past varied by weather conditions. The SSC has been used here, and large differences among the weather types have appeared. From city to city, the oppressive weather type varies. In an extreme case, one weather type in Shanghai is associated with over 40 deaths above the normal daily level. These systems, once developed, can forecast if weather conditions over the next two or three days may fall into one of these "offensive" categories. The forecast output goes to a webpage (see example on right), which is then read by weather forecasters as well as civic and health agencies.

After working on heat warning systems for a number of years, I wondered if people actually listened. To answer this question, thanks to an EPA grant, I was able to interview 900 people over age 65 in Toronto, Philadelphia, Dayton, and Phoenix, to gauge their perception of heat vulnerability. The results showed that while the majority of people knew that there was a heat warning in place, only around half changed their behavior. Moreover, even though people tended to recall more specific advice, few people did anything other than "stay inside." I hope to further explore this issue of vulnerability perception, especially a comparison between urban and rural residents, or among agricultural workers.

Over the recent years I've participated in several different means of assessing future heat-related health problems with the output from GCM projections of future weather conditions. I served as PI on a project that developed more detailed future estimates of heat-related mortality, incorporating acclimatization and demographic changes. Along with several students, I have also worked with researchers at the New York State Department of Health to evaluate weather-related variability in morbidity outcomes across the state, connecting the SSC with variability in hospital admissions due to heat, cold, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.

A number of my students have looked at climate and health issues for their graduate work. Tim Dolney completed his master's thesis analyzing ambulance call patterns in Toronto on hot days. Paul Butke evaluated the spatial variability of crime across Cleveland in relation to weather conditions. Candace Olszak followed the Kent State football team, evaluating their perceptions of weather and its effects on their game. Michael Allen examined weather-related mortality patterns during the cold season, along with the seasonality of mortality patterns and how they relate to when a season 'begins'. Jeremy Spencer has looked at thresholds that are associated with increases in hypothermia deaths. Brad Austin has looked at how weather conditions are associated with the overall sentiment of Tweets.

Coastal Water Quality

In recent years, I have started work on several projects related to coastal ocean water quality, specifically the Gulf of Mexico, and how it is related to meteorological conditions. Working with scientists from NOAA, I have collaborated on projects that examine atmospheric circulation patterns in the Gulf of Mexico, and their impact on water clarity, chlorophyll levels, and extreme sea-surface temperature events across the region. The project examining water clarity is a NASA-funded project aimed at examining whether trends in water clarity can be related to climate change.

Earth science education

Working on a three-year NSF-funded proposal with Dr. Munro-Stasiuk in Geography, and Drs. Ortiz and Witter in Geology, I assisted in the development and implementation of inquiry-based learning modules in Earth Science in middle- and high-school classrooms. Our grant included the hiring of 10 graduate fellows to work in coordination with middle-school teachers in Stark County, Ohio. One fellow, Vanessa Myers, completed her thesis work under my supervision, evaluating the efficacy of incorporating real-time weather map discussions in the classroom.

Completed student theses and dissertations

Michael Allen, MA (2010)
The impact of winter weather on human health: a regional approach to understanding vulnerability in the United States
Days of high mortality during the winter are typically associated with significant pressure falls, and warming temperatures, with a higher likelihood of precipitation and snow than non-high mortality days.

Michael Allen, PhD (2014)
An Evaluation of Seasonality through Four Delineation Methods: A Comparison of Mortality Responses and the Relationship with Anomalous Temperature Events
As many applied climatological studies have defined seasons a priori, different definitions of season are evaluated and the effects they have on analyzing extreme temperature events and their impacts on human health are studied.

Bradley Austin, PhD (2014)
Perspectives of weather and sensitivities to heat: Social media applications for cultural climatology
Using sentiment analysis on posts to Twitter during the hot summer of 2012, patterns relating overall positive and negative sentiment and their relation to changing weather are uncovered.

Thomasa Ballinger, PhD (2015)
A synoptic climatological assessment of the relationship between Arctic sea-ice variability and climate anomalies over North America
Using several different synoptic climatological methods, connections were shown between the strength and persistence of the Beaufort High and ice variability. Further, ice variability was connected with local and regional climate changes in the northern portions of North America.

Paul Butke, MA (2006)
The relationship between weather and violent crime in Cleveland, Ohio.
Though there is a clear crime-weather relationship, especially in summer, other than in noted nightlife areas such as the Flats, there is no clear spatial pattern - that is, the areas with more significant crime problems show roughly the same percentage increase as those areas with less significant crime problems.

Doug Cripe, PhD (2005)
The effects of the Pacific North American and North Atlantic Oscillation teleconnections upon Great Lake-Effect Snowfall
The lakes, remaining unfrozen longer in recent years, are associated with an increase in snowfall that's mostly found in traditional "lake-effect" areas.

Tim Dolney, MA (2003)
The relationship between ambulance response calls for the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and extreme heat
Several recreational locations near Toronto's lakeshore experienced more than a tripling of ambulance calls on days when a heat warning was called.

Jason Haley, MA (2011)
Climatology of freeze-thaw days in the conterminous United States, 1982-2009
Seasonal patterns and trends are identified, with the largest declines found in some mountain regions.

Joe Harwood, MA (2008)
Delineation and GIS Mapping of Urban Heat Islands Using Landsat ETM Imagery

Wes Kent, MA (2004)
The impact of cloud cover upon major league baseball
Clear days over a 20-year period are associated with a 7-point reduction in batting average from cloudy days.

Wayne Kline, MA (2009)
Climatic factors associated with the rapid wintertime increase in cloud cover across the Great Lakes region
The magnitude and the timing of the autumnal cloud cover increase across parts of the Great Lakes basin can be clearly associated with monthly teleconnection patterns; temporal trends are less clear.

Cameron Lee, MA (2010)
The relationship of large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns to tornado frequency, and the impacts of climate change
Using a new method to predict future synoptic types and connect them to tornado frequency, under different climate change scenarios tornado days become slightly more likely, with a broadening of the tornado season, and a shift to earlier in the spring.

Cameron Lee, PhD (2014)
The Development of a Gridded Weather Typing Classification Scheme
Using a new method to delineate days into synoptic categories based on relative thresholds of temperature and dew point, this classification system is then optimized for use with gridded data and contains a spatial component to smooth out the synoptic classification.

Vanessa Myers, MA (2009)
Evaluation of real-time weather map discussions in the middle school classroom
The inclusion of weather map discussions in the classroom improved a number of aspects of students' knowledge of the weather movement, though it appeared to have little positive impact on their understanding of 'textbook' weather.

Candace Olszak, MA (2012)
The Impacts of Weather on a Mid-American Conference University Football Team and Players. Perceptions Regarding Weather
Though it was a relatively warm football season, players generally toughed it out and didn't feel weather impacted them much. More credibility was given to complaints about hot weather compared with any other conditions.

Jason Senkbeil, PhD (2007)
The spatial and temporal role of irrigation on daily warm- season precipitation in the Great Plains 1950-2005
Although irrigation seemed to be a relatively minor player in producing precipitation, results suggesting an influence of irrigation were noticeable across some sites, once larger scale flow was accounted for.

Jeremy Spencer, PhD (2015)
The Geography of Hypothermia in the United States: An Analysis of Mortality, Morbidity, Thresholds, and Messaging
Using surveys of the web, along with multiple scales of statistical analysis, results show many hypothermia deaths occur at temperatures well above typical criteria; morover, there is little consistency in hypothermia messaging on the web.

Funded research

The Development of a Water Clarity Index for the Great Lakes as a Climate Indicator
Principal Investigator
NASA, award NNX16AH12G, 2016-2019

Detecting and forecasting Climate Effects on Spatial Patterns of Biodiversity and Productivity in West Coast Sanctuaries: A Collaboration with the Marine Biodiversity Observational Network (MBON)
Principal Investigator
NOAA (Contract EA-133C-15-SE-1454), 2015-16

A synoptic climatological assessment of atmospheric impacts on short-term sea-level variability and its impacts along the mid-Atlantic coast
Principal Investigator
NOAA (Contract EA-133C-14-SE-3728), 2014

Climate resilience through vacant land strategies and land use adaptation in Cleveland, Ohio
Co-Investigator (PI Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative)
Kresge Foundation, 2015

Development of a water clarity index for the Southeastern US as a climate indicator
Principal investigator
NASA, award NNX13AN31G, 2013-2015
One of the final products is a reconstructed historical water clarity index dating back to 1948. An Excel file with the index values, and all predictive parameters, can be found here.

Climate variability/ change and the risks for a spectrum of diseases
Principal Investigator, Subcontract (New York State Department of Health)
Centers for Disease Control, 2009-13

Climatological, epidemiological, and public health justification of a heat wave health warning system for Moldova
Co-Principal Investigator (PIs R. Corobov, Odessa Hydrometeorological Institute, K. Ebi)
US Civilian Research & Development Foundation, 2008-10

A Spatial Synoptic Classification Approach to Projected Heat Vulnerability in California under Future Climate Change Scenarios
Principal Investigator
California Air Resources Board, 2008-11

Track 1, GK-12: Inquiry-based approaches to Earth System Science
Co-Principal Investigator (PI M. Munro-Stasiuk, Kent State University)
National Science Foundation, 2005-10

Monitoring Agricultural Sewage Sludge, Ohio
Co-Principal Investigator (PI M. Munro-Stasiuk, Kent State University)
U.S. Department of Agriculture / subcontract from U. Toledo, 2008-09

Monitoring biosolids in Ohio
Co-Principal Investigator (PI M. Munro-Stasiuk, Kent State University)
U.S. Department of Agriculture / subcontract from U. Toledo, 2006-08

Climatic influences on the spatial and temporal variability of aerosols over North America
Co-Principal Investigator (PI H. Power, University of Otago, New Zealand)
National Science Foundation, 2004-06

Municipal response and public perception of heat-health watch-warning systems: An evaluation of effectiveness
Principal Investigator
Environmental Protection Agency, 2003-05