La Canada High School Senior Alice Zhai Rewarded for Unmatched Achievement

La Cañada High School Student Alice Zhai’s peer-reviewed journal article “Dependency of U.S. Hurricane Loss on Maximum Wind Speed and Storm Size,” recently gained recognition after the article was published in Environmental Research Letters and presented at the 31st Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical American Meteorological Society.


• Published in Environmental Research Letters
• Conference Presentation at 31st Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, American Meteorological Society
• American Meteorological Society Los Angeles Chapter Outstanding Achievement Award for Student Exhibition
• Los Angeles County Science Fair Third Place in the Earth/Space Science Category
• Girl Scout Gold Award
• The 7th Hollywood Angel Cup International Youth Music and Arts Festival, Third Place


Alice witnessed the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy on television. When she heard news reporters stating that Sandy was extremely large in size but its wind speed was not very high, she was surprised that a seemingly weak hurricane could be so destructive. She then began to wonder the significance of hurricane size in determining the huge economic loss. Alice found that when hurricane size doubles, its economic loss more than quadruples. Tripling its size multiplies the loss by almost twenty times. Traditional empirical hurricane economic loss models consider only wind speed and neglect storm size, so these models could not accurately predict the losses of super-sized storms, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

After talking with experts in the field, she learned that typical empirical hurricane loss models merely use wind speed to determine the overall loss and ignore the role of size. She began to realize that she had an opportunity to discover something brand new, and eventually solidified her findings into a peer-reviewed journal article. Even though Alice had a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish, she initially had difficulty finding out where to begin or how to quantify the relation between hurricane loss and its size. She was used to performing experiments by following a definite procedure with listed steps, so it was difficult for her to suddenly create her own procedure. To overcome this challenge, Alice’s mother gave her a large selection of well-known research papers for the subject, and Alice began to understand how to build an empirical model using regression.

Alice is a rising senior at La Canada High School. She was awarded the “Study of Exceptional Talent” by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and is a member of the NASA Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience (INSPIRE) Online Learning Community. She is the captain of her school math team and the fundraising officer for the Red Cross regional youth chapter. Alice is interested in studying statistics and economics in college. Alice enjoys dancing, drawing, running, watching movies, and travelling. She also founded a youth performing arts group (the La Canada Performing Arts Group) that showcases musical and dance performances at local senior centers every one or two months.

La Cañada High School, 4463 Oak Grove Drive, La Cañada, (818) 952-4200 or visit

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