Dr. Deanna Hence


Education & Experience

2014-Present: Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
2012-2014: NASA Postdoctoral Program Research Fellow, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Goddard, Maryland
2012: Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
2011 PhD Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
2007 M.S. Atmospheric Science, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
2004 B.S. Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

My interests

My research focuses on the studying the structure, behavior, and evolution convective clouds and precipitation on scales ranging from organized systems of thunderstorms up to tropical cyclones. I primarily study these storms using observational data from the ground, air, sea, and space, such as weather radars and other active remote sensors, radiosondes (both from the ground via weather balloons and from above released from planes), in situ instruments, and satellites.
My current research is focusing on how these cloud systems interact with their surroundings. This research spans from studying how tropical cyclones interact with the air in their surrounding environment, to how midlatitude cyclone’s fronts interact with the mountains, to how hailstorms damage food crops.

How I became a scientist

My parents peaked my interest by giving me many magazines to read about our natural world, as well as the many hazards that can come by way of the natural processes of our planet. I grew up fascinated by volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and most especially severe weather. My mother would put on the morning news during breakfast, and my favorite part was watching the weather forecasters describe the current conditions. Since I grew up in Texas, thunderstorms made a frequent appearance on the radar, and I was fascinated by how the storms moved across the screen. As one does in Tornado Alley, I learned the differences between all of the watches and warnings at a very young age! 
As a child, I loved to run outside to see if I could see the clouds people would talk about in person, something that I do to this day. However, my passion in science has always been driven by helping people, and I initially entered college with the intent to study psychology and medicine with that in mind.  My decision to switch to the atmospheric sciences as my major came when I participated in a student solar car racing team as a college student. The knowledge of the weather was so critical to our success that I began to see how much of a bigger role the weather has in our world than I ever realized before. I learned that my love of those towering thunderstorms could be merged with helping the people on the ground in a wide variety of tangible ways. The idea that I could help people through my science made me very grateful I took all of those psychology, history, and writing courses in addition to all of my science classes!
Many years and some thunderstorm and hurricane chasing later, and I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I feel so blessed that I am not only able to pursue the science that I love, but I also get to research how to most effectively get that information to the people that need it most. I also get to teach our new scientists how to not only be effective scientists but also effective communicators. 

How my work benefits society

In disaster movies, I often couldn’t decide who I thought was cooler—the scientist who provided the crucial information, or the emergency manager that had to turn that information into saving lives. My goal as a scientist is to pursue research questions that build bridges between the understanding of the weather and how the weather impacts the things we need in everyday life, from our health to transportation to food to safety. I look forward to sharing what I learn with my community, but I also look forward to them sharing what they know about their world with me, and what they need to know. I believe that conversation is key to us moving forward together.