Interview with Nyasha Dunkley – Conducted by Draven Brennan
Nyasha Dunkley is a meteorologist and Deputy State Climatologist in the State of Georgia. She also teaches several college science classes. I conducted a phone interview with the Georgia State professor and got her take on this hurricane season, Geostorm, and other environmental issues.
For starters, could you tell me your name and a little bit about yourself?
“My name is Nyasha Dunkley and I do a lot! My main job is meteorologist and Deputy State Climatologist for the state of Georgia. I work for the state of Georgia—Governor Deal appointed. On the side, I teach at Georgia State. I teach at Albany State, one of their online classes. I teach at Troy occasionally, every couple of semesters. I do a lot of science teaching on the side of my main job.”
What was it that got you interested in weather and climate?
“I was actually scared of the dark. When I was a kid, I was scared of the dark. I remember whenever the storms came; they would knock out our lights. So I was scared of storms because I was scared they would knock out the lights. I used to watch the Weather Channel to see when the storms were coming so I could get candles out. So I was really watching just to protect me from the dark, but I got so interested in watching storms when I was a kid, that I knew that that was what I wanted to do.”
Was there a specific field of study you focused on?
“When I was in undergrad, I actually wanted to be a television broadcast meteorologist, so my undergrad degree is in broadcasting. My minor was in physics and I did a fellowship after that at CNN. I used to be a radio person through college. So my focus was mostly communicating in journalism and broadcasting. After going to CNN, I didn’t like the fast-paced environment of broadcasting, so I went the government and private sector route. That’s what turned me toward the state and teaching. The intensity was just a little too much. Maybe because it was CNN, that could’ve been a factor, but I didn’t like that fast paced environment of broadcasting so I switched.”
What is your favorite part of your job?
“I love talking to people about the weather and that’s everybody. I talk to everyone from classes, to reporters, to 3rd grade kids. I just love talking about the weather and seeing the look on their face like ‘wow.” It definitely is very interesting and powerful when you hear it right. Or it can be very boring if you don’t hear it correctly. I love talking to people about science period. Not just weather necessarily, but just science. Science is amazing and I love talking about it.”
There has been a lot of talk about the high activity this hurricane season. Do you think this is something that just happens every so often or was it caused by something else?
“There are always anomalies or extremes. Right now we’re still in hurricane season, so it’s hard to look back at it. When we start to really research this year’s season, the storms are already very intense—you’ve heard that, you’ve seen that—back to back in August and September. I wouldn’t say it’s been unusual, because the National Hurricane Center actually forecasted an above normal outlook from what I remember. So its not necessarily unusual, but the intensity of the storms and where they hit was probably the biggest issue—with some of the strongest in the Atlantic, if not the strongest with Irma and Maria. I definitely would say the warming of the water has a big part to play in that, and I believe the warmer the water gets it will start to impact the storms more. Can I say this was related to something abnormal yet? It’s too early to say that before we can compare this year with previous years. You see what I’m saying? Versus standing in the middle and looking at it and saying “wow,” we need to look back and compare it to previous years. I definitely do believe climate is a big issue and a big factor in it. I think we have a big part to play in that with the whole climate change issue. I think we have to take responsibility where responsibility is necessary. I know I kind of went around the subject, but while we’re in it, it’s hard to evaluate. After it’s over, when we look back, I could definitely see this being one of our more intense years and that could be related to several things.”
The area around you was hit by a couple of strong storm. Was everything ok with you and your family during the hurricanes?
“Yeah! We got the biggest stuff from Irma, so we’re about to get a new roof on our house. There were a lot of winds. The highest gusts we got in Peachtree City and Atlanta were like 62. People around the county had their power out, but ours was not.”
There has been some controversy surrounding the new environmental, disaster film Geostorm. Have you seen it?
“I have not seen it yet, but you can be assured within the next week or two I will see it. I saw the advertisement and I thought, “that looks interesting.” A lot of people were bothered that the movie is coming out now after all the storms that have come through. How were they going to know that that was going to happen? You can’t pinpoint that. No one planned that. But I cannot wait to see the movie.
Finally, why do you think the environment is so important?
“I think its one of the few sciences that doesn’t just impact us, but we can impact it. I think that’s why it’s so important. Many of the sciences, we’re not really impacting them; we’re finding out about it. Weather and the environment, we can actually influence that to some degree. Now I’m not saying change the direction of hurricanes, but we have more of an impact on it, not just it affecting us. I used to teach environmental science and I used to tell people how much you could help or hurt the situation. You have that power in your hands. I think that’s why it’s so important. Its not something that just impacts me, but also I affect it. If I affect it, then I can help other positively affect it.”