Staff Spotlight: Yolande Serra

Senior Research Scientist

Yolande headshotYolande Serra first came to the University of Washington in 1997 as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Mesoscale Meteorology group led by Prof. Robert Houze, Jr. and then became a Research Scientist at JISAO in 2000.  During this time, Yolande’s research focused on tropical weather systems and their organization by synoptic waves in the atmosphere, tropical rainfall diurnal variability and validation of satellite retrievals of rainfall over the tropical oceans. This work relied on data collected in the eastern tropical Pacific from ship and moored buoys and on gridded data sets.  In 2004 Yolande became Research Faculty in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona (UA).  While at the UA, Yolande became interested in how tropical moisture reached the North American monsoon, where it is known to support outbreaks of severe weather, including heavy rains, flooding and wildfires. Drought is also an issue when moisture supplies are limited to the region.  For these studies Yolande and colleagues in Mexico City deployed Global Positioning System (GPS) total column water vapor instruments across northwest Mexico.  Back at JISAO as a Senior Research Scientist since 2015, Yolande continues to work on the North American monsoon.  Other projects include a study of clouds over the Amazon, also using GPS total column water vapor observations together with several other ground-based measurements, as well as a study of tropical western Pacific clouds using ground-based cloud radar.  One of the main objectives of these studies is to improve the representation of cloud growth in numerical models.

Yolande was raised in coastal Connecticut about an hour outside of New York City, where there were ample woods, rivers and tide pools to explore.  Her family enjoyed camping on the beaches of Long Island and hiking in the forests of New England and upstate New York.  These experiences created a strong connection to the outdoors, which ultimately led Yolande to pursue a PhD in Physical Oceanography after finishing her undergraduate degree in Physics/Biophysics at the University of California San Diego.  She did not have to go far for her graduate studies, attending Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a graduate program of the University of California San Diego.  At Scripps, she participated in a field campaign that brought her to the tropics for Yolande with her familythe first time.  Her PhD thesis was on the exchange of heat and moisture between the ocean and atmosphere in the tropics, and she has loved researching the tropical atmosphere ever since.

Her favorite part of the job is traveling to the places she studies, not because it is the tropics, which she also enjoys, but because it provides a context for all the data she analyzes at her desk on a computer in Seattle.  A tropical downpour, the summer heat in Tucson, these experiences bring life to the data on the screen.  She also loves studying the tropics because the heating of the tropics is the driver of global circulations making it an exciting and very important system to understand.

Outside of work Yolande loves to be outdoors, just like when she was young.  She loves exploring at the beach, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing and swimming in ocean waves.  On land, she loves hiking to cool mountain lakes, through forests, and wherever she can get away from cars and the computer for a while and spend more time with friends and family.