My name is Jen Henderson and I'm a disaster scholar who studies the weather warning process. I look at the historical origins of technologies that influence forecasting today; I learn from meteorologists about how they conduct the day-to-day operations of keeping people safe from severe weather; and I consider different technical, ethical, and sociopolitical issues that arise as these experts interact with different kinds of publics. At its most basic, I follow those experts who follow the weather. In particular, my work sits at the intersection of risk communication, hazards geography, the ethics of disaster, and studies of expertise and vulnerability. I'm primarily an ethnographer, which means I draw on participant observations, interviews and focus groups, and historical context to understand how people make sense of disasters and their role within them.
My field is called Science and Technology Studies, or STS. It's an interdisciplinary program that explores the how science and society shape one another; STS scholars study scientists, their practices, and technologies and are interested in different kinds of expertise, instruments, and processes of knowledge creation. As a social scientist, I've worked with National Weather Service forecasters who issue warnings for weather hazards in the United States. I've spent nearly two years in four offices across the country, watching them work and talking to them about their cares and concerns as they manage important processes that alert society to weather dangers. I also work with local communities affected by weather to understand the complex situations and mechanisms that shape their experiences with threats like tornadoes, flash floods, and drought. My work has been published in journals relevant to both the meteorological community and my colleagues in STS.
I have been fascinated with weather since I was twelve-years-old when I saw a waterspout flit across the Great Salt Lake in Utah. I had never seen anything so delicate and powerful before. Ever since then, I've found myself drawn to the skies, whether it's a simple summer thunderstorm flooding the gutters in my childhood neighborhood or a massive tornadic supercell spinning like a top over the red dirt of Oklahoma.
Before returning to graduate school, I studied creative nonfiction at Goucher College, where I received my MFA, writing essays, poems, and articles for different magazines. I continue to enjoy the craft, especially as I learn more about the complex nature of prediction. My most recent essay about my experience storm chasing with a group of Virginia Tech undergraduate meteorology students, "What We Chase," is available in the autumn 2013 issue of The American Scholar. Other writings are available on this site, too.