Climate expert Michael Veres aims to share his knowledge widely

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet the college’s first climatologist, assistant professor Michael C. Veres of the atmospheric and geological sciences department. The former first-generation college student says he’s impressed with the motivated Oswego students he’s encountered.

Q. What can you tell us about your higher education?
A. I grew up in the Columbus, Ohio, area. I did my undergraduate at Ohio State University in Columbus. I have a bachelor of science in geography—atmospheric science, which was a specialization. I also have a bachelor of science in geology. I went to University of Nebraska-Lincoln for my M.S. and my Ph.D., both in meteorology/climatology.

Q. How did you become interested in weather as a potential career?
A. Like a lot of students, as an undergraduate, I wasn’t sure quite what I wanted to do. I’ve had a lot of interest in science throughout my life—first, dinosaurs, then astronomy, very broad interest. At one point I decided I wanted to change my major, and weather was one of those things I had been interested in. My mom, who’s been an inspiration for me throughout my life, has always been interested in the weather, so I think that helped guide me to it as well.

Q. How did you hear of and ultimately accept a position at SUNY Oswego?
A. I found the position through an online job listing for a climate dynamics position. I actually got the phone call that I was having a job offer when I was at commencement for my Ph.D. So I said, “This is a pretty good day!” (Laughs.) By then, I had decided that I really liked teaching. I like research as well, but teaching is really my passion. Undergraduates are important here. My college had been in large, research-intensive schools, which are good in their own accord, but undergraduates don’t always get the attention they need. I’ve already had more interaction with my students in a year than I ever had with my professors in my years as an undergraduate.

Q. What do you think of the SUNY Oswego students you’ve encountered?
A. I’m really impressed by some of the students. I’m actually first-generation college, and I know there are a lot of first-generation students here. This helps me understand them and recognize the drive of some of them to succeed. There’s a new class I offered this semester, “Physical Climatology.” It’s a small class right now, but the students are motivated to take the class and to learn, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Q. What do you think of your colleagues?
A. Within my department, I’m impressed with how dedicated everybody seems to be with their students. They take as much time as needed, they make themselves available, and they are skilled at what they do. In a really small department like this, we all have a particular specialization to fill. I fill the climate cog, Dr. (Scott) Steiger fills the weather forecasting piece, Dr. (Steve) Skubis is kind of our math guru, Dr. (Al) Stamm works with atmospheric chemistry. We work together to create a good whole for the students.

Q. What is the basic difference between climatology and meteorology?
A. The way we approach questions is often different. Ultimately, we do what we do so we can better predict. Here’s a quote that a professor told me: “If you get 100 climate scientists into a room and ask them to define climatology, you’ll get 200 answers.” Those 200 answers may be very similar, but they’re going to have subtle differences. You can talk about statistics, the movement of air—there are all kinds of ways to phrase your answer. One of the common answers is that it’s your long-term weather. It’s what you would expect to have, not what you are having. You expect January to be cold. You may have a 60-degree day in January, but you expect it to be cold. The 60-degree day is your weather. That’s one way to look at climate.

Q. Do you have a succinct response for non-believers in global warming?
A. One of the basic things you get from physics and chemistry is that carbon dioxide and water vapor both absorb energy. You put more of that in the air, to me it’s common sense that you would expect more energy to get absorbed. You put one blanket on yourself in the winter, you get warm. You put another blanket on, you get warmer. Another thing is how quickly temperatures have changed over the last 150 years. It’s unprecedented in recorded human history. It happens to agree with a very quick increase in carbon dioxide—changes are taking decades instead of millennia.

Q. Do you have other activities on campus?
A. Not yet, unfortunately. But I think it’s really important that Oswego has a climate scientist here—not just for the school, but potentially for the community at large. I want to do community outreach and maybe even hold panels on climate change. We hear about climate all the time, but there’s so much misinformation out there.

Q. What’s the central focus of your research to date?
A. I spent my entire graduate time looking at how sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic can lead to changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation—rain or snowfall. Sometimes in science, it’s best to distill to the simplest thing. For my dissertation, I took a complicated computer model and simplified it to try to understand the fundamentals of these impacts. The implication (for the average person) is there can be a lot of impacts in terms of droughts or potential flooding as a result of the sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. In 2011, Texas had a critical drought—there were some conditions that made it look like it may have been the North Atlantic Ocean that was a very important contributor to that. It’s not always easy to tell when it comes to climate. … but there were definitely some strong indicators.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not on the job?
A. I like to relax. … I enjoy video games, movies and anything else with a good story. I like hiking and biking, though I don’t do enough of either. After graduating, I went to Japan. Now that I’ve finished my schooling, I hope to start traveling and seeing more new places.

Q. What can you tell us about your family?
A. My mom has held odd jobs throughout her life. She did what jobs she could to help support the family. Growing up, I wanted to make her proud. I’ve got two older sisters; one lives with me in Oswego with her daughter. It’s nice to have family here and it helped ease the transition to a completely new town.

Q. What’s something interesting about you that only close friends or family may know?
A. One of the biggest things—and one of the proudest things—I was home schooled from grades 7 to 12. I taught myself math and science from books. Now I’ve made it all the way to be a college professor. I feel that home schooling strengthened me. It showed me what I was capable of.