College of Fellows Distinguished Lecture Series Speaker

Kerry Emanuel headshot

Kerry Emanuel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
United States of America
Primary Affiliation: Atmospheric Sciences

The tropics are rightly thought of as having the most benign climate on our planet, the stuff that vacation dreams are made on. Mild temperatures, light breezes, plenty of sun, and the odd rain shower to keep everything green. It seems paradoxical, therefore, that these hospitable latitudes give rise to the most violent storms on earth. It is hardly surprising that the ancients consider these tempests as gods; indeed, the word hurricaneis derived from Huracán, the Carib god of evil, who, with twisted spiral arms (just like the real thing) devastated their settlements on a whim. While today we know much more about the causes and nature of hurricanes, they continue to devastate our communities, and the damage they case has been increasing rapidly as we, all around the world, continue to migrate from inland areas toward the coasts. The confluence of our lemming-like march to the sea with rising sea levels and climate-change-induced strengthening of storms paints a concerning picture of rapidly increasing risk.


Dr. Kerry Emanuel is the Cecil and Ida Green professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has been on the faculty since 1981, after spending three years on the faculty of UCLA.

Emanuel’s initial focus was on the dynamics of rain and snow banding in winter storms, but his interests gradually migrated to the meteorology of the tropics and to climate change. His specialty is hurricane physics and he was the first to investigate how long-term climate change might affect hurricane activity, an issue that continues to occupy him today. His interests also include cumulus convection, and advanced methods of sampling the atmosphere in aid of numerical weather prediction.

Emanuel is the author or co-author of over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and three books, including Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes, published by Oxford University Press and aimed at a general audience, and What We Know about Climate Change, published by the MIT Press and now entering its third edition. He is a co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Center, a climate think tank devoted to basic, curiosity-driven climate research.